Bootstrap and Then Get Backed

In the business world, there are basically two ways to start a business. You can either seek venture capital or you can “bootstrap” it.


If you get venture-capital right from the get-go, then you are essentially speculating that you have a viable product, and so are the venture capitalists. In exchange for taking on the financing of such a high-risk endeavor, these investors own a substantial share in the company, and understandably retain a degree of control.

If you bootstrap your company, you retain the control and are forced to grow organically. The downside of course is that it is difficult to scale because you lack resources to build out your product and its infrastructure.

Entrepreneurs who opt for bootstrapping essentially are forced to reinvest any revenues back into the business and forgo personal salaries—not to mention the salaries of would-be employees. This is a recipe for 20 hour work days and potential burnout. The trade-off however is full ownership, full control, and full rights to the profits, should they come.


There is also of course a hybrid approach. Most entrepreneurs are now recommending this third way. You bootstrap your venture until such a time as you have paying customers. These paying customers prove the viability of your business model, the desirability of your product, and “product-market fit”. This proves to venture capitalists that your business is worth investing in.

Those who bear the risk bear the responsibility and can be rewarded if the effort is a success.


Okay, church planting.

How many church plants are “bootstrapped”? Not many. If such church plants are on anyone’s radar, they are seen as rogue upstarts, rather than scrappy startups. Especially from the perspective of historic, established denominations this is simply not the proper way to start a church.

How many church plants are funded by the ecclesiastical equivalent of venture capitalists? At least in my tradition, almost all of them. There has recently been a move towards dividing the funding burden between denominations, outside individuals and churches, and the contributions of the core group. But, other than his tithe, when does the church planter ever truly have to put skin in the game?


Increasingly however, we are seeing small, scrappy, bootstrapped missional communities pop up. They are led by missional pioneers. Some are seminary-trained, and some are not. They start off looking like missionally-engaged home Bible studies. Then they look like house churches, but with an aim for significant penetration into a particular culture. They ultimately look to scale into something like what we would recognize as a “church”.

What is our fear of such church planting endeavors? Are we afraid that these church planters will “go rogue”? Do we dislike being out of control as denominational leaders?


Why don’t we spend a significant amount of time training scrappy bootstrap church planters rather than spending enormous amounts of money sending under-equipped, no-skin–in-the–game church planters parachuting into some field?

Why don’t we train these bootstrapped church planters, and then pour funding into their church startups once they’ve begun to show the promise of significant fruitfulness?

This seems to me to be the way of the future. Not the end of denominations. Not the going rogue of church planters. But a sensible, post-Christendom approach to the partnership between church planters and those who train and back them.

And then, if Jesus should grant fruit, we all get to celebrate.

Related Post: Start a Business First

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