I finished Founders at Work today. It was worth the money I paid to get it and I enjoyed reading it. One thing that was a recurring theme in the book and in the stories of these companies that changed how we work and think is how hard it is to manage the relationship with investors who have a different vision than the founders. Paul Graham (who is featured in the book) has a Unified Theory of VC Suckage which probably explains a lot of why founders hate VCs. Phillip Greenspun has a good essay on how he got booted from ArsDigita

As I read the theory and reflected on the book, it explains why VCs are so evil but I was also thinking about the funding of church plants and how that can go so bad so often. In the case of VC funding, it is the need for a large and quick return on investment but funding for churches is similar but different.

Similar in the need for success to justify the spending so they can get more funding. People and churches like to give to success. Successful churches, successful colleges, successful ministries. They spend money but also attract even more money. In that way it is like business and the temptation is to fund “what works”. Of course in the church, “what works” is equated with being “right”. You know, the whole blessing/success thing.

It is different in another area and that is the preservation of a story dating back to the denominations or thought leaders founder. Methodists fund Methodist church plants. Purpose Driven churches want to see more Purpose Driven churches. WillowWorld ™ churches want to see other WillowWorld ™ churches started. Baptists plant Republican churches, etc, etc. It comes down to the idea that we know we are right and we want to see more of that in the world and all will be better.

As I was reading this, it reminded me of something I wrote earlier this year about ecclessial mercenaries and the need for funding. The problem is that you could find yourself caught in the middle of those two worlds. Being hit with the need to be successful and to conform to validate a model. If you look back at the illustrious history of “church within a church”, those two things nailed more coffins closed then anything else. The need for success to justify existence and funding and also the conflict that happens if the values are unaligned, kind of like when a teenager starts to exert his or her independence.

Paul Graham wrote this in the forward to Founders…

Apparently sprinters reach their highest speed right out of the blocks, and spend the rest of the race slowing down. The winners slow down the least. It’s that way with most startups too. The earliest phase is usually the most productive. That’s when they have the really big ideas. Imagine what Apple was like when 100% of its employees were either Steve Jobs or Steve Wozniak.

The striking thing about this phase is that it’s completely different from most people’s idea of what business is like. If you looked in people’s heads (or stock photo collections) for images representing “business,” you’d get images of people dressed up in suits, groups sitting around conference tables looking serious, Powerpoint presentations, people producing thick reports for one another to read. Early stage startups are the exact opposite of this. And yet they’re probably the most productive part of the whole economy.

Why the disconnect? I think there’s a general principle at work here: the less energy people expend on performance, the more they expend on appearances to compensate. More often than not the energy they expend on seeming impressive makes their actual performance worse. A few years ago I read an article in which a car magazine modified the “sports” model of some production car to get the fastest possible standing quarter mile. You know how they did it? They cut off all the crap the manufacturer had bolted onto the car to make it look fast.

I like the last part. What if we started giving new ideas in the church, the permission to be the church instead of expecting them to look like the church before we believe in them.

3 thoughts on “Capital”

  1. Part of the key to Apple is that it was the product of two guys, not one. So many of our “church startups” are the product of one guy. And 80 percent fail. Church plants that are a partnership of two guys are four times as successful.

    I live in a prosperous area, but when I went out looking to plant a church, none of the two dozen organizations wanted to do it. They all said, “For the price of planting in Danville, California, we can plant four churches in, say, Kansas City.” I also said, I am a support guy, I’m not shaped to be the senior pastor, but staff support. All the denominations knew how to run an old, established, church as “team leadership”, but none had done it as a startup. The only organization model they knew was “top-down, one-man show”.

    Startups involve a nimble, dynamic set of judgement skills, like knowing when to chuck the milk crate and plywood table and buy real furniture. While, at the same time you are designing a product, and negotiating with VC’s and creating a marketing strategy. All this takes a minimum intelligence level – say 1100 or 1200 SAT. Above that point, people usually think in “four dimensions”, below 1050, or so, people can only comprehend two variables at a time. Canadians (and Brits) know this well, they have two systems – “University” and “College”. In the US, it is more subtle – we have lists of the “300 best colleges”, or 366, or something around that number. Almost every startup has smart people in every position, even the ones opening the mail, or hooking up the icemaker. Intellectually, these people “sprint faster, and don’t slow down as much”.

  2. Great post and insight. I am still trying to get the church within a church boot print of my ass several years later. I loath the whole business success breeds sucess mentality that has invaded so much of our culture, and sadly the church.

  3. “What if we started giving new ideas in the church, the permission to be the church instead of expecting them to look like the church before we believe in them.”

    I like the way you said that. I know that you’re speaking about ideas, but I think the people who have those ideas and those who would like to explore them need permission to be the church. Now someone needs to expound on what it means to be the church.

    A congregation that I am attached to explains being church as “being Jesus to people”, “being a hospital” and “being family”. I think these are good places to start.

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