The core idea of the Lean Startup Methodology is to avoid wasting valuable time and resources when developing a new service or product. The term was coined by Eric Ries. However, the concept comes from the Toyota manufacturing revolution led by Taiichi Ohno and Shigeo Shingo. They transformed Toyota into a flourishing global company by focusing on three simple principles: Build-Measure-Learn.
The premise of “Build-Measure-Learn” is to take an idea and quickly build it into a viable product or service. Then, this “imperfect” concept is released to the public as soon as possible to measure its effectiveness. Instead of spending weeks, months, or decades perfecting a plan, you build what Ries calls an MVP, or minimally viable product, offer it to the public and observe what people do with it. Seeing how people actually respond to the product is more reliable than anticipating what they might do. Once you measure the response, you can then evaluate the product. Was it a good idea that can be better with improvements? Or was it a bad idea that must be discarded or redirected? The benefit of delivering an MVP is that you can gain an understanding of your customers’ needs and interests without having to fully develop the product or service. The sooner you know whether or not the service appeals to your customer, the less effort you need to spend on its development.
So how does this relate to ministry? Many times, ministry teams are too focused on creating an amazing product for their congregation. They become deadlocked in perfectionism and get nothing done. Or, ministries are so fixated on doing it “the right way” or “how it’s always been done” that they miss critical cues alerting them when something needs a change. They may spend years “beating the dead horse” without results. Other times, when ministries try something new and don’t get immediate positive results, they dump the whole process. They basically “throw the baby out with the wash,” wasting time and discouraging ministry workers. When this negative cycle is repeated time and time again, it leads to frustration and ministry burnout.
But if we take our cues from the disciples and the early church, we see that they were using the Build-Measure-Learn concept way before Toyota implemented it. Peter is a perfect example of someone who tried it one way, then as directed by the Holy Spirit, shifted gears towards a slightly different, more effective, direction. Jesus instilled in Peter the confidence to take action rather than waste precious months or years putting together a perfect plan. Jesus taught the disciples to “go” and trust the Holy Spirit to lead them when their approach needed a shift.
Jesus first introduces the disciples to the concept of Build-Measure-Learn in Luke 5:4-6. After fishing all night without a catch, Jesus tells Simon Peter to go out a little deeper and cast his net again. Despite his previous lack of success, Peter follows Jesus’ instructions and pulls in so many fish it threatens to sink his boat! Again in John 21:6, Jesus tells his disciples to cast their net on the other side. This time, Peter immediately casts his net on the opposite side, again unable to haul in his abundant catch. Something as simple as “try the other side” may bring about the progress your ministry team needs to move forward. You don’t need a new boat, new fishermen or even a new lake. Don’t dump the whole plan. Just shift gears as directed by the Spirit.
In the Book of Acts, after nearly three years of learning from Jesus, Peter and the other disciples and apostles are now on their own. After Peter receives a vision from heaven (Acts 10:11), he changes the direction of his ministry. It had long before been foretold in the Old Testament that the Gentiles would be welcomed into the kingdom of God. But up until this point, the apostles had focused on spreading the Word how they knew it, within the Jewish community. It took a little nudge but the Holy Spirit revealed to Peter what the vision meant.
“Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now truly understand that God does not show favoritism, but welcomes those from every nation who fear Him and do what is right. He has sent this message to the people of Israel, proclaiming the gospel of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.’” (Acts 10:34-36)
Now Peter is faced with a new challenge. Not only do the apostles need to spread the Word, but the Spirit was directing Peter to forget all the ways they had done it before and bring the gospel to every nation. So Peter calls on his counsel to write an overture to assemble an approval committee that then selects a team of 20 of the best men to spend roughly the next five years outlining a plan that will need to be approved before anyone moves forward, right? Ummm…not exactly.
“Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water to baptize these people? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have!” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” (Acts 10:47-48)
Peter doesn’t wait for the perfect plan. He puts out the most viable product available and immediately begins baptizing. He doesn’t wait until he knows exactly what the end product will look like or how everyone will react. Above all else, Peter is obedient to the Lord and the Holy Spirit stirring within him. How many of our brothers and sisters in Christ need to hear this right now? How many ministry leaders are exhausted from trying to achieve perfection or burnt out from doing it the same old way even though it’s not working anymore? Maybe you’ve felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit pushing you in a different direction too?
Your first step in Build-Measure-Learn is to DEFINE the idea you want to test and the information you need to learn. Create a hypothesis prior to even jumping into the building cycle. It could look like this: If we send out two congregational newsletters a month instead of one, more people will know about our monthly events, and we might have a greater turnout.
Step two is BUILDING the product. Your goal is to create an MVP to test your hypothesis. For our scenario above, it could be as simple as emailing the congregation in a bi-weekly newsletter that includes the dates and description of each on-campus event you want to promote. Nothing fancy, just informative.
In step three, you MEASURE the results. This is where many people run into a hiccup because they don't have systems in place that support gathering data. If you are hypothesizing that more newsletters will lead to more turnouts, you need to be able to measure the turnout. What systems do you have in place to track attendance? This is an important step in measuring your results! You should measure your current results prior to implementing additional newsletters. Then track the results after more consistent newsletters.
Your final step is LEARNING from the data you gather. This leads to logical decisions about what to do next, to either preserve or pivot.
Persevere: Your hypothesis was correct. You move forward with the same goals while you refine your idea. This might mean adding more information to your newsletter or making it more enjoyable to your readers. Keep in mind that the loop continues to repeat, and you should regularly measure your data for success. Even though it’s working well now, be prepared to pivot in the future as needed.
Pivot: Additional newsletters have not proven an effective way to increase attendance. You've still gained valuable knowledge about what doesn't work. You can reset or correct your course and repeat the loop, using what you've learned to test new hypotheses. Maybe that means a weekly newsletter instead of a bi-weekly one. Maybe your newsletters need better descriptions of each event. Maybe you find out that no one in your congregation reads newsletters, but everyone is connected through your social media instead.
Applying Build-Measure-Learn to your ministry team isn’t a difficult process. Once your team experiences freedom from perfection with the grace to make mistakes that can be corrected, you’ll see a much more productive and successful team environment. The ULC wants to help you implement these simple strategies. Let us know how we can help you!