I had heard so many things about The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries, that I had to read it for myself and see what all the fuss was about.

Book Review

My goal in reading this book was not so much to start up a great for-profit company, though that would be cool. My goal was to find principles that would apply to what I do in ministry. With that in mind let’s dive into the book…

According to Eric Ries, “The goal of a startup is to figure out the right thing to build—the thing customers want and will pay for—as quickly as possible. In other words, the Lean Startup is a new way of looking at the development of innovative new products that emphasizes fast iteration and customer insight, a huge vision, and great ambition, all at the same time” (location 291). It was refreshing to find his definition of a startup would actually fit a ministry startup, “a startup is a human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.” (location 383).

Takeaways from Lean Startup

The book was full of little nuggets like, “learning is the process of demonstrating empirically that a team has discovered valuable truths about a startup’s present and future business prospects” (location 525). Reading that statement challenged me to re-think the way I approach making changes in ministry. No, I’m not suggesting that we stop listening for the Holy Spirit’s voice. I’m suggesting that we test what we think that we’re hearing in an empirically verifiable way. For instance, I’ve felt that I need to make some changes in the way small groups are done at my church, but I’ve been reluctant to follow through because of uncertainty about the starting point, and not wanting to burn the whole ministry down. Now I’ve set up several survey forms to make sure that people say that they will actually respond the way I think they will. Another nugget that I found was, “in a startup, who the customer is and what the customer might find valuable are unknown” (location 661). That’s pretty similar to the way things work out in ministry. Often times we are called to some vision that involves people who aren’t physically at the church yet…

One One more thought he offered was, “I call this validated learning because it is always demonstrated by positive improvements in the startup’s core metrics. As we’ve seen, it’s easy to kid yourself about what you think customers want. It’s also easy to learn things that are completely irrelevant. Thus, validated learning is backed up by empirical data collected from real customers” (location 680).

On the other hand…

There are some statements that will have to be adjusted to a ministry context, but that is to be expected in a business sort of book. For example, he writes, “We adopted the view that our job was to find a synthesis between our vision and what customers would accept; it wasn’t to capitulate to what customers thought they wanted or to tell customers what they ought to want,” (location 694). I might rephrase his statement to make it, “We need to show our congregation how it is that the ought to live and what they ought to want – but do it in a way that is applicable to them personally.” A second statement he makes is, “Every business plan begins with a set of assumptions. It lays out a strategy that takes those assumptions as a given and proceeds to show how to achieve the company’s vision. Because the assumptions haven’t been proved to be true (they are assumptions, after all) and in fact are often erroneous, the goal of a startup’s early efforts should be to test them as quickly as possible,” (location 1070). I might rephrase that to something like: “Every ministry plan begins with a set of assumptions (that the minister believes are inspired by God). It lays out a strategy that takes those assumptions as given and proceeds to show how to achieve the vision that God has given. The goal of a minister might be to test the strategy as quickly as possible to make sure it is the proper strategy to achieve the vision.”

Conclusion

I would recommend this Lean Startup. I checked it out from my local library, but you can buy it from Amazon if you wish and support my family.

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