How to Focus Better by Failing Faster

Congratulations – your church has just completed its third year in a row of growth! Weekend worship attendance is growing at 20% per year; your offerings are ahead of budget; and participation in small groups has increased steadily toward your goal of 75% of worship attendance. These are only the leading indicators of a successful growth curve.

While your church may not fall exactly into one or more of those growth indicators, success is likely happening in some area of ministry.

But beware – success brings its own new problems everyday. What were once easy decisions in your church four years ago now have now become complicated, cumbersome, and confusing. Your leadership team has likely grown, and chances are, your leadership in terms of group dynamics and interpersonal communication has not kept pace.

It is time to stretch your personal development and lead your church to stay focused and make timely decisions. If you are experiencing success and feeling the resulting complexity, consider failing fast.

THE QUICK SUMMARY Design to Grow, by David Butler
In today’s world, every organization is at risk of having a “Kodak Moment” – watching its industry and the competitive advantages it has developed over years, even decades, vanish overnight. The reason? An inability to adapt quickly to new business realities.

Established companies are at risk, but it’s no easier being an agile startup, because most of those fail due to their inability to scale. Tomorrow’s business winners—regardless of size or industry—will be the ones that know how to combine scale with agility.

In Design to Grow, a Coca-Cola senior executive shares both the successes and failures of one of the world’s largest companies as it learns to use design to be both agile and big. In this rare and unprecedented behind-the-scenes look, David Butler and senior Fast Company editor, Linda Tischler, use plain language and easy-to-understand case studies to show how this works at Coca-Cola—and how other companies can use the same approach to grow their business.


Church leaders usually treat failure of an activity or initiative as something to be avoided at all costs. The “F” word frightens us to no degree because we have been told that to admit failure means that you are a failure. Fail once and you’re a failure.

So engrained in our culture is this tenacious notion that we tend to forget that the most common experience to all of us is the experience of having failed at something. We all have plenty of failures in our personal and organizational lives.

However, in a fast-paced and growing organization, it is actually very important to fail fast. This doesn’t mean that you should be aiming for failure of course, but instead be willing to recognize failure and accept that failure quickly and logically.

Trying to avoid failure on something can lead to more time and money being wasted unnecessarily.

There are two key benefits to failing fast:

  • Learn from mistakes
  • Find success faster

By learning to fail fast, organizations can learn faster and become smarter, which reduces the risk of being disrupted.

New ventures don’t have the kind of resources big organizations do in people, time, or money. Living in a world that could literally end tomorrow, they don’t have the luxury of fearing failure. They must embrace it. In fact, they try to fail as quickly as possible so they can move on to the next thing – whatever that might be.

Any organization or team can launch a new project, campaign, or initiative the way startups do. Learning what people need or want, building a prototype, measuring what worked and what didn’t, then doing it all over again, are techniques that anyone can embrace.

If you have a problem with the idea of failure, substitute the word learn, since failing faster essentially means learning faster. Each failure makes you smarter by helping you better understand what works.

David Butler, Design to Grow


The failure of an idea or activity did not occur in the event itself – it was a journey from concept to completion that included many decision points along the way. In order to gain the most benefit from a failure, take your leadership team in a time machine journey back to the beginning

At your next staff meeting, identify a recent “failure” at the top of a marker board on the farthest point on the right. Be careful to separate the leadership behind an event from the actual event that was less than successful. If you are the senior leader at the table, consider leading with a failure from your sphere of influence, and in humility undertake this exercise to model leadership for your team.

First, explore some of the “why” behind the failure label, making a list of reasons. Highlight the main verb or action.

Next, draw a horizontal line extending from the failure all the way to the left side of the marker board.

Ask what significant decision, action, or moment happened right before the failure, and write to the left of the failure, again highlighting the main verb or action. Repeat this question with each successive step.

Now, repeat this process from right to left, until you have an overview of all the events that led up to the particular situation.

Review the sequence of events, noting probable cause and effects. On a chart tablet, write key learnings from this exercise that can be applied to your next idea or activity and identify at least one system or process change to make as a result.

Don’t be discouraged by your success – as Auxano Founder Will Mancini writes in Church Unique:

Every leader must contend with clarity gaps and complexity factors. Clarity gaps are the logical areas where obscurity and confusion enter the leader’s communication world. Complexity factors literally wage war against the leader’s practice of clarity by making it difficult to maintain focus. When it comes to clarity, new levels bring new devils. The higher the leader goes, the harder the leader must work to stay clear.

Taken from SUMS Remix 23-2, published September 2015

This is part of a weekly series posting content from one of the most innovative content sources in the church world: SUMS Remix Book Summaries for church leaders. SUMS Remix takes a practical problem in the church and looks at it with three solutions; and each solution is taken from a different book. As a church leader you get to scan relevant books based on practical tools and solutions to real ministry problems, not just by the cover of the book. Each post will have the edition number which shows the year and what number it is in the overall sequence. (SUMS provides 26 issues per year, delivered every other week to your inbox). 

> Subscribe to SUMS Remix <<

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Bob Adams is Auxano's Vision Room Curator. His background includes over 23 years as an associate/executive pastor as well as 8 years as the Lead Consultant for a church design build company.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.