November 3, 2015

The Importance of Failure

We failed. Not a big, catastrophic failure. Nothing that will change the future of humankind, the nature of the neighborhood, or the flavor of the church.

But a fundraiser idea that I pitched and planned two years ago has died. Essentially, I thought it would be easy to add a Christmas boutique to an already existing fundraiser (a spaghetti dinner). The idea was that vendors could reserve a table at no cost and give a tithe – 10 percent – to the church of their sales. If they made out like bandits, awesome. It’s a win-win. If these small, mostly self-employed folks didn’t sell anything, they lost a couple of hours but no money. (You can read about it in more detail).

It seemed easy all around. The work required a bit of coordination with vendors and easy set up around the fellowship hall. But it caused consternation. Our fellowship hall is small and the vendor tables meant fewer places to eat for the spaghetti dinner, which was raising money for an in-house ministry. I think perhaps some of the folks coordinating the dinner felt like the boutique took away from the focus of the dinner. Some of the vendors sold quite a bit (especially the booth featuring delicious peanut brittle); others were disappointed.

At the end of the day, we decided to pull the plug—at least on this iteration of a combined boutique/fundraiser. There’s some energy to host a boutique at another time, perhaps after worship on a Sunday. We’ll see. I think the important thing though is the acknowledgement and acceptance that we tried something, it didn’t work, and that’s OK.

All too often in the church, we invest in an idea or a program and then either because of pride or stubbornness, we don’t allow it to go gracefully into the good night. We don’t end it, even when it’s not working, because we don’t want to admit failure. 

I’m a firm believer that failure means you’re taking risks. If there’s no failure in a church, then it’s a place that’s complacent and too comfortable in its safe space. The same is true for non-profits, organizations, and companies. I once heard an executive from one of the largest Fortune 500 companies say that she expects half of her products to fail. Half. And she expects it. Why? Because if the company isn’t pushing to try new and bold initiatives, then it won’t find the other half of products that will wildly succeed. 

So we failed. And I’m proud. Sure, I wish the boutique had worked. But it didn’t. The more important lesson though is that it’s OK to fail. It’s important to stop something when it’s not working, to figure out what happened without casting blame so that perhaps the next initiative will have a better start. 

Time and again, the gospels call us to take risks in our lives. Give all you have and follow Jesus. Stand with him at his arrest. Help the poor. Reserve judgment. Believe in a savior who died and rose from the dead. Risky business, this faith of ours. Go and risk. Be not afraid of failure. Or success. 

Don't miss a blog post! Subscribe here to receive a notice of each new post.