I had a conversation with a pastor recently who shared that in his family of origin, “failure was not an option.” And so, he was a careful planner who sought to get “all the data” he could before making a decision. I was reminded of Ecclesiastes 12:12

Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.

As a result, it regularly takes an inordinate amount of time for him to reach a decision, and when he does, he implements it with trepidation.

A pastor who is risk averse and has a fear of failure is going to have serious problems trying to grow a church … in fact, it’s nearly impossible.

A pro football team plays 16 games each year. It is possible, though not likely, that any ONE team could have a perfect season and not lose once. The coaches tend to approach every single game as a do-or-die effort.

A pro baseball team plays 162 games each year. It is NOT possible for any team to have a perfect season. And so, no one even tries. With few exceptions, no single game is a do-or-die effort. Instead, they manage their wins and losses strategically.

The church is in it for the long haul … perfection isn’t an option. Ever. Never Ever. It’s going to lose over and over and over again.

Someone who’s afraid to fail takes no risks. A leader who takes no risks isn’t a leader … at best s/he’s a manager. And managers do a fine job at maintaining the status quo, but they never advance an organization. That takes leadership. Leadership that’s willing to fail.

Sure, there’s a difference between reckless leadership and thoughtful leadership, but if you’re planning on never failing, decide now that you’re going to manage rather than lead and then find a church that has no interest in growing. Because if you’re risk-averse, you will not be able to grow a church.

We live in a culture where very little the church has done over the past sixty-plus years has guaranteed growth.1 If someone had the magic pill or the secret sauce for growing churches, everyone would be doing it. Notice that they aren’t. The vast majority of North American churches are in decline. That means church leaders are going to have to take risks and try things that may not work … probably won’t work. They’re going to fail. Regularly. Often. In fact, most will never fully succeed.

So why even try? Because there’s one guarantee … if a leader won’t take a risk, they will never succeed in breaking the status quo.

Failure isn’t an option: it’s a certainty on the road to success.


1 Of course, there is ONE thing that guarantees that churches will grow: disciple making. The problem is, most churches and church leaders will do anything to grow a church so long as it doesn’t mean becoming a 1 Corinthian 9:22 church: “I will become all things to all people that by all possible ways I might save some.”

But most churches are looking for the program, the ministry, the ad-campaign … the “secret sauce” that will drive their attendance through the roof, exponentially increase their baptism rate, and generate the finances to fund all sorts of ministry … all without making any changes to the way they do church.