You’re called into the pastor’s office. You’re assured it’s no big deal and you have no reason to doubt that, that is, until you hear the words, “I want us to start live streaming.”

In your pastor’s mind, it’s maybe another five minutes of work and you’ve already got everything you’ll need. 

But you know otherwise.

Sure, you could whip out your phone and do a Facebook live, but you know that a shaky video from the back of the room with bad audio isn’t going to cut it. 

How do you start what is essentially a new ministry? 

Let’s borrow an idea from business and see if we can’t apply it to your situation. 

The Minimum Viable Product vs. “Doing it Right”

There’s a major grocery store chain in the eastern U.S. that recently started a grocery pick-up service. You order your groceries online and then drive up to the store at your appointed time and pick up the groceries. The problem for my family was that the nearest store from this chain didn’t do it, but it saved me so much time, that I went for it, driving ten minutes out of my way to do so. 

I noticed that from the moment they started, everything was in place. They’d built a special carport with telephone intercoms that you could call from to let them know you’re there. They even added a new door for the employees to use to deliver the groceries.

A couple of months in, I was talking to one of the employees and he said that future stores wouldn’t start with everything in place. It was just too expensive to start doing it at a store.

A few months later, a much larger chain, Walmart, added the service too. Their store was closer, so I started using them instead.

Despite being a much larger chain with much deeper pockets, they didn’t start the same way. Our Walmart painted arrows to indicate where to park to get your groceries. When you parked, there were four spaces with signs on posts in buckets of concrete. When you arrived, there was a phone number on the sign to call, with your cell phone, to alert the employees that you were there. I’m sure they did work I didn’t see, but for this part of the business, the supplies cost, maybe $100 (although labor was surely more).

Months later, they built a similar carport and added touch screens, but not at first. Why?  They had the money. Why not do it “right” from the very beginning?

This concept is called the “Minimum Viable Product” (or MVP). Many successful companies start by testing out an idea before they go “all-in.” That way they learn, before they put in a ton of resources, if it’s an idea that will work.

The Minimum Viable Ministry

I want to propose a similar idea for the church. I call it the “Minimum Viable Ministry” (or MVM). 

Too often, churches don’t do this. They make one of two mistakes. Either they make the mistake of the first grocery chain, building something that may or may not work at great expense, or they start with a minimum viable ministry and never progress.

So, why should you start with an MVM and progress? 

It’s pretty simple. We don’t have unlimited funds, so we need to test and see what works. This isn’t to say that we should ignore the work of the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes God does tell us to pursue ministries which don’t seem to be “successful” in the traditional sense. When that’s the case, pursue what God tells you to do. I’m talking about times when it’s unclear or when God is silent, or you’re unclear about the direction He wants you to take.

Let’s take live streaming as an example. Some churches will take a smart phone and use that or a webcam connected to a computer, not just as a “proof of concept” or “minimum viable ministry,” but as the end all. 

Propping a smartphone against a soft drink can on the ledge of a tech booth isn’t a good long-term plan.

Likewise, you don’t want to mortgage your church building to put in a multi-million dollar live streaming system only to find out that you never get anyone to watch and don’t have anyone to run the system effectively.

Instead, start with an MVM. Start with a phone or webcam. Start, but don’t stop there. As the ministry gains traction, start adding resources. 

Realize that “minimum” means “minimum.” If you can’t ever grow a ministry, should you even start it? Again, if God tells you to, yes. If it’s unclear, maybe God is saying “No” or “Wait.”

The Pareto Principle and growing MVMs

Growing up in the church, I heard of the 80/20 rule (also called the Pareto Principle) in negative terms. Only 20% of the church gave or served. The remaining 80% didn’t, or didn’t give and serve very much. That’s a bad thing. What’s also bad is that 80% of what a church does isn’t nearly as effective (however it’s measured) as the remaining 20%. 

So, to flip this around, if 20% of what your church does gives an 80% return, why not pour more resources into that 20%? Maybe you don’t want to shutter those ministries that make up the 80% that are ineffective, but it might be worth noting if increases to their budgets increased their effectiveness or if, by whatever measure matters to your church, it was a waste.

If your church is not sure you’re called to a ministry AND its effectiveness doesn’t increase as you increase resources directed to it, don’t increase resources directed to it. That’s bad stewardship.

Your live stream can be this way, too. Is it part of the effective 20% or the ineffective 80%. If you add more resources, will that make it more effective or will it stay constant (or maybe even decrease)?

I’ve seen this in my own ministry. I want to do training on video production, podcasting, and social media, but quite by accident, as an after-thought, I started talking about ProPresenter and live streaming. Perhaps it’s timing or my gifting, or something else, but these subjects produce more response and are more effective by all other metrics than my other ideas.

So, while they started as occasional topics I’d discuss, they’ve become the ones I pour more resources into because they seem to help more people.

That’s what I’m talking about here. 

Discern which ministries should languish living in the minimum and which ones need to see more resources allocated to them. Not every idea will succeed. That’s okay. 

Perhaps live streaming is like that for you. If so, you’ll be glad you started with the minimum and didn’t pour more into it. Maybe, on the other hand, you start with the minimum and as you increase resources given to it, its success increases. 

If so, keep doing so.  That’s good stewardship.