How to Plant a Flipped Church (I think)

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This article contains advice to my future self. In each section, I explain the idea and then lay out my plans to implement that idea for a flipped church my wife and I want to start. We're calling the project “Neighborly Church.”

The advice is made up of things I learned while building a small software company (1.5M annual revenue, 2.6k customers, and ~20 employees) and while studying people who have planted churches.

My goal for blogging these plans is threefold.

  1. To share them with people who’d like to help make it happen.
  2. To get feedback from people who have more experience than me.
  3. So folks with similar goals can incorporate my research into their own.

I’ll check in regularly to add updates and big emoji ✅’s and ❌’s as I’m able to test these plans in the real world. Boy, I sure hope insights from company building apply to church planting… I guess we’ll see.

Make something a few people love.

This is advice lifted directly from the tech startup accelerator Y Combinator, and it resonates with my experience starting a company.

The ideal situation for an organization is to create something that lots and lots of people love. However, this is rarely an option for something new. Instead you have the option A) to create something that lots of people like a little bit or B) to create something that a few people love a lot. You should go for B.

Create something that a few people love. By “love,” I mean that they are so excited for what you are making that they will give honest feedback, tell their friends about it, and come back even when you mess up.

Everything about building an organization gets easier if you can find a group of raving fans (even a small group). These people will keep you motivated, keep you focused, introduce you to partners, and they will get your attention should you start to veer off course. Most importantly (IMO), you will have more fun since you get to hang out with lots of people who are excited about the same things you are.

Who’s going to love Neighborly Church?

People like Ingrid and me!

We’re both excited to have a church where people listen to one another, celebrate being alive, and (most importantly) take practical steps toward becoming better people.

We are excited to watch, read, or listen to sermons from a wide range of wise people--be they pastors, monastics, poets, activists, or podcasters.

We are excited to spend in-person time each week listening to and sharing with friends about things that are important to us.

We are excited to implement ideas from the weekly message into our own lives, with the help of group accountability, co-working, practice time, etc.

In summary, we are building the solution to our own goals and problems.

Simple now, powerful later

I use this phrase as a prioritization tool every single day. Another way to say it is “is there some way you can get 90% of what you want with 10% of the effort?” I’ll break the phrase into its parts and then demonstrate it in action with Neighborly Church below.

The word simple asks two questions:

1) What is the most focused and streamlined version of a project that gets the job done?

2) Is this idea simple for YOU to implement? (If you don’t know how to start/finish the task, then it’s not simple enough yet.)

The word now creates urgency and implies action. Simple now means the most focused version that can be finished/launched/shared ASAP.

The word powerful acknowledges there are additional things you want to do, but can’t do just yet. There are always “important” and “good” things which might need to wait for the sake of “simple” and “now.”

The word later works like a pressure relief valve for all the FOMO, perfectionism, and excitement. The powerful later plan is where you can put all of the exciting distractions that will likely keep you from actually trying something and getting feedback from real people. The more simple now tasks you can complete, the more you will learn, and the more your powerful later plans will change. And when those plans change, you'll be happy that you didn’t spend 6 months building the PERFECT version of something that, whoops, no one actually wanted.

Bonus note: If something is critically important (i.e. related to safety, compliance, or the law), then doing it right the first time is both the simple now AND the powerful later solution.

Simple now Neighborly Church

Who’s it for? Ingrid and me plus at least 8 more folks in Williamsburg.

What is it? A low-key gathering of folks who are excited to discuss a message they watched, read or listened to earlier in the week.

When will it happen? One-off events starting in 2024, and then weekly gatherings in 2025.

Where is it? Local parks, restaurants, houses, etc.

Why? Because Ingrid and I want this community to exist. We’ve tried lots of churches but can’t find anything quite like this.

How will it happen? Start it ourselves. Start small and learn lots.

Powerful later Neighborly Church

Who’s it for? Every community in the US.

What is it? A network of low-key gatherings where folks do all sorts of activities related to a message they watched, read, or listed to earlier in the week.

When will it happen? Multiple meeting times per day all week long. Meeting schedules could be more similar to a gym or studio than Sunday church services. Will make incremental progress during our years raising a family. So maybe 2060, with most of the growth happening in the last 7 years.

Where is it? A flipped church in every US community. Meetings in parks, apartments, community centers, schools, etc.

Why? Because the world needs us to learn how to communicate with each other and to learn how to love our neighbors as ourselves.

How will it happen? Documenting successes and failures, open sourcing materials, offering mentorship, education, and accreditation via this website.

Have a plan & plan to change it.

Starting an organization is an exercise in predicting/shaping the future.

If you want to create an environment where more problems are solved than created, then you need to have a solid plan. Good news is that it doesn’t have to be correct (spoiler, it won’t be correct), but you do need to have a plan to start with. In order to be “in control” throughout the process, you need to know what’s going according to plan and what is going differently. Knowing when something isn’t going according to plan is extremely helpful--it will give you opportunities to step in and start problem solving. You can decide to revise the original plan to work with the new information, or you can stay the course and work to solve what’s going wrong.

When I say “Have a plan and plan to change it,” I am saying that all of your plans (especially the early ones) should be full of questions and branching options. If you’re planning to learn lots of new things, then you ought to plan experiments - not manifestos. And then you get to worry less about over-planning or holding onto the wrong plan for longer than necessary.

“Plan to change your plan” also means that anytime you discover new information (congrats!), you can revisit your plan and say, “I have this new information. Does my plan need to change for my organization to accomplish its goals in a way that I will be proud of?” And that, for me, is what it means to “lead” an organization.

The Neighborly Church plan.

We hope to start meeting regularly in 2025. This date still being so far out, we have more questions than answers, and most of our plans are focused on learning. That said, here’s what we think we know:

  1. Once established, we want to have a weekly meeting. We plan to start with a series of well advertised one-off events, and then shift to more regular gatherings after that. We’re not sure what days of the week/weekend we want to meet. So we’re going to experiment with all of them.
  2. Ingrid and I are going to set some group goals and create a backlog of 6 months of sermons/conversation starters. Once we have an established group, we’ll work with the community to create shared goals.
  3. We know we want to include families and kids, but we are not sure how it’s going to work. We need to work out the details.
  4. Ingrid and I like to travel and want the freedom to leave for up to 2 weeks at a time. This means we need to 1) create easy-to-follow processes, and 2) find trustworthy people who can facilitate in our absence.
  5. We want to encourage participants to share sermons and lead gatherings. Our “church” will be sustainable once we are leading 1-2 gatherings per month.
  6. We plan to meet outdoors as much as possible. Instead of buying a building, we might just buy people umbrellas and rain jackets. Winter is a different story… but we’ll worry about that once we get there.
  7. This idea lives or dies on group conversation skills. This means we need to teach and grow those skills starting day one. Everyone should know what is expected of them and if they are doing a good job.
  8. We know we want to create a sense of progress and gamify things when appropriate, but we’re not sure how. We are confident it will be important if we want to help people to come back and stick with their goals.
  9. We want to share our progress, materials, and learnings with others. That’s why I’m writing this blog post and why exists.
  10. We want the group to donate 99% of their church contributions directly to charity. This means we need to find ways to cover overhead: things like marketing, materials, meeting spaces, etc. Right now, we are planning to cover costs with a suggestion donation of $20/mo or $5 to attend meetings.

I could keep going, but these are some of the bigger questions/plans we have so far.

More advice...

There are so many more good tips and bits of advice that have saved me over the years. I'll add some of my favorites in the coming weeks...

Personal Autonomy

You have the power to pause, rewind, or step away from that week's message. Pick the learning style that works best for you. If you want to share with the group, you can share before, during, or after the Sunday gathering.