Three Signs a Great Idea Isn’t Worth Funding
Updated: Jul 22, 2021
By Paul Rice
As a church leader, you probably get a lot of… advice.
Well-meaning people find you after service, call your office, or send you an email, offering yet another “great” idea that your church just has to implement right away. Most of us usually thank the individual for their input and move on.
But, what about those ideas that actually sound really good? Maybe the idea came from a friend or leader that you trust on Facebook. Maybe Twitter is buzzing with the latest trend. Maybe you saw another church doing something on Instagram.
Social media brought access to unlimited, great-sounding ideas (and opinions), certainly more than our brains are designed to handle, and the temptation to jump on the bandwagon is real. With seemingly endless options and social media pressure, you might find yourself asking,
“How do I decide which ideas are really worth the financial investment?”
The great news is that you can make your decision process significantly easier. I’m willing to bet you already know the best tactic, and I think you’ll be surprised where you learned it: Grade School.
Imagine your seventh grade history teacher has given you the chance to choose the type of final exam you will take. You eagerly listen as the teacher begins listing your options, already knowing what the whole class is going to pick.
“Short Answer, Essay, Fill in the Blank, Multiple Choice…”
If you are a red blooded human being, you and your classmates probably screamed out, “Multiple Choice!” before the teacher even had a chance to finish. Why?
It really hinges on one thing, whether you consciously realize it or not. If you are unsure of the answer to a question, you can narrow down the choices to increase your chances of guessing correctly. How?
By eliminating all of the incorrect choices.
You probably used this strategy almost intuitively on tests in your younger years, but maybe you haven’t realized how powerful it can be for your decision making process now.
Instead of trying to pick from a vast sea of possibilities, start by eliminating the ideas you shouldn’t move forward with.
Selection by elimination requires a very clear set of criteria for determining which ideas don’t make the cut. In his book, Essentialism, Greg McKeown says it this way,
“If it’s not a clear YES, it’s a clear NO.”
In other words, unless it is crystal clear that an idea meets your acceptance criteria, move it to the trash can. This approach will help you eliminate great-sounding, but unproductive, ideas and uncover those ideas that are worth the financial investment.
As I have implemented this approach to my church’s budget, three signs have emerged as reliable indicators that a great idea doesn't meet our criteria and isn’t worth funding right now.
Sign #1: It doesn’t align with the mission and vision of your organization.
Mission driven budgets exist to serve the mission of the organization. Therefore, alignment with the mission and vision should be the minimum criteria for investing financially into a new idea.
This requirement alone will filter out the vast majority of great ideas you are presented with.
It may look like you are being picky to other people, but, for the sake of the mission, you must concentrate your resources only into areas that align with your mission. As I wrote about in a previous post, concentrating your resources into only a few areas produces a far higher return than investing into many areas, especially if some of those areas don’t align with the mission.
Sign #2: The potential return is low compared to what we are currently investing in.
In my church’s second year, before I started managing the finances, our leadership team made a decision to spend ALL of our $3,000 savings on a one time, 3-second radio commercial for Easter services. By advertising on a secular radio station, they hoped to engage people who might not normally go to church.
The idea was certainly creative and aligned with our church’s mission to reach unchurched people. However, not only did it drain the church’s savings, it produced zero return on investment. One person who heard the commercial attended on Easter and they already followed Jesus. No unbelievers came to church as a result of the ad.
At the time, we were already heavily investing into community outreach projects with good results. We could have invested a few hundred dollars into more community outreach with a focus on inviting people to Easter. That approach would have spared our savings AND produced a far higher return than a 3-second radio ad that people had a hard time hearing clearly.
When considering a new idea, be very honest with yourself and your team.
Will redirecting resources from current mission-advancing projects into this new idea really generate a higher return on investment? Or, is it a pet project that just happens to align with your mission?
If it's the latter, shelve the idea for later or eliminate it from your list.
Sign #3: We cannot invest sufficient resources to generate a return.
Great ideas that align with your mission, and have potential for a great return on investment, can fail if they are underfunded.
Let’s revisit our radio ad example. Ultimately, the radio ad failed to produce a return because our investment was too small. A $3,000 investment was only worth a one time, 3-second ad on this radio station.
If we had invested enough for a 30-second ad played multiple times a day for a whole week, we probably would have seen better results. We simply didn’t have sufficient financial resources to generate a return on our investment.
The bottom line is, if you don’t have or can’t redirect sufficient resources to at least give the idea a chance to produce results, you should set it aside until you do have the resources you need.
By eliminating all of the investments you shouldn’t make, you can more easily identify those ideas you should pursue.
These three signs have helped our church get crystal clear on the ideas we won’t fund and I think they will help your church do the same.