Five myths of venture capital (and how they apply to missions)

“Five myths about venture capital” (http://bit.ly/zYScov) is an excellent article worth reading. The five myths outlined in the article are, briefly:

1. Venture investing is a good way to make money (not unless you are in the top 10%)

2. Venture capitalists are rich (not unless you are in the top 5 to 10%; failure rate of VC firms was close to 50%)

3. You must connect to Silicon Valley to succeed (nope, most VCs are not in the Valley)

4. These days it costs less to build a large company (no, costs less to build a SMALL company)

5. Ideas matter (no, ideas are commodities; execution matters).

I see many parallels between technology startups and pioneer mission efforts. The venture capitalists in the mission world are donors and “incubators”—organizations who help get pioneer efforts started by coaching them through the startup phase. Agencies that recruit, train, and deploy startup teams are like incubators. An example is a YWAM base: people join the base as new YWAMers, but eventually they go out and start a new Base with a new ministry. So, what can we learn from this article?

1. Mission investing and development is risky and requires patience.

Missionary efforts are not “for-profit,” but even if you substitute “disciples” or “churches” for “profits” or “revenue,” they are still risky. Mission efforts take a lot of time and persistence to show results. Zwemer, Carey, Judson and other famous missionary heroes all labored for years, even decades, before seeing even one convert. David Watson, a pioneer church planter, once said on average it took two to three years to see a church planting movement start. Lots of mission efforts fail or burn out. Persistence is key.

2. Mission investors are often not rich.

I can’t tell you the number of people who have supported us (and likely support you) while living very modest lifestyles. You can’t look at a person and judge their willingness to join in partnership with your ministry on the basis of their car, clothes, etc. I theorize that the flashier the lifestyle, the more likely it is supported by debt–and therefore the less likely they have funds available to help. (Or skills, talents, relational networks, like-minded values, etc.)

The corollary of this is: just because you aren’t rich, doesn’t mean you should think yourself incapable of helping something get started. Even a few resources wisely invested can be the levers that change the world. You may be rich in encouragement, or personal connections, or time spent mobilizing other workers.

3. Mission investors are not in likely places.

Investors and incubators may be found less among “Bible belts” or historically mission passionate denominations and more in odd places. Especially, I theorize investors are more likely found in places that intersect non-Christian regions (particularly places with large numbers of non-Christian immigrants), because there Christians are more familiar with the need for missions. Investors might also be found among entrepreneurial startups and other business-friendly places that may not know the ‘mission lingo’ but as a result of globalization have a passion for the lost in other places. Keep your eyes open. Be flexible.

4. It doesn’t costs less to build a large missionary effort because we can use nationals.

It still costs a lot because you have to sustain things over time. The average missionary budget is going to be about $100,000 per year. Why? Remember many teams operate in high-cost unreached urban areas in the Middle East, or places like Japan, China, Indonesia–and life there is not cheap despite what our preconceptions might be. Plus, there are costs of ministry, collaboration, travel, health, children, etc. If you have a team of missionary units and they labor for 2 to 3 years you can easily be budgeting $1 million or more for an effort amongst an unengaged group. This is going to be necessary in many places because there just are not enough local efforts to reach into the unengaged peoples–that’s why they are unengaged. Of course, not all of these workers need to be Westerners—but there will still be a cost.

5. Ideas or strategies or resources or methods are the most important.

No, as in business, what really matters is execution: discipleship, life-sharing, intentionality, reproducibility, dedication, persistence, long-term being-in-the-place, incarnation. There are no “shortcuts.”

Justin LongFive myths of venture capital (and how they apply to missions)