Advancing the Kingdom: Risk-takers Wanted

The afternoon of October 1, for the first time in my 48 years, I stood at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

I had two immensely vivid thoughts.

First: “The beauty of the Grand Canyon is magnificent beyond my wildest imagination.”

Second: “I now see that running to the North Rim and back in one day is complete madness and utterly impossible. Yet…tomorrow night, I will have done it.”

Though determined, I felt fear. I hadn’t anticipated that fear. 

For four years, I’d dreamed of running the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim (R3) challenge. An increasingly popular challenge in the ultra-distance running community, the R3 consists of descending almost 5,000 vertical feet from the South Rim, crossing the canyon to the North Rim, and ascending about 6,000 feet to the North Rim. Then the runner turns around, and runs back. Rim, to rim, to rim. Forty-five miles of running and over 10,000 feet of ascending in one, long day. 

In my mind, this was all going to be one big, fun, epic adventure. Now that I actually saw the Grand Canyon with my own eyes for the first time, the R3 challenge seemed perilous and insane. And I was afraid.

There’s always that moment before a next-level endurance challenge in which one realizes the immensity of the effort that will be required. And then the realization that the challenge is — despite the pit in one’s stomach — doable, if just barely. Then comes the resolution to do it.

There’s something like that with innovation.

The day before I stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon, we launched a new sustainer program for a wonderful ministry partner. Compelling digital ads and emails reached out to donors to invite them to a beautiful landing page that announced this new opportunity to belong to something momentous.

Getting to that launch point had required months of stakeholder and audience interviews, multiple rounds of creative brainstorming, donor feedback on four different concepts, attention to the most minute details by creatives and experience designers, audience analysis and targeting, media plan development, marketing automation and optimization testing setup, and countless debates and reconsiderations along the way.

The night before a market launch, there’s always that moment: “This important and wonderful ministry is counting on this brand-new strategy being highly successful. What might we have forgotten? How could we have been more imaginative? What might we have gotten wrong? Where’s the mistake none of us realize we made?” 

Then, the morning comes, and — as with the first step off the rim of the Grand Canyon – the transition is made between preparation and execution. It’s still intimidating, because there’s still such a long way to go. But what a rush to finally be on the journey for which you all worked so hard together, shoulder-to-shoulder, in preparation.

As I write this, we are sixty-six days since launch. Early results are exceeding our expectations. At the rate at which we are recruiting sustainers, we will break even on the project at the 100-day mark, which is a great comfort. 

But this isn’t about breaking even. It’s certainly not about 100 days. This sustainer program — like any innovation we build with a ministry — needs to be a game changer. It needs to provide an amazing experience to its participants, creating brand fans for life who spread their excitement to their friends, and it needs to create a large, consistent new funding source to ensure many more people are helped for a long time to come.

We won’t have everything all figured out in 100 days. We have a lot more to learn to scale and change the game for this important ministry. This is about the long haul. Real innovation requires dogged endurance.

There are so many miles ahead of us. But there will come a day, Lord willing, when we will see the long-term goals realized. 

We trust Him for the results. And we stay true to our calling to keep running…

What about you? Have you imagined an amazing new opportunity for people to support your ministry, but fear is keeping you from pursuing it? Fear that people will think you want to take too great a risk? Fear that your idea won’t work? Fear that you won’t prove a good steward of ministry resources?

[It’s a funny thing, the idea we’ve all gotten about “stewardship” in Kingdom organizations. We seem to think it means being as prudent as possible. Isn’t Jesus’s parable of the talents clearly an admonition to take holy risks for the Kingdom?]

I may not know your exact situation, but this I promise you: If you’ll overcome your fear — not through recklessness but through courageous faith, intentional prayer and supportive peers with the expertise to help your innovation succeed — the journey will be worth it. 

After all, this is an advancing Kingdom. Risk-takers wanted.