Your church has decided to host a holiday dinner for needy families in your community. You rally the support of the church members, who eagerly sign up to provide food and help with setup, serving, and cleanup. You expect to feed as many as 150 people. Come Thanksgiving afternoon, the tables are decorated, the food is ready, and the volunteers are at their posts.
Two hours later, no one — no one — has shown up for the meal.
A failure? Only if you don’t learn from it.
Sure, in some ways the event didn’t work. But you have several questions you must consider at this point and over the next few days.
First and most immediate, Can anything be saved? At the moment, you are surrounded by uneaten piles of mashed potatoes, mounds of turkey, and tables of stuffing and pumpkin pies. It’s Thanksgiving. Surely someone could use this food! With a few quick phone calls, you find a local soup kitchen that is happy to take everything right away. You end up feeding needy folks in the community after all, just not the ones you originally planned.
Second, Was this event poorly conceived? It could be that there were good reasons to not put on this event. Perhaps there was additional information that should have been considered about the target audience. Was this a good day, time, and location for them? I once was part of a church that decided to hand out free Blockbuster video gift cards (remember Blockbuster?!?) and microwaveable popcorn packs on a Friday night as an outreach. The problem was, that Friday happened to be the first day of the ACC men’s basketball tournament — which, in this community in this state, means that most people are at home watching the game, not driving to Blockbuster to rent a movie that night.
Third, Was this event poorly implemented? You could have had a great idea but the breakdown occurred during its implementation. Did you adequately plan every part of the event? Were roles and expectations clearly communicated? Did you publicize the event in ways that would effectively reach your target audience? Was there appropriate follow-through on delegated responsibilities?
Fourth, What was beyond our control? Sometimes unforeseen circumstances are to blame for a poor outcome. Maybe there was a freak snowstorm. Maybe the economy tanked. Maybe there was an unexpected death or illness. There are some times when even the best ideas and the most meticulous implementation are thwarted by factors beyond our control.
Finally, What can we learn going forward? Take what happened and learn from it! What did we do well? What would we do differently the next time? Should there even be a next time? Most importantly, how was I changed as a result of this process?
It is just as important to learn from our “failures” as from our “successes,” whether a one-time event or a long-term ministry. And speaking of failures, the only real failure is a failure to learn.