Failing fast

  • Tony Payne
  • 1 February 2017

Entrepreneur and writer Seth Godin says, “Fail fast and cheap. Fail often. Fail in a way that doesn’t kill you.”1

Starting anything new, he goes on to say, is about finding that sweet spot between leaning forward and falling on your face. And when you do fall on your face (as you sometimes will), it must be accepted as the necessary risk of leaning forward.

When that happens, says Godin, “… be clear about it, call it by name and outline specifically what you learned so you won’t make the same mistake twice”.2

This is an excellent principle for life, for ministry, and for pretty much everything. You don’t achieve anything of significance without daring to fail. And fail you often will.

Which brings me to Vine Journal.

It has failed. This will be its final issue.

This makes all of us here at Matthias Media sad, and no doubt our small but appreciative fellowship of readers sad as well.

Why has it failed? What lessons can we learn?

Firstly, we’ve learned that seeing an obvious need doesn’t mean that you are necessarily the ones to be able to fill it. After the closure of The Briefing, we launched Vine Journal because we wanted to continue to meet what we saw as a real need—a place where longer-form, readable, well-edited and well-argued essays from Reformed-evangelical authors could be published and read, in digital and paper form.

We saw a Christian ideas marketplace that was awash in memes, status updates and short posts on just about every conceivable question, but suffered from a real lack of thoughtful, substantial, theologically wise material that mounted an actual argument, that did so on the basis of the Bible, and that was oriented to the disciple-making mission that the Bible calls us to. We saw Vine Journal as an achievable way of at least partially filling that gap.

Turns out that even the more modest ambitions we had—a journal published three times a year on a break-even user-pays basis—was more than we could sustain.

That brings me to the second lesson—that magazine and journal publishing, especially of the long-form variety, is in an even tougher place than we thought. We never saw Vine Journal as a money-making exercise, but we were confident that we could operate at least at break-even. However, that goal has proved more challenging than we thought.

The third and main lesson is that there is a limit to how many new things you can squash into the workload of an already overloaded team. We embarked on Vine Journal at a point where our resources at Matthias were already stretched thin—which is corporate-speak for saying that everyone around here has been busier than a one-fingered teenager with a smart-phone.

The tendency that we all know from our personal lives, and especially from church life, is to launch into a new opportunity or idea, assuming that we and all those around us will flex to find the time and energy to make it happen. But there comes a point where is no flex left, and where making a new thing happen will mean deciding to let something else not happen. And what if there is nothing that can be dropped or discontinued?

This is where we’ve come to with Vine Journal. We simply don’t have the money or the people to keep it going, as much as we’d like to. For the sake of our team and all the other important things they are juggling, it was time to face that reality.

Time, in other words, to fail.

Thankfully our failure meets most of Seth Godin’s criteria. It was certainly fast—only five issues in. It hasn’t cost us too much (except in disappointment and a blow to our pride). And it won’t kill us or anyone else.

All the same, we’re disappointed that we will no longer be able to provide you—the most discerning of readers!—with long-form quality Reformed-evangelical writing for your encouragement and growth.

I’d like to thank everyone who has written for Vine Journal—there have been some outstanding pieces—as well as everyone who worked hard to make it a reality, both within Matthias Media (especially Karen Beilharz, Rachel Macdonald and Ian Carmichael) and without (Joy Lankshear, Mike Allen, Samuel Freney and Scott Newling).

And most of all, to all of you who have subscribed and read and supported and encouraged us—a very sincere thank you.


1 S Godin, The Big Moo, Penguin, New York, 2005, p. 144.

2 S Godin, ‘How to fail’,, 11 April 2011 (viewed 24 October 2016):