Lewis Center Director F. Douglas Powe says that the summer is the perfect time for a congregation to test possible changes through short-term experiments. He offers four considerations to guide an experimental approach to implementing new ideas.
This article by F. Douglas Powe Jr. was originally published on July 18, 2018. We are pleased to share these practical strategies again.
An experiment is where you get to test something out. You go into it knowing that the results may not be what you expected. Many congregations struggle to do new things because they get shot down or folks are stuck in a malaise.
The summer is a time when things typically slow down in congregations. There is often a drop in attendance and giving. It is a perfect time to try an experiment. Here are four things to keep in mind when doing an experiment.
1. Think short term
People fear doing new things because of what they might be required to give up. The value of initiating a change with a trial period is that it includes definite starting and ending points. Those who are afraid they will lose their favorite style of music or worship know a change is not forever. The truth is that many of the things we hold dear in our congregations started out as an experiment even if no one called it that. People liked it and kept doing it and it became a tradition. It’s not easy to go against things that have become established traditions, but starting with a limited time frame minimizes resistance and creates a better opportunity for others to buy into the change.
2. Plan well
Taking an experimental approach to change is no excuse for failing to think things through. In fact, it’s even more important to plan well. If, for example, the goal is to try a different, more relaxed form of worship, a team really needs to think through what that means and how it will function. Too often, we approach new things by cutting from what we already do without actually planning something different — for example, simply cutting the hymns and the anthems and calling it an alternative worship. While this is an alternative to the standard worship experience, it is not a well-planned, comprehensive worship experiment impacting all the components of the community’s time together. We often settle for the former, but we should be more intentional about doing the latter.
3. Adjust as you go
If I start a workout regime of running, and every day for the first week I lose steam half a mile from the finish, I may need to adjust my distance expectations and work my way up to my goal over time. The same principle applies to experiments in our congregations. If we’re not able to get where we want to go immediately, or if something is not quite working as we intended, small adjustments may be necessary. It can be tricky to make midstream adjustments; it may be that the experiment simply wasn’t given enough time to succeed in its original format. But still, adjustment should be considered a part of what it means to experiment.
When the experiment comes to an end, it’s important to evaluate the process and the product. Evaluating can be painful because it invites criticism, but it is a very necessary step. Often, we evaluate the outcome, but forget to evaluate the process that produced the result. By evaluating both we can learn if we had the right people at the table and if we got the results we were seeking.
This summer is a perfect time to try an experiment and do something new. It can allow you to determine if an idea is really viable or if just a few people think it will work. But to learn the most from an experiment, it’s important to plan well, make adjustments, and evaluate the process and the product.
- Use Trial Periods for New Ideas by Lovett H. Weems, Jr.
- Learning to Fail Fast by Lovett H. Weems, Jr.
- 3 Suggestions When a Ministry Project is Unsuccessful by Vincent W. Howell