Missouri Pastor Jim Hoffman discusses how a five-step process for evaluating and testing possible new initiatives can help churches develop and implement ideas in a more thorough and systematic manner.
Have you wondered why your congregation continues to struggle despite the many proposals for new or improved ministry? Many congregations regularly generate new ideas for new program initiatives, new ways to increase worship attendance, and more streamlined administrative processes. But too often, these ideas never get off the ground.
The problem is that a good idea alone cannot solve a problem. It must be put into action. The crisis isn’t a lack of inspired ideas but rather a crisis of execution. Few churches possess the tools needed to execute a simple plan, let alone a five-year vision for the congregation. Figuring out how clergy and laity can work together to more effectively execute ideas can help your congregation take the next step toward fruitfulness. Executing a vision or plan can be refreshing and invigorating. It simply takes the right environment and process.
Begin by gathering the right team. You need people who understand the challenge or opportunity and are willing to invest in it heart and soul. The team should bring a range of expertise and experience relevant to the issue. But, then, what do you do?
I’ve found some intriguing ideas in a book that describes a five-day marathon planning process for businesses, Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just 5 Days by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, and Braden Kowitz of Google Ventures. Don’t get thrown by the five-day marathon! That’s not realistic for churches. However, the steps the authors outline can be very useful for church innovation.
1. Identify the challenge.
The presenting dilemma or opportunity needs to be defined clearly. What needs addressing? How would you know if you are successful? Or, in the language of biblical fruitfulness, what is the harvest you are seeking from your efforts?
2. Develop options.
Don’t latch onto one idea at the beginning. Sketch out multiple possibilities to accomplish the end result that you have identified.
3. Decide on the best alternative.
Of all the ideas developed, which one has the most potential for success? Which one is most likely to accomplish the goal? This decision requires engaging the alternatives in a deep way to assess the strengths and weaknesses of each.
This is where the process is very different from normal church planning. When we decide on the best alternative, we normally recommend it for approval and then begin. In the Sprint method, we are still a long way from implementing anything.
We usually think of prototyping in terms of a new product. “Let’s make one and see how people like it,” someone might say. That’s hard to do with most ministry ideas, but it’s not impossible. What you are looking for at this point is some way to test out your preferred alternative. You may be able to develop a reasonable “prototype” to test, but, in any case, you need to find some way to test the concept beyond just telling people about it.
If you are exploring a second worship service, why not try it for four Sundays during Advent? If you are considering adding a contemporary worship service, why not ask those you see as the target audience to visit contemporary worship services at other churches and share their thoughts? If you are considering a new way of asking for stewardship pledges, why not try it first with the church leadership a couple of months before the normal stewardship commitment season? Even if you cannot try out something, you can arrange conversations with a range of people in your church and with people from other churches who have tried your idea. And, whenever possible, begin something new in such a way that changes can be made if it does not work or needs modifications.
This model requires that you engage with persons for whom the plans are designed and get their feedback and ideas. Their involvement should enable you to execute an idea with a much greater likelihood of success and to avoid wasting precious time, energy, and resources on misguided directions.
The principal reason I am excited about this model is because I believe it has the potential to empower us to see a way through a crisis, especially the crisis of executing God’s vision for all our congregations. In our churches we pray that God reveals an inspired idea that intersects with a known need in each local community. God is seeking after new people and the Holy Spirit is willing to empower new ways for God’s will to be accomplished in this world. It is time for us to get after it and be smart about how we execute God’s inspired ideas.
By adapting insights from this book, especially what is written about testing a plan with people who will be using it, your congregation can execute inspired ideas more effectively. The goal is to move from the idea to something concrete that will work effectively. My congregation and I have been helped by using this model’s five-step process.
- Discovering God’s Future for Your Church Video Tool Kit
- Use Trial Periods for New Ideas by Lovett H. Weems, Jr.
- Learning to Fail Fast by Lovett H. Weems, Jr.