One of the new approaches to business (who struggle like we do with such a rapidly changing environment), is called “design thinking.” “Design thinking is about joining up with people where they are in the world, attending carefully to their ordinary lives, and improvising solutions to challenges they face.”1 Businesses “embrace countless small failures to avoid big expensive ones.”
So for the church, we find these important practices:
- Innovation grows out of close listening relationships with neighbors.
- Innovation involves iterative small experiments.
- Innovation requires a high tolerance for failure.
- Innovation is about improvisation.
As you plan to “fail early and often,” begin the conversations by celebrating the failures—that’s where we learn; that’s where progress begins. Figuring out why we failed points us in a better direction. Did we fail because we didn’t listen well? forgot to enjoy ourselves? assumed people knew how to do this? something else?
For example, say your congregation has been under such stress, they have forgotten how to laugh and play together. We know this ability marks a healthy congregation. Design thinking to address this might mean:
- Putting chairs/sofas/etc. out in your gathering areas (instead of tucked away in the library or in classrooms) to encourage people to sit and chat awhile. As pastor, have a seat after worship. (You know you want to.) Don’t be in a hurry. Set a spell….
- Have a silly skit at a fellowship meal. (Ask Oak Ridge about the Butt Sisters—men dressed as the most “lovely” women. Believe us, you can’t keep a straight face.) Only costs self-respect.
- Listen to what many people do for fun. Basketball? Baseball? Soccer? Attend a game. Set up a game in the fellowship hall. Make the game “even” by handicapping the best players. Tie their legs together. Put blinders on. Make them play in high heels. Have them hold their trophy all during the game. You get the idea.
- Insert your idea for shenanigans here…
Remember, failures are for learning. We have to cultivate an environment in which people can identify what they learned. “We just didn’t like it,” is an unacceptable answer. Why? Didn’t work. Why? When you hit reasons that can be addressed and corrected, then you have a learning moment and the opportunity for design thinking and innovation. “No one came.” What is the reason? Invitations not sent? People didn’t invite friends? No one knew about the event? People assumed it was for another group? All these failures are opportunity for innovation.
Don’t forget the “learn” part. Don’t try, fail, and never try again. The end of the cycle is learn, change, try again.
Showing God’s glory and greatness in weakness and failure is our story. We know how powerful it can be to be foolish for the Gospel.
1This discussion is found in chapter 4 of The Agile Church, location 1026 if you have a Kindle reader…apologies to those of you looking at the paper edition.
Beth Utley & Joe Blankinship