This is the fourth post in an ongoing series on Vision-Guided Experimentation
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Faith Communities are living organisms made up of human beings. They “live and move and have their being,” sharing many of the characteristics of the people who populate them. Like them, one of things faith communities have to do in order to survive and thrive is sense, respond, and adapt to the environment in which they live.
Last week’s post was about the sensing part of that equation: Mission Context Analysis. We discussed ways of “Getting Outside the Building,” in order to learn more about the characteristics, needs, strengths, and aspirations of the people who comprise the neighborhoods we hope to serve.
This week’s post is about responding and adapting, employing a process we call Rapid Iteration Prototyping. Once we have gotten to know the needs and aspirations of the communities inside and outside the building and having discerned how God is calling us to respond to those needs and aspirations, the next step is creating actual ministries and programs to carry that out. And because of the rapid pace of change in our neighborhoods we have to be able to develop and test them quickly, discarding what doesn’t work and refining what does.
To do that, we start by creating what folks in the business startup arena call a Minimum Viable Product, or in our case a Minimum Viable Program or Ministry. We create a prototype of the program – not a “deluxe” version with everything WE might WANT in it but a much simpler version with only what we have VERIFIED they NEED. In the illustration above, we label this step “ADAPT,” in order to remind ourselves that since, as the proverb says, “there is nothing new under the sun,” that for this step to work we don’t have create a program “out of whole cloth,” but that creativity often takes the form of stealing and repurposing something someone else has already tried.
Then we begin the actual process of rapidly and repetitively testing and tweaking. We test the program with the intended audience (APPLY), ask them what they think about it (ASSESS), and then tweak the aspects of the prototype that are working and toss those that don’t. Then we repeat, learning and adapting more and more with each iteration, until we get it “right.”
Over the nearly 20 years I’ve been designing and refining this approach to ministry development and redevelopment, I’ve seen it applied to every aspect of congregational life, from startup to expansion, from evangelism to worship, from marketing to member giving.
Let me share an example from a church I served, about prototyping a program to engage and serve an underrepresented population.