Experimental Ministry

What if we could try something new in ministry without being committed to it long-term, just to see how it works? Well, who says we can’t? At last fall’s Leadership Training Event Amy Schenkel, from Monroe Community Church, spoke on the topic, “Experiment Your Way to Change.” She defined an experiment as “short-term, intentional plans that help a congregation live into a new behavior.” It’s a way of risking something new, but with very little risk. If it works, it might or might not become a permanent ministry. If it doesn’t work, no big deal. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Thinking of a new practice as a temporary experiment can relieve anxiety and help churches to implement change with less stress and worry.

For example, Hillside Church here in Cutlerville tried an experiment called “The Cars of our Life.” People from the congregation took pictures (with permission) of interesting cars in their neighborhood. This led to conversations with unchurched members in their community. Monroe Community Church had a scavenger hunt in their downtown area, which was well received by the downtown community.

Amy explained what goes into making a good ministry experiment:

  1. A good ministry experiment addresses an issue or problem that we don’t really know how to solve. For example: What do we do about declining attendance in our PM services?
  2. A good ministry experiment takes place over a short period of time. There is more willingness to try new things if there is not a long-term, locked-in commitment.
  3. A good ministry experiment is simple and requires few resources.
  4. A good ministry experiment recognizes that there is some risk involved, but it is not a great amount of risk because it is short-term and does not require many resources.
  5. A good ministry experiment is creative. We have creative people in our congregation with good ideas; don’t be afraid to share them. They are appreciated, even if we don’t end up implementing them.
  6. A good ministry experiment can be measured and evaluated. We can reflect on it and see how well it worked, or didn’t work, or how it could be tweaked.

There are a number of areas where I could see us trying this out at First Cutlerville. These are just some brainstorming ideas; there are plenty of creative people in our congregation, and I’m sure you can come up with more ideas as well.

  1. We could have small groups that focus on a very particular study or activity, which only meet for a limited time.
  2. We could apply this to our worship planning. Persons could volunteer to help plan worship services for a season (for example, Lent through Easter).
  3. Our deacons could suggest a short-term service project or opportunity in which church members can participate.
  4. We could apply this to our ongoing reflections on the evening service. What are some other options we could try on a temporary, experimental basis? Could we try something different for the summer months?
  5. We have our Women of the Cloth, who meet regularly. What about other activity-centered groups, or even single events, that create fellowship and could also be missional if we invite our neighbors. I’m thinking “People of the Shooting Range,” 🙂 but there are many other possibilities.

Think about it, and let your creativity run wild. Let’s experiment our way into the future that God has in store for us, and I trust that the Holy Spirit will bless our experiments, even when they don’t work out. Even when it doesn’t work, it’s not a waste of time. Like a scientist in the laboratory, we can learn just as much from experiments that don’t work as from those that do.

(First Cutlerville CRC Focus, Spring 2015)