Monday, June 14, 2010

A Research and Development Department for the Church?

How does your church come up with new ideas or at least find new applications for old ideas? Is there some pocket or space for creativity in your congregation?

In A New Kind of Christianity, Brian McLaren suggests a new for “free trade zones” and “research and development departments” where Christian leaders can experiment, create, and learn new ways of doing church. In such settings, both established and emerging leaders can come together to address issues and needs with fresh eyes and open minds. Of course, this is more easily said than done and requires at least one “champion” in the system to get the ball rolling.

I have had the opportunity to be part of a group for the past two years that attempts to do this. When the minister of Christian formation at our church put together the Christian Formation Team, I am not sure that he knew what he was getting into! This group of five church members (plus the minister of Christian formation) took seriously the challenge to find new ways to engage church members in spiritual formation and development. We took off down some paths that were rewarding and others that were just hard going! On the journey, we found new ways (for us anyway) to involve our church in the liturgical year, adult formation, and people development. In some cases, we just put a fresh fa├žade or our own spin on an old idea, but these efforts provided new life and momentum for the church.

This has worked for several reasons. First, we had a leader who was willing to provide the “space” for this to happen and walk along with us in the process. Second, we had a committed and creative group of people (myself not necessarily one of them) who embraced the challenge. Third, we had a pastor and church staff who willingly joined us in our efforts or stepped back and provided moral support.

The team is evolving in a new direction now, adding new people and moving into subgroups around creative expression, adult formation, and people development functions. I am not sure how this will look a year from now, but we are definitely in the “research and development” business. I am reminded of a quote attributed to Albert Einstein: “If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?”

We may not know what we are doing, but we are enjoying the trip.

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