Have you ever had the experience of picking out what you thought would be the perfect gift for a friend or loved one and then seeing disappointment or confusion on that person’s face when it was unwrapped? This is an embarrassing moment for everyone involved (especially if there is an audience).
Why does this happen? One reason is that we did not know the person’s interests and inclinations as much as we thought we did. Another is that we selected the gift because it was something that we would like to have and just assumed that the other person would as well. Finally, we gave a gift that we thought that the person ought to have to correct some fault or encourage them to adopt a new behavior.
Sometimes we do this in ministry settings as well. We assume that a certain constituency needs something and we plan to provide it. When it is delivered, the process, program, or service falls flat on its face. Why?
1. We did not know our constituency as well as we thought. We failed to observe, learn, and ask what was needed in the situation.
2. We catered to our own interests and gifts. As someone said, “When you have a hammer, every problem is a nail.” We work out of our own gift set and do what we are best equipped to do whether it is needed or not.
3. We give people something we think they need: “This will be good for you.” We are providing a corrective or intervention that they may not be ready to receive.
One way to avoid these errors is to involve those who are recipients and potential participants in the ministry. In human-centered design or design thinking, planners work with people at the grass-roots level and involve them in addressing their own needs. This approach emphasizes obtaining the human perspective--especially that of the final user--in the problem-solving process.
As believers, we understand that each person is unique in their gifts, abilities, and needs. We are expected to be sensitive to the needs of others, but we sometimes fail to do that in planning ministries.
Design thinking requires us to see the problem within its context, brainstorming and identifying possible solutions, developing prototypes, and implementing the solution. End users work alongside the designers in all stages of this process.
If we want our gifts or our ministries to be on target, we need to understand the recipients at a deep level. This requires time and intentionality.