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The DNA of those OPEN to the church.

December 2020

Dear Friends, 

I want to tell you about another super-duper exciting experiment we are working on. It is called the “Facebook DNA” experiment. Let me briefly explain it. (“Super-duper” may not be the most technical term, but have you noticed there are no technical terms to describe excitement?)
  1. Research tells us there are a large number of social-justice minded, mainly young people who are very open to the Christian message even if they are not in church on Sundays. 
  2. We built a page on Facebook to attract these types of people. We call them OPENS. We currently have just under 5,000 people following the page.
  3. With that number of followers, Facebook is able to generate a deep statistical profile of the group. We call this the DNA of the OPENS. We can now reach the people around a church who have that OPENS DNA. They are called “lookalikes” by Facebook.
  4. Since they are particularly open to the message of social justice, we’re going to test it out with some congregations that have a strong social justice ministry. The “lookalike” folks are likely to be interested in what such a congregation has to say and how to get involved. (When we tried this with another organization, the engagement rate shot up to 48% as compared to the normal engagement rate on Facebook of about 1%.)
  5. We are going to test if the OPENS can become friends of, and possibly members, of the congregation.
While we look for congregations, we are testing this out this week with the diocese of the Central Gulf Coast. They are having a revival this week called “Just Mercy – Just Jesus” which should be of interest to the social-justice minded OPENS. I can’t wait to see what we discover.
See? I need a technical term for super-duper excited!

With much gratitude,
Fr. Lorenzo

TryTank by the numbers

(As of December 1, 2020) overall experiments to date: 59 experiments that worked: 7 experiments that failed: 25 experiments that are ongoing despite Covid-19: 21 experiments on hold due to Covid-19: 6 new ministries launched based on experiments: 2
...miles flown in 2020: 23,408 (until Covid stopped travel in FEB)

NEW DATE: Leadership Skills for the Next 10 Years

Wednesday, January 13, 2021  
3:00 p.m. ET
Pay what you can (see link for details)
Click here to register

*We had to change the date of this webinar from December to January. 

For almost 20 years, beginning just after 9/11, futurist Bob Johansen has been wrestling with the question of leadership profiles that will be required to thrive in the VUCA World (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous). He wrote a trilogy of books that share the profile he's convinced will work to help us get ready for the next future shock. The profile includes:

• Ten skills (think competencies) introduced in Leaders Make the Future
• Five literacies (think disciplines or practices) introduced in The New Leadership Literacies
• One mindset (think worldview) introduced in Full-Spectrum Thinking

Join us for an impactful webinar with Dr. Johansen as he covers his leadership trilogy, with a special emphasis on the skills required to thrive in the coming decade.

(Remember - if you register for the webinar but can't attend "in person", you will receive a link to the recording you can watch when you can.)

Theology in Conversation

As it turns out, in some of this experimentation work we sometimes bump into ethical lines. A great example of this is the Facebook DNA experiment mentioned above. In October, the Society of Business Ethics at Cambridge University released an article calling "social media addiction a serious moral problem." Since we know that Facebook continues to adjust its algorithms to get people addicted, should we be ethically prevented from using Facebook for the work of the church? It's an interesting question, and one we should engage. 

To engage these questions, we are going to start an occasional series we're calling "Theology in Conversation." We will enter into a friendly debate/conversation with a theologian about these questions. The conversation will be recorded as video, audio, and transcribed to text. We will then release all of them to engage the wider church on the topic. 

We'll have more information about the first such conversation soon! 


This section contains updates on active experiments only. If you want to read about past experiments, please visit our website

8503-Connected Congregation: Using texting for easy points of contact between the congregation and its members leading to more engagement with the church and higher attendance. 
LASTEST:  This month of December will be the end of this experiment. Soon after, we'll evaluate the results. But all indications are that if you work it, it does work.   

8504-Digital Collection Plate: Grow the collection plate amounts at congregations by making it as easy and fast as possible for people to give in forms other than cash. 
Result:  It did not work as we had wanted it to but enough to move to phase 2: See Experiment 8536.  

8509-Listening Project: Conversations with 100 leaders who have grown and maintained their congregational growth. Leading to the "Habits of Highly Effective Church Growers." Some will be basic, but we also hope to find surprises.  

8513-Theological Explainer Videos: Create a library of whiteboard videos that explain theological concepts in 2 minutes. The videos will be on YouTube, the 2nd largest search engine in the world. 
LATEST:  Our first 6 videos are done. We are in production for 3 more! (It takes about a month to do each new one.) Want to see the first videos? HERE  they are.

8515-Home Sermons: Weekly 3 minute sermon videos to be used by Eucharistic ministers as they take communion to the homebound. 
LATEST: While trying out new ways of distributing the videos during this pandemic, we created an online community for them. Some 1,750 people now like and follow the Facebook page where we post the weekly videos. And we are looking at the possibility of launching something new for them (and so we can learn, of course!) Check the videos out at Good News on the Go.

8517-HeartEdge USA: Helping to expand the HeartEdge network in the US. Building association, learning, development, and resource of congregations on the edge. 
LATEST: The US group is now meeting monthly and working on how to expand the work here. You can see more about it on the HeartEdge Facebook page. If you join HeartEdge, there's a special practitioners page with chats and resources. 

8518-EpiscoPALS: Create an SMS-based community that connects seniors to each other, to younger members of the congregations, and to the community.  
LATEST:  We are in the launch phase. We have the people who will be participating and are training them in the skill of "deep listening." Next steps are to connect them with the older members and then to use automated reminders to keep the conversation flowing.

8520-Touring Gospel Choir: Organize a touring gospel choir who can go to various Episcopal communities to perform. In each community, the choir will lead a master class for local Episcopal choirs on how to best use the gospel music in our tradition. 

8524-Millennial Travel Experience: Work with an experienced tour operator to create a trip that can fill the "spiritual experience" desires of millennials. 

8525-Evangelism Theater: Organize a small tour for a theatrical show that can be performed in a church and thus make it easy for people to invite their friends to church and have a conversation about spirituality. 

8527-Transformation Weekend: Similar to a self-improvement weekend but fully Christian and the goal is to transform the participants into committed followers of Jesus. 
LATEST: COVID HOLD ... BUT ...Like some of the others, we can plan it now for when we can gather again after the pandemic.

8528-Prayer Puppets: If Mr. Rogers were starting his show in 2019, what might it look like? How would it incorporate technology? And what if it was also a tool for Christian formation. We aim to find out. 
LATEST:  The shows are pretty much done. We are now doing some A/B testing on price and other options. We will officially launch the puppets at the FORMA conference in January.   

8533-YA Didactic Books: Develop a series of on-demand and digital books aimed at a young adult audience that teach the life of discipleship. 
LATEST: We are looking for writers and book proposals to reach the audience. If you are interested, let us know and we'll get you more information. 

8536-Digital Collection Plate Phase 2: Taking what we learned from the first phase and developing a kiosk solution for congregations to accept digital payments. 

8538-Latino Ministry Launch: Taking the success of the Latino Ministry in a Box experiment (8506) and helping to launch it as an ongoing ministry. 
LATEST: We are currently putting all the parts in place so that we can begin once people can gather in person again. 

8542-Spanish Missalette: To create a seasonal Spanish language missalette for use in congregations that have Spanish language services.   

8544–YouTube Channel: To create a YouTube channel aimed at young adults that covers spirituality from the perspective of one young adult. 
LATEST:  Ellie has launched the channel. Check it out

8547– Reimagined Youth Ministry: Using our Design Action Team on the ground. 
LATEST:  Working with a congregation in Illinois to innovate their youth ministry. We have conducted 12 interviews with the youth of the parish. We're also in the process of gathering information from congregational leaders and secondary resources. Next, we'll begin the process of turning those insights into ideas.

8548 – English Language Misa: To create a culturally Hispanic Eucharistic service aimed at second+ generation Latinos/as.

8549-Eight Minutes Podcast: a podcast aimed at helping parents talk to their children about faith. 
LATEST: The podcast is in early development testing but as with most things in the field these days, it's taking a bit longer. 

8550-COVID-19 Response: quick initiatives to respond to the pandemic. 
LATEST:  In response to the pandemic, we have done a Digital Church Guide, Dial-A-Priest (see 8551), Crowdfunding in a Box (see 8553), and several webinars. Is there something else we could be doing? Let us know!

8552 -"OPENS" on Facebook:  Creating a community on Facebook of people who are open to the message of the church but are unchurched. The FB DNA of the group can then be "mirrored" to connect with people in local contexts.  
LATEST:  Check out the Director's letter.

8553-Crowdfunding in a Box: a complete easy-to-implement system for churches to follow to create a crowdfunding campaign. 
LATEST:  A total of 34 congregations launched together and are participating in this experiment until the end of the year (and perhaps even a little longer because of the COVID delays). The work continues and we should start to see some videos soon! 

8554-Planting by Radio: To plant a Spanish-speaking congregation utilizing local radio airtime to build community as the first step. 
LATEST:  We have been recording the shows and are almost good to go! The show is sounding so good that the experiment might expand into a weekly syndicated radio show for Spanish-speaking stations in the U.S.

8556 - Mission Clarity: To develop a simple method for congregations to find their true mission.  
LATEST:  We will launch this as a workshop in the Spring. 

8557- Digital Confirmation: To develop a digital gamified version of the confirmation journey culminating with their confirmation.  
LATEST: We are developing content based on the best resources. We had a great response to our call for partners last month and should be able to test it in a diverse group of places.  

8558- National Prayer Line: Creating a national prayer hotline staffed by Episcopal clergy volunteers that can be activated quickly in response to national events. 
LATEST: We launched during the "Holding onto Hope: A National Service of Healing and Wholeness" from the National Cathedral on, November 1. Over the five days that we operated, our chaplains offered 14 hours and 17 minutes total of prayers. Others are now asking that we activate the Prayer Line for other uses in the church. We are exploring options.

*NEW* 8559- Church 2030: Where is the church headed so that we can best prepare? We are training two people in futures thinking and foresight practice (focusing on practical tools, processes, and methodologies). Their work will inform the work of TryTank and the church.   
LATEST: The training is happening from December 1 to 15, 2020.  

Do you have an idea for an experiment for church growth and innovation? Do you think it will help people encounter Christ? Hit reply and let's talk!
Upcoming ONLINE Offerings through Lifelong Learning at VTS
Click here for more information and to register for the Lifelong Learning and Seminary events below: 

Weekly   Christian Formation and Discipleship Open Office Hours (Thursdays).

Dec 3     Resurrection in Advent: The Church as a Post-Election Listener and Healer - webinar
Dec 11   While It Is Still Dark: Quiet Morning in Advent, A Complimentary Retreat from Lifelong Learning
NEW DATE: Jan 13     TryTank presents: Leadership Skills for the Next Ten Years – webinar
Jan 16    Listening for God: A Workshop on Discerning Vocation in Everyday Living
Mid-Jan  Companion Café: Sustenance for the Journey (guided conversation groups)
Jan 25    Facilitating Conversations on Race and Faith: The Sacred Ground Curriculum (multi-session cohorts)
Feb 2     Seeing and Believing: The Visual Arts in Christian Life and Ministry (4-week class)
About us
The TryTank Experimental Laboratory is a place to explore church growth and innovation. It is a joint project between Virginia Theological Seminary and the General Theological Seminary. The TryTank offers a much-needed inventive approach to the challenges facing the Episcopal Church. 
Copyright © 2020 TryTank Experimental Lab, All rights reserved.

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