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The Framework We Use

September 2020 

Dear Friends,

Welcome to (almost) Fall!

We are moving our publication date to the first Wednesday of the month so that you can have the WHOLE month to enjoy it! Since we just sent an update two weeks ago, today’s newsletter will offer something a little different: a look behind our work.  As we have been doing this work of “trying,” many people have asked about HOW we do what we do. What is the process that TryTank uses in creating innovation? We have a method to our madness! Our framework is based on the work of Design Thinking (sometimes also called Human-Centered Design). Simply put, we follow a three-step process is 1) Insight, 2) Idea, and 3) Try it.  

Step 1 - Insight. Because the world is always changing around us in unexpected ways, there is always something we can learn that will lead to innovation. Really! No matter how well you know your city, community, or even your congregation, you can always glean insights by intentionally seeking to learn more.   A lot of my work at TryTank is research. I read (OK, skim) 6 newspapers a day and many magazines to see what’s new in the world. I also review journals on behavioral science, economics, and even psychology. The key is to bump into something where my interest is piqued. Once there’s an area where I say, “hmm, that’s interesting…what if we did…” then I do more focused research. From interviews with experts to interviews with the public, the key is to keep an open mind and be inquisitive.   When was the last time you asked, “what if we did…”?   Once there are insights that lead to “what if we did…” questions, we are ready to be playful in coming up with ideas.

Step 2 - Idea. While there are several ways to come up with ideas, one of the ones we try (and love) is the old familiar brainstorm. But this is more like "brainstorm plus"!  Here’s how: first, with your team, change your “what if” question to a “how might we” question. The difference is that while one is more about curiosity, the other is more focused on the action of making it happen. Then, brainstorm for at least 30 minutes seeking answers to the “how might we” question. But—and this is the plus part—you must come up with at least 35 ideas. (You can even go longer; the formula for the number of ideas is time plus 5.) As with a regular brainstorming session, at this point don’t worry about the feasibility or anything regarding the ideas. Just come up with the required number. Now, from that list of ideas, select your favorites (2-3) that you want to explore further. I bet you that the ideas you like the most, the ones that will be most creative and that excite you, will be toward the end of the list. It’s amazing how that happens!  

Step 3 - Try It. Now, it’s time to try it! At TryTank, we developed a one-page "Mission Canvas" based on the popular Business Canvas used in business. It’s basically a one-page mission business plan that forces you to explore your idea from nine different angles just to make sure you holistically consider the idea. It's limited to one-page is so that you don’t overthink it. This is when most ideas will fall by the side. The key is to get to the minimum viable prototype as quickly as possible so that you can try the idea. Why? Because it will NOT work as you plan. Once an idea hits reality, it will have to adapt. So, think this way: what’s the easiest, fastest, least expensive way we can try this to see if it’ll take? And then try that.  Hand-in-hand with trying is evaluating. Nothing fancy, just some metrics to figure a way to see if what you are trying to do does happen. Then you either iterate and try again, or it didn’t work and move on to the next idea (at TryTank, we’ve had both kinds).  

Insight, Idea, Try it. Innovation is very much something we as a church can and should do!  Are you ready to try new things? How can we help?

With gratitude, 


Fr. Lorenzo

TryTank by the numbers
...total overall experiments to date: 56
...total experiments that worked: 7
...total experiments that failed: 16
...total experiments that are ongoing despite Covid-19: 16
...total experiments on hold due to Covid-19: 17
...total new ministries launched based on experiments: 2

Leadership Skills for the Next 10 Years

Wednesday, December 9, 2020  
3:00 p.m. ET
Pay what you can (see link for details)
Click here to register

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 that you can sign up for the webinar even if you can't attend in person and get a recording of the webinar to watch when you can.)

Our friends at HeartEdge in the UK have a whole mini online festival of theology, ideas, and practice.  As they put it:

"We’ve developed this in response to the pandemic and our changing world. The church is changing too, and - as we improvise and experiment - we can learn and support each other.   This is 'Living God’s Future Now’ - talks, workshops and discussion - hosted by HeartEdge. Created to equip, encourage and energise churches - from leaders to volunteers and enquirers - at the heart and on the edge.  The focal event in ‘Living God’s Future Now’ is a monthly conversation where Sam Wells explores what it means to improvise on God’s kingdom with a leading theologian or practitioner."

(Isn't the British spelling cool?) And the line up is just amazing. Check out the whole schedule HERE. Remember that it's in London time!
EXPERIMENT UPDATES

(If you read the August update just a week and a half ago, then not much has changed to meet our new publishing schedule. But since many of you were on vacation, you may have missed it.)

8501-Alexa Prayer Skill: Creating a prayer leader out of Alexa to help people pray at home. 
Result: It worked!

8502-Apple News Prayer Feed: Make it easier for people to engage with scripture during the week, during their daily life by creating a source that can supply content into their Apple Newsfeed.
LATEST:  This was already going slow because of the technology piece, the pandemic just slowed it to a really slow crawl.

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:  Ongoing at several congregations until the end of the year. Turned out to be a good communication piece to have during the pandemic. 

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. 

8505-TryTank IdeasFestival: A festival of ideas for church growth and innovation. Seeking to create a '"primordial soup" where the right elements (folks) can bump (meet) and create new ideas beyond the “adjacent possible.” (Became part of "Rooted in Jesus 2020" -- a sizeable Episcopal event.)  
Result: It worked!

8506-Latino Ministry in a Box: Using multi-site technology to create a Spanish-speaking congregation taking small steps. 
Result: It worked!

8507-Latino Music Project: Make it easier for churches to provide Spanish-language worship services by creating a music video library of the most used Spanish hymns.
LATEST: COVID HOLD

8508-Latino Phonetic App: Make it easier for non-native speakers to be able to lead Spanish-language worship services by creating an app that teaches them the phonetic way to say the prayers from the Libro de Oración Común. 
Result: Abandoned. It was too expensive.

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. 
LATEST: COVID HOLD

8510-Spin Church: Taking the basics of a regular "Soul Cycle" group fitness class and making it full-out about Jesus and then sharing a liturgical meal after. 
Result: Did NOT work. People were interested but did not show.

8511-Facebook Masterclass: A social media expert will lead a one-day master class on how to use Facebook advertising to grow the church. The course comes with three months of subject matter coaching and accountability for the participants. 
Result: It worked but cheaper to outsource!

8512-Interactive Sunday: Using technology to have interactive sermons (quizzes, surveys, word clouds, etc.) leading to more engagement with the church and higher attendance. 
Result: Abandoned. No partners wanted to try it.

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 5 videos are done. We have decided to add 3 more. Want to see the videos? HERE  they are.

8514-UNNAMED: To connect US high school students with Palestinian high school students with the goal of creating deep accompanying relationships among the faithful.
LATEST: COVID HOLD

8515-Home Sermons: Weekly 3 minute sermon videos to be used by Eucharistic ministers as they take communion to the homebound.
LATEST:  Still in soft launch. Check it out at Good News on the Go.

8516-Baptism Revival: Create a parish neighborhood baptism revival reaching those who have no church relationship.
LATEST: COVID HOLD

8517-HeartEdge USA: Helping to expand the HeartEdge network in the US. Building association, learning, development, and resource of congregations on the edge.
LATEST: We are working closely with our UK partners and they are providing tons of resources. You can see more about it on the HeartEdge Facebook page. If you join, there's a special practitioners page with chats and resources. 
 
8518-EpiscoPALS (was Text Abbey): Create an SMS-based community that connects seniors to each other, to younger members of the congregations, and to the community. 
LATEST:  Our partner congregation is currently gathering members to take part. 

8519-Virtual Supply Priest: Creating a network of great Episcopal preachers who can provide recorded video sermons for congregations who do not have a Sunday clergy person and will instead offer Morning Prayer.
LATEST: COVID HOLD

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.
LATEST: COVID HOLD

8521-Modern Christian Radio: A streaming radio station that plays a Hot AC music format (NOT Christian) but has Christian messages in between the music. 
Result: Abandoned. It was too expensive.

8522-Street Bible: Produce "person on the street" interview videos with a re-enactment (and correction!) that make learning Bible truths fun and provide a first step on the path to discipleship.
Result: It did not work. The end result was not entertaining enough. 

8523-Cleaning Monks: Create a low-barrier, low-investment, and replicable model of a social enterprise that can provide jobs (as a ministry) and where profits can support the mission of the sponsoring congregation.
Result: Abandoned. No partners wanted to try it. 

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

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.
LATEST: COVID HOLD

8526-The How to Try Podcast: A podcast that's a recorded conversation between an executive coach and someone who's trying new things in the church. 
Result: Abandoned. No partners wanted to try it. 

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

8528-Prayer Puppets (formerly Modern Mr. Rogers): 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:  We are in physical production of three initial episodes.

8529-Two Podcasts: Create two podcasts to reach new audiences where they are. One, aimed at the LGBTQ community with questions and answers to their spiritual and religious questions. The second one is called "A Priest and a Singer" and it will intersperse inspirational Christian messages with cover acoustic versions of contemporary hit music. 
Result: Abandoned. The podcast market is too saturated to enter. 

8530-Virtual Kitchens: There is a need right now for virtual restaurants that can deliver food later in the evening. And many churches have commercially graded kitchens. This experiment will explore how the kitchens can be rented out to local entrepreneurs or used by the church itself to raise funds for mission and ministry.  
Result: Abandoned. No partners wanted to try it. 

8531-Action Alert Videos: Develop short "mini-documentaries" that can mobilize people to take action on social justice.
Result: It worked! We were able to go from a 3% engagement to a 48% engagement of Facebook posts!

8532-Regenerative Gardens: Develop a replicable design for church gardens that follows the principles of healing gardens as developed for hospitals. 
Result: Abandoned. No partners wanted to try it. 

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: COVID HOLD

8534-Episcopal Prayer Skill in Spanish: Taking what we have learned from our Alexa Skill experiment to develop a Spanish-language version that will be available on the Android platform.
Result: Abandoned. Hispanics are not using Alexa.

8535-Alexa Phase 2: To grow the current skill on Alexa to be on the Google Assistant. Also, to produce it in Spanish.
Result: It worked. And the ministry now belongs to Forward Movement.

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.
LATEST: COVID HOLD

8537-Design Research Team: Build out a team trained in design thinking to research experiment opportunities.
LATEST:  Our team is trained and working with a congregation in Illinois in their youth ministry.

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: Covid slowed the process of launching this new ministry, but we expect top have it running by the 4th quarter.

8539-Administrative Hubs: To eliminate redundancy by creating administrative hubs that can do work for multiple congregations at once.
Result: Abandoned. Several dioceses are already moving this idea along. 

8540-Comic Con: To have a presence at the international convention to meet younger audiences where they are. Also an opportunity to do research on the same audience. 
Result: Abandoned. Comic Con didn't want us there. 

8541-Growth Path: To create a path for congregations to assess where they are in order to ready themselves to implement church growth programs.
LATEST: COVID HOLD
 
8542-Spanish Missalette: To create a seasonal Spanish language missalette for use in congregations that have Spanish language services.  
LATEST: COVID HOLD

8543-Crossing the Threshold: How can we create a way for people to be helped/mentored into the church? This way, new people will not feel like outcasts.
Result: Abandoned. There was no real angle for us to exploit to create something new.

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.

8545–Mall Church: To create a pop-up storefront church that can minister to workers and shoppers in a mall during a busy season. 
LATEST:  COVID HOLD

8546–VBS For Hispanic Ministry: To create a culturally Hispanic Vacation Bible School in English aimed at young Hispanics.  
LATEST:  COVID HOLD

8547–Design Action Team: Using our Design Action Team on the ground.
LATEST:  Working with a congregation in Illinois to innovate their youth ministry.

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

8549-Eight Minutes Podcast: a podcast aimed at helping parents talk to their children about faith.
LATEST:  The podcast is in early development testing.

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.

8551-Dial-a-Priest: Phone line connecting retired Episcopal clergy with those needing end of life prayers.
RESULT:  IT did not work as anticipated but still provided much learning.

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:  The Facebook page should launch with great content in September as we seek to gain as many “open” followers who do not have a church relationship.

8553-Crowdfunding in a Box: a complete easy-to-implement system for churches to follow to create a crowdfunding campaign.
LATEST:  34 congregations launched together and are participating in this experiment until the end of the year.

8554-Plating by Radio: To plant a Spanish-speaking congregation utilizing local radio airtime to build community as the first step.
LATEST:  We have signed with a radio production company and are currently working on the cities, radio stations and our hosts. We hope to launch in Q4.

8555-Hispanic Stewardship: To develop an easy-to-implement system for envelope based Latino stewardship system.
LATEST:  COVID HOLD

8556 - Mission Clarity: To develop a simple method for congregations to find their true mission. 
LATEST:  New and in development.
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) and Digital Ministry Open Office Hours (Fridays)
Sept 3    Deep Calls to Deep: Imagination in Sermon Preparation - webinar
Sept 16  Hope Incarnate: Planning Worship for Advent and Christmas - webinar
Sept 17  Livestreaming: Platforms, Tech, and the Systems - webinar
Sept 18  Pandemic Evangelism: Creative Strategies for Sharing the Good News - workshop 
Week of Sept 28  Conversations on Race and Faith: Sacred Ground - 6 sessions
Sept 30  eFormation Cohort: taking your online ministry to the next level
Oct 1     Black and Latino Congregations Seeking Meaning and Purpose in a Pandemic - webinar
Oct 8     Ask a Christian Ethicist - interactive webinar
Oct 2     This Fragile Earth: Preaching in a Time of Global Crises - workshop
Oct 15    eFormation Cohort: taking your online ministry to the next level
Oct 16    The Church as a Family System - workshop
Oct 19    A Gathering on Liturgical Formation - conference
Oct 22    "Real Talk": Developing Formation Resources for the 21st Century (evening class)
Dec 9    TryTank presents: Leadership Skills for the Next Ten Years - webinar
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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