A new year is always an excellent opportunity to refocus. Sure, it is entirely arbitrary, and you can refocus at any time, but there is something about the newness of a brand-new year (a new decade!) that makes it seem just right. The new year also marks the first anniversary of the TryTank, so an even better time to look back, redirect, and go forward!
For those who like numbers, in our first year, we undertook 42 experiments, working with 63 congregations in 22 states. I traveled 100,811 miles all over the place (according to American Airlines, that's 3.5 times around the world and 211 hours in the sky).
And what have we learned so far? I think the most important learning is that there are many (many!) hardworking members of congregations who are already doing innovative work. (Here's looking at you!) TryTank has allowed many to find others who are like them and, in some cases, giving them the courage to try new things even if that new thing might fail.
We have learned that non-Spanish speaking congregations can launch Latino ministry. We have learned that people like the assistance a smart speaker provides in their prayer devotions. We gleaned insights into the habits of those whose churches are growing. And we learned that yes, Facebook marketing works to get people into a church, but that it's best to outsource that to an expert in that field, especially since it's always changing and very affordable to do so.
We also learned that while people may be finding a community in group fitness, they already have a chosen community and don't need an alternative. And that some ideas don't gain traction, and that it's ok to let them go. (Seven experiments met this fate.)
So, what's new for the second year? We have 30 experiments still active. (All of that development work will finally bear fruit!) Also, we are entering the second phase of some experiments. We are also going to explore more deeply how far we can take design thinking to impact our work. And, of course, we'll develop new experiments based on what we're learning and hearing from you.
Thanks for being a part of this journey. Especially to the many of you who chime in with ideas and prompts. Your wisdom matters.
By now, you have probably heard of the big Episcopal gathering taking place this January in Atlanta. While at first I liked that the meeting was dubbed, "Episcapalooza," I have to admit that I love the actual name: Rooted in Jesus. In all that we do, we should always strive to be "Rooted in Jesus." Being rooted is particularly essential for those who work in the church. In all that we do, no matter how holy or how mundane it really should be all about Jesus.
And so I was delighted that one of our experiments (the "Ideas Festival") would merge into the conference.
We are happy that TryTank will be presenting a total of four workshops at the VTS stage. They are:
The Lifelong Learning team from VTS will also be presenting workshops at the VTS stage on formation and evangelism.
On Thursday night, January 23, TryTank will be hosting a gathering for innovators in the church. It'll be an opportunity to network and have some fun, but we'll also have design questions to spur new ideas for experiments. (This is a private reception by invitation only. To attend, you can submit an idea for Pitch Tank or join the HeartEdge USA network. Or just hit reply to this email and tell us why you think you want to be there!)
If you haven't already, be sure to register for Rooted in Jesus. Put your thinking cap on and give us your best ideas for experiments in the Pitch Tank. Keep up with all we're doing at the conference by visiting us at www.VTSatRooted.com. And be sure to say hello if you're there.
The other day I read a great article from The New York Times about hobbies. The report covered how to find a hobby. It defined a hobby "as any enjoyable leisure activity that we engage in voluntarily and consistently when we are free from the demands of work or other responsibilities." Up until then, I thought I did not have a hobby. But now, knowing that definition, it turns out I do.
For as long as I can remember, going back to my teens, I have loved taking deep dives. I'd be reading something or watching the news and something would call my attention that I'd then go and learn about. In many cases, I'd even create some sort of business or enterprise plan for a new iteration of the thing. And I really enjoy doing that. So, amazingly, it turns out that researching is my hobby.
Earlier this year, I had a fascinating conversation with some MIT folk about Human-centered Design (HCD). Wikipedia describes HCD as "an approach to problem solving that develops solutions to problems by involving the human perspective in all steps of the problem-solving process." HCD really interested me. I have been researching it ever since. Specifically, I've been thinking about how HCD might inform the work of TryTank. The TryTank framework has three steps: research, ideate, execute. Even though the structure was created before I started the deep dive with HCD, those of you familiar with HCD will recognize similarities.
Slowly, I've have been adding more and more research into the experiment idea process. And the more I do this work, the more I realize HCD can really help us discern where the Spirit is leading us. Think about it, a church is really all about relationships. Doesn't it make sense that those very human relationships would play into church innovation?
What this means is that I will be doing more research, both qualitative and quantitative. More interviews with people. More focus groups. More observing how people experience church and how that might change for the better. So, if you're partnering with us on an experiment, don't be surprised if I ask to visit. Researching with you is part of the work!
In a way, doing this research is an experiment itself. Might us doing the work this way lead to better trials that have a more profound impact? We're going to find out.
This is still very exciting work. And I'm glad you're with us on the way.
I was at a conference recently where I heard that more than 50% of the jobs for priests in our church are less than full time. And as you may have read about the recent denominational numbers, there are more churches with less than 10 people on a given Sunday than churches with 300 people or more. This means that we have many (many!) congregations with one single worker, the priest.
If on top of all the regular congregational work, the priest wants to also be innovative and try new things, then the work can be *really* lonely, especially when you consider how many times new things don't work and that somehow they always seem to take longer than we planned.
Trust me, as a staff of one (plus some administrative work help), I know how this work of innovation can get lonely, ... not so much in a physical presence way... rather, in a "conversation partner" way. We want to help change that.
As you have read in the past, through one of our experiments we are helping spread the HearthEdge Network here in the US. And we want you to join us. We still have open spaces for a full-year scholarship. So, do read about it in our latest newsletter HERE and consider joining our experimental community.
On a different note, our newsletter is going from weekly to monthly. This will mean that there will be more meat in it for you as more time will allow for our experiments to have more action.
As we do experiments, we are always looking for ways to measure our outcomes. One of the neat ways we have found to measure (and one which might have more significant implications in our Church) is the Net Promoter Score or NPS.
To find out a score, we ask our participants a simple question: On a scale of zero to 10, with 10 being highest, what's the likelihood that you would recommend (the experiment or ministry goes here) to a friend or colleague?
The grade given, on a scale of one to 10, falls into one of three groups. If a person gives a score of nine or a 10, they are promoters. If they score the work as a seven or an eight, they are passives. You don't know if they are leaning toward loving it, leaving it, or they don't care. And, a score of a six or lower means they are a detractor. To determine the NPS score, we take the percentage of promoters (9s and 10s) and subtract the percentage of detractors (6s and lower). That's the NPS.
We recently asked this question to our Alexa skill experiment users. Fifty-eight people responded to our quick survey, with mostly positive feedback. In the end, our score was 81. In and of itself that's impressive. But then we realized that we had a way of proving it.
We launched the Alexa Skill in February. From the launch to the end of June, we had 561 skill activations. During the 30 day survey period, we had 381 new people activate the Alexa skill. Since we were not doing any advertising or marketing for the skill during that time, the only way we could have gained new people was, you guessed it, from current users "promoting" the skill to their friends and family.
All of a sudden, that 81 NPS is much more real.
This got me thinking, since the best method to evangelize is for people to invite their friends and family, what might it look like if churches started to measure their NPS? Could it be as simple as adding the question to the weekly church email? Or even doing a dedicated monthly email just asking that simple, 10-second question:
On a scale of zero to 10, with 10 being highest, what's the likelihood that you would recommend "St. John's" to a friend or colleague?
In the business world, the NPS is about driving improvements. So, why not in churches? You could ask those who give a score of 8 or below: "What would it take to raise our score just by one point?" And it also is building and deepening the relationship with those who respond.
As a side benefit, asking the question plants the seed that it would be nice if people recommended your church to their friends and family. You are planting the seed for them to become -- gasp -- evangelists!
Let me know what you think.
In the last edition of this newsletter, I announced eight new experiments. It was pretty cool stuff.
Among the experiments, there was one called "Drunk Bible." The concept was to take the premise of the top-rated Comedy Central program, "Drunk History," and make it about Bible stories.
Many of you wrote in to say how cool and innovative that was. Some even offered to be personally involved. It felt pretty good and affirmed what I thought was a pretty neat idea about how to teach a new audience about the Bible.
I also heard back from some who felt that the church has no place ever making fun of alcohol and what it can do to a person and their life. Some of these stories were very personal, raw, and showed pain.
And so I huddled with others. And I responded to address the concerns as best I could. And I prayed. And I prayed some more. And then it hit me, no matter how good an experiment may seem and what sort of impact it may have, it's not worth it if we hurt people along the way. As doctors say: first, do no harm.
Honestly, I felt a little sad that we wouldn't be doing the show. I enjoy the Comedy Central program. But then the Spirit kicked in as I reimagined what the show COULD be.
What if we did "Street Bible" instead? We get a host to interview folks on the street about Bible stories (old Jay Leno style). "Tell me the story of Job from the Bible." It'll be wild answers for sure! We cobble a few of them into a narrative, and that narrative is the re-enactment. We also interview a young priest-type or academic person who does know the story. They interrupt here and there in the video to correct the story. The reenactors then also fix what they just did. As I imagine it, I think it can still be pretty funny.
And so that's what the experiment became. Still funny. Still teaching. No hurting.
Remember, TryTank itself is an experiment, and that means that we won't always get it right the first time. But we can adapt. And that hopefully is also a good model for the church.
Happy 4th of July week! I pray that this summertime may be a restorative and peaceful time for all of you. I myself am back from a few days of a "staycation" which I used to catch up on fun reading and relaxing (meaning lots of naps!).
Right before my vacation, I was in Virginia at VTS where I had a great time mingling with, listening to, and hopefully, be a resource to the MDiv students on campus.
While I was there I had numerous meetings and we are happy to announce a few more experiments:
18-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.
19-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.
20-Modern Christian Radio: A streaming radio station that plays contemporary music but has Christian messages in between the music.
21-Drunk Bible: Produce videos in the line of Comedy Central's "Drunk History" that make learning Bible truths fun and provide a first step on the path to discipleship.
22-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.
23-Millennial Travel Experience: Work with an experienced tour operator to create a trip that can fill the "spiritual experience" desires of millennials.
24-Easy Invite Show: 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.
25-EpiscoPALS: To connect US high school students with Palestinian high school students with the goal of creating deep accompanying relationships among the faithful. (If the name sounds familiar, it's because we are repurposing the name we had for experiment #14 which for now we are calling "Senior Community.")
What do you think of the new experiments? Do any stand out to you and maybe you want to get involved? Email me, I'd love to chat.
Also, Now that we have more experiments (25!!), I have also reformatted this newsletter to make it easier to follow the experiments based on where they are in the development cycle.
As always, stay tuned!
June 11, 2019
Ah, the summer days. An opportunity to slow down and catch one's breath. To go fishing in the afternoons. To just...chill. For others maybe, because we have a ton of work!
But we also have life and work balance. Which is why during these months the newsletter is coming out every three weeks. And why I have some vacation time coming up. But worry not, we also have some interesting stuff going on.
Spin Church experiment closes
If we judge something a success or a failure only by the prescribed outcome we were seeking at the start, then I think this was one that we tried and it simply did not work. We know …
I think what we found here is that those who are getting their spirituality from fitness are going to keep getting that spirituality from THE WAY THEY CURRENTLY DO and something new is just not of interest. (So maybe having a Christian spin studio where the Christian message is just part of the DNA of every class might work.) For those to whom this was a “curiosity” thing, it just wasn’t of enough value in the end.
We could iterate and try to save something from this, but I don’t know that we have a reason to do so. Even if we were able to get people to actually go to a class, my guess is that they would simply go for a few and then stop.
So, I think that in the end, it was a “cool” idea but there was no there, there. But there is a lesson here: engage potential users in the development cycle. And you can bet that this will be a way we do more things going forward.
As always, stay tuned!
Father Lorenzo and Deacon Chris Cassels leading the Eucharistic prayer at SpincChurch in Newport, RI on May 11, 2019.
Greetings from New York City! I am here for some General Theological Seminary events and several meetings this week. This past weekend I had the privilege of being present at SpinChurch in Newport, RI and of preaching to the great people of the partner congregation there, Emmanuel Episcopal Church.
About the SpinChurch experiment, the devil, as they say, is in the details. The experiment is working pretty much as we planned it. But although our advertising on Facebook got us 15,300 views and we can confirm that 325 went to our landing page, none of those people came to the class. (Those who were there are mostly friends of the partner church.) So what gives?
A little further exploration showed the problem was that once we captured the attention and got people to the page, we then did not lead people to register. (We had no way for people to register there. It required a few more steps that were complicated, at best.) And so, we got to work on that. And now when people follow the ads, it will be easier to know what SpinChurch is and how to participate.
It's a little detail that we didn't think through because we ourselves did not have to register each week. But a small detail did not allow any of the 325 people who took the effort to come and learn more to join us. Learn, adjust, try again.