Squirming uncomfortably in the straight-backed chairs in the faux elegance of an expansive convention center meeting room at the United Church of Christ’s General Synod gathering last week, Rev. Phil Hart, a UCC interim conference minister currently serving in Ohio, invited us to engage a creative process to which the space didn’t easily lend itself. We turned the clunky chairs toward one another in groups of four or five and began ‘playing’ with one of three questions projected on the screen before us.
Our group began contemplating a question that went something like, “How do you become more welcoming of visitors at your church?” We were told to brainstorm and put one idea each on the small pieces of sticky paper we were given. Our group started not with a roar, but with grunts and maybe a growl. We eventually generated some ideas, none of which were particularly revolutionary – new signs, welcome bags, a friendly handshake. Then, we were invited to watch this video from www.Thefuntheory.com, which shows how an unexpected and fun idea could get more people to use the stairs instead of an escalator.
The video proved to be a game-changer for our group and we immediately began thinking farther outside the box. One group member suggested that we take pews out of the sanctuary and install spinning bikes for all those people who are usually out for a long bike ride on Sunday morning. We suggested ways that church could leave the building and be church on the golf course or even live in people’s lives at other times of the week. Definitely more fun than the ideas we had created previously. Our own moods seemed to lighten with permission we had been given to push outside our self-imposed limits.
This workshop applied to church an idea I had heard about months earlier on a 60 Minutes profile of David Kelley, the founder of IDEO, a design firm that brings together interdisciplinary teams to solve vexing design problems. People in this company invented things like the first mouse for the Apple computer.
In the profile, Interviewer Charlie Rose asks Kelley, “So, it’s not rocket science. [referring to the problem solving approach]” “No,” Kelly interjects. “It’s empathetic.”
A big piece of what IDEO does is in pay attention to how people use products and what they really need. They work hard to think like the user rather than impose an idea or solution that works in their only in their heads. They quickly make prototypes of their ideas to see how they work in real life.
What could you do that put fun back into church? How could you empower church folks to think as creatively as IDEO employees? What would your own “interdisciplinary” team of problem solvers look like? Who would you include from outside the church?