Developing an Experimental Mindset: A Recap from ENGAGE Conference 2020

At the time of this writing, we are in the midst of the Novel Coronavirus pandemic. My state, along with many others, have issued a “shelter in place” order. This order means we have been asked to not gather in groups of 10 or more and to only go out or meet with others for “essential” activities. This has thrown many churches into an “experimental” mindset whether they wanted to have one or not.

With the inability to meet together in person, churches across the nation are scrambling to figure out how they will minister to their people and community in a digital world. As you can imagine, there are churches all across the spectrum with this. There are churches that are starting from scratch and churches that already have a foundation to provide their sermons, small groups, prayer, care, etc., online. But wherever you find yourself on that spectrum, this has been a major shift.

Sometimes we are forced into an experimental mindset, like when we are faced with a crisis that requires immediate change. But, in the normal flow of life, the need for change usually comes from observation over time, and the initiation for change comes voluntarily (at least for the one who sees the need for change).

For instance, this past year our staff observed the need for change in our discipleship environments. We realized that our current environments were creating relationships between people, but not necessarily committed followers who were loving God with all their hearts, minds and souls. We needed to be agents of change, but we weren’t exactly sure what was needed or how to do it. We kind of stumbled into Michael’s framework without realizing it and it has made all the difference. In fact, if we had this information at the start, I think we could have averted the small amount of resistance we did experience.

In this video, Michael Hyatt does a wonderful job talking about the benefits of using an experimental mindset in the process of change. Some of us are not afraid of change, (me with my hand raised), but this is not true for everyone.

Many people fear change. They fear how uncomfortable or painful it might be, they fear they will lose out in the midst of the change, they fear the unknown. I am sure we have all experienced resistance to change, in ourselves and in others. It is a common human reaction – in the workplace, in people's homes, and even in the church. Change is different, it is unfamiliar, it is often accompanied by conflict or discomfort – people avoid it, resist it and sometimes even sabotage it.

I loved the framework Michael created for why, how and when to use an experimental mindset to create change that matters. Using the example of our need for change in our discipleship environments, I was able to understand his framework more completely.

The Four Benefits of an Experimental Mindset

1. Experimentation keeps you from thinking you have to get it perfect before you commit.

Michael said, “Perfectionism is the mother of procrastination”, this was a good description of how we were feeling as we tried to figure out the next step for our church. We had multiple talks over the course of several months trying to identify the core issue of our discipleship environments and come up with a plan for the fall. We didn’t really have enough data to help us “know” the right thing to do, and we felt paralyzed because we wanted to present a solid plan that we felt positive about so we could encourage people to join in with confidence.

2. Experimentation enables you to gather data you would otherwise never get.

Our pastor’s ministry coach made a suggestion that changed everything for us. He suggested an “experiment” which we now call the “Leader Lab”. We realized we didn’t have enough information to make this decision on our own, so we put a “pause” on our small groups for the Fall and started an experiment instead. We identified people in our church who we knew were disciples of Jesus and who had a heart for helping others grow in their faith and asked them to meet with us for 8 weeks to come up with a plan for discipleship. We gained more voices, more experience, more creativity and more passion around the goal of creating better discipleship environments.

The first 4 weeks we discussed our overall mission, leadership principles, individual strengths and weaknesses, etc. The next 4 weeks we split into groups and “tried” out our ideas to see if we thought they were a good option to try in the Spring.

3. Experimentation enables those who are not yet sold to give it a try before fully buying in.

Because we had more voices at the table, we had more buy in. We created a collaboration of leaders who were excited to come up with ideas, were open to experimenting and were all working towards the same goal. We only had 1 leader who was not able to be there in person for the 8 meetings (more on that later).

4. Experimentation allows you to change your mind.

Because this was all framed as an experiment with a start and a stop date and that there was no “right” answer – there was freedom to fail built in which freed us from being paralyzed.

When should you use an experimental mindset?

1. When you find yourself procrastinating: As a staff, we were stuck and unsure about where to go for the fall. We needed to try things without having to make a full commitment.

2. When you are trying to sell a reluctant audience: We had one group that was resistant to the experiment (the one leader who couldn’t be there in person), they were satisfied with how things were in their group. Their mindset was, “If its working, why change it?” The problem was, we really needed their input on the format as a part of our decision-making process. If I had been more aware of their resistance at the beginning, I would have spent more time selling them on the low-risk option of “trying” it for a specific period of time.After discussing the resistance and the benefits of experimentation, they consented to “try” some things. In the end, they did try a modified version of the experiment and were able to adopt a format that included discipleship focused conversations.

3. When you need experimental input to get it right: Our Leader Lab groups were able to test out a new format that we later adopted to “try” with the larger church. Even with our larger church we adopted an experimental mindset to “try” a group 3 times and then decide if it is a good fit. We have built-in on-ramps and off-ramps which allow people to experiment with trying something new without feeling they are committed forever.

So, how do you do it?

Here are some tips for getting started...

1. Be alert to procrastination (in yourself and others)

2. Emphasize the low-risk (make it less scary)

3. Set a specific time frame (show the on and off ramps so they don’t feel “locked” in for life)

Michael Hyatt shares a great framework for being an agent of change in your church, community, and personal life by using an experimental mindset. You can “try” something for a short time with no commitment and then evaluate what you want to do moving forward. This mindset helps people to be open to the possibility of change without giving in to the fear of change. If we are becoming more and more like Jesus every day – then we can’t help but be agents of change to the world around us. Using an experimental mindset helps us engage people softly into the possibility of doing things a new way.