Why Churches Need Design Thinking

May 21, 2017

Unless you lead the only local church in America that has no problems, then you need to find an effective process to solve the challenges that you face.

What I know about you is that you didn't go into church leadership to deal with a lot of the stuff that you have to deal with. You went into church leadership because you believed God was calling you to something significant...something life changing...something...well, other than what you spend a huge amount of time doing.

As a leader, you have to deal with all the "other" stuff. You know, the stuff that no one really tells you about. The stuff that wasn't a part of the conversation when God called you to give your life to the church. But what if He had? I can almost imagine what that conversation would be like.

God: I have gifted you and called you to give your life to full time ministry in the local church...

You: Wow. I am humbled. I will get to lead people from pain to peace, from lost to found. I will get to proclaim your Word and watch people respond by giving you their lives, I will have the honor of representing the most Holy God as the leader of His people.

God: Yes, but... there is more. You will also get to spend time with people who say horrible things about you because you made a decision about something without asking them. You will be put in the middle of situations that you have no control over, yet be held accountable. You will watch people leave the church because you said something that they did not like. You will go to sleep at night asking me..."Are you sure this is what you called me to do?'

You: Hmmm... is there anyway to just do the good stuff?

So where does that reality leave you? If you are like me, it leaves you looking for the best way possible to navigate the web of decisions and problems that we all face as we lead the church. I can share what I have learned, and how it can completely change your circumstances.

It is called "Design Thinking" and it is not just a new trend in business leadership. Design Thinking is a comprehensive process that allows multiple perspectives to be explored, creates broad ownership of possible options, and gives you the ability to find the best solution BEFORE anything gets implemented.

Here are some of the key elements of Design Thinking:

Actually Understanding the "Problem"

As a leader, you know your organization very well. Maybe even too well. That's why you dismiss some complaints and ideas, and listen to others. When a problem or challenge comes along, leaders assume that we know what is at the root of the presenting issue. We act accordingly, and build plans and programs to address what we perceive is the issue. Very often we find that those solutions did not really solve anything. Why? Because we skipped the most important part of solving the problem: Understanding it. We treated symptoms but not the illness.

Unless you dig WAY down to understand the problem and involve the people that have "the problem", you will not find the right solution to the problem. Design Thinking is a process that creates the right dynamics to really understand what is going on and why. It gives you the diagnostic tools to make sure you are going to treat the right problem.

Understanding the Person

Tim Brown says in his book Change by Design, “You can’t just stand in your own shoes; you’ve got to be able to stand in the shoes of others. Empathy allows you to have original insights about the world. It also enables you to build better teams.” In the church, our professional staff often forgets what it is like to live and work outside the church. We forget the challenge of getting everyone to the church on Sunday mornings, making all the meetings, attending all the events in addition to all the other demands of life. Church life for them is in addition to their jobs - unlike paid staff.

Our church went through this process and realized how important our Sunday morning food services (scones, snacks, coffee, juice) were to the young families in our church. When it came time to make some budget cuts, we were sure to keep as much of this intact as possible. Had we not gone though this process, we would have cut those services completely. The result would have been a drop in attendance, and a drop in revenue - likely leading to more budget cuts.

Scientific and Creative approaches combined.

Some of us have championed the scientific approach, which is based on "history and numbers". It focuses on what has actually happened in the past, and tries to predict the future (and best possible decision) based on cold, hard facts. Leaders like this approach because it seems to reduce risk and give measurable results. It does, however, seem to leave faith out. Members like it because it is how most of the business world thinks. It is familiar to them.

Some of us love "creative meetings" where lots of great ideas were generated, but very little results, if any, come of all the time and energy invested. The meetings often seem unfocused and confusing. While really incredible possibilities are explored, realities are difficult to create. It does, however, seem to tap into a part of God's leading that is absent in the scientific approach.

Design Thinking incorporates the best of both approaches. It is truly both left and right brain (logical and creative).

Divergent AND Convergent

One of the more unique things about the Design Thinking process is that it effectively incorporates both divergent and convergent processes. Convergence is how most of us look for the "right" answer, that time when our information and ideas come together and make sense. We use convergence as a way of confirming our decisions. Divergence is the process by which we take an idea and generate different possibilities from that original idea- creating new ideas and solutions that may or may not even make sense. It is the concept that the best ideas are often a generation or more away from the original idea. "What if..." is the mantra for divergent thinking. Design Thinking uses both of these at just the right time in the process to explore options, and ultimately focus on the BEST option.

Placing the Process over Product

We are often so concerned with launching and delivering products and services that we miss a very valuable resource: the process. It is the process that ultimately creates the right result. If the process is wrong, your result is wrong. This collaborative process ensures that the right questions get asked, that the right people are involved, and the right answer is implemented. The Design Thinking process removes or reveals hidden agendas and personal issues, and brings reality to the forefront.

Rapid Prototyping

This is often used when talking about products, but works even better with services. How many times have you put time, money, energy and credibility on the line as you have introduced "the new ministry"? How many of those actually delivered everything you expected (or promised)? If you are like most churches, less than you would ever like to admit.

In Rapid Prototyping you are able to try something on a small scale, evaluate it, make changes and try again until you are getting the desired result...all before you introduce it to the church. That is significant. It saves time, money, credibility and greatly reduces grumbling.

Ownership from beginning to end

One of the most significant challenges that church leaders face is gaining "buy in" for changes. In all fairness to our members, church leaders are notorious for coming back from a conference, or reading a book and declaring "here is what we are going to do!". The Design Thinking process removes that barrier by effectively involving the people who will be impacted by the changes. This begins with the first step in the process and continues through the final step. This greatly reduces the skepticism and hesitation that so often blocks needed changes.

Every leader will face problems, but only a few will find answers.

You can learn more about Design Thinking at our site : The Design Thinking Blog

You can contact us to help you learn the process and take on your biggest challenge!