The Experimental Church

Can we try something new at church if there is a risk it will fail? I believe church should be a place where we can experiment, take risks, start over and make changes. What would church be like if we held everything in open hands and were willing to try anything if it would possibly help us? What if there were no sacred cows? Can we experiment with new ideas in church or is this reserved only for the marketplace?


This fall at New Life, we planned, created and started three new things. Two of them have been great and are accomplishing exactly what we had hoped. One of them has not. It was an experiment that did not produce the desired results. Now what? Should we continue despite the bad results or should we tell the church the idea stinks and not do it anymore? Wouldn’t that damage our credibility as leaders to admit that an experiment failed or would it create an environment where everyone is given permission to take risks? I believe it will communicate to the church that we are a work in progress and we are willing to try anything even if it creates a mess that needs cleaning up later.


Here is what happened. We decided back in the summer to change our Sunday morning service times from 9am and 11am to 9:30am and 11:30am. There were lots of reasons we felt the need to change. The 11am was really full and we felt that by adding an extra half hour to both services, people would be more motivated to attend the early service and make room for new people in the later service. The new 9:30 service did increase dramatically, but 11:30 did not grow as we intended. People told us the later time meant their kids were eating lunch too late in the day and it was not good for families.


Lesson learned. Now what? We are going back to the old times – 9am and 11am on November 1st. Our experiment failed, but we learned something valuable – the old times were just fine.  No one harmed. Jesus is not offended, and there was no heresy involved. All in all, it was a successful mess.


Can church be a place of experiments? Can church become a place where everyone can try new things and make messes? It is in these messy environments where some of the world’s greatest inventions and ideas have come to the surface. I fear most churches have such a low tolerance for experiments and messes that the result is a void of new ideas and innovations.


I want New Life to have an experimental environment. I am not advocating impulsive or irrational decision-making because I do believe prayer, wisdom and due diligence are the best ways to make decisions. But even the best laid plans of mice and men can go awry. Let the experiments begin so the best ideas can surface. So what if, from time to time, a mop is needed in Aisle 4?

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  1. “All in all, it was a successful mess.”

    I love that mind set. Thank you!

    …So this is how church is supposed to be? Fresh, open, and transparent? Nice. I like it.

    I think it is true most churches have such a low tolerance for experiments and messes that the result is a void of new ideas and innovations. As the saying goes. you can so dead right that you end up being dead.

  2. The permission to experiment works entirely because of the permission to call it off when it wasn’t working. There’s nothing more mind-numbing than staying the course through 6 months of a bad idea, cause we committed to trying it for that long, when everyone involved knows it failed after 6 weeks.

    More experimentation will happen when there’s a back door.

  3. Thomas Edison discovered 200 ways how NOT to make a light bulb. If there is never any failure, there is never any growth

  4. Hmmm. We actually liked the new times. And I think, given time, the second service would grow. But, I see the point others are making. Everything comes 1/2 an hour later. Experimenting with ideas is good. The less rigid the leadership, the less rigid the congregation. Action follows example.

  5. HEY WE LIKED THE NEW TIMES>>>WE ARE OFFENDED!!!!!!! BAAAAAH HUMBUG…just kidding….but we really did like the new times.

  6. I was excited by the experimentation of the new times. I was in in aw of how the family crowded into the 9:30 service. Guilty me still comes either right on time or just a few minutes behind. The family is working on that!

    What always gets my soul is that New Life Family would come if service was at 4am. The time change never diverted our focus on God. There is a passion for learning about God that words cannot explain. Someone once said to me that at New Life we could care less if the place burned down. That goes to a thought that we don’t need a building, a slogan, or a sign, we just care about an ever growing relationship with God.
    I thank the Lord for blessing of the many sheppards with New Life who impact our lives and our community.

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