Implementing New Forms of Church

Research, Development, and the Path of Innovation

June 24, 2024

New expressions and models of the church are springing up daily alongside the tried-and-true, established churches. 

Innovation is the lifeblood of progress, and these new experimental ways of doing church can benefit significantly from a research and development approach that ensures the new model is practical and impactful. It can also provide a common language for outside investors looking to support the new ministry. The journey can be broadly categorized into three phases: Proof of Concept, Prototyping, and creating a Working Model. 

Phase #1: Proof of Concept

Every innovative endeavor begins with an idea – a God-given spark of creativity that addresses a gap or opportunity. The initial step is to define the problem clearly and conceptualize a solution. Once an idea is born, the first major milestone is to develop a proof of concept (PoC). This PoC is a preliminary version of the idea aimed at validating its effectiveness, and this first phase often involves the following:

  1. Conceptual Validation: Clearly define the new model’s vision and objectives. This might include a focus on community building, flexible meeting times, or digital integration.
  2. Initial Experiments: Form a small, diverse group to pilot the idea. Conduct initial gatherings to test the core principles.
  3. Feasibility Studies: Evaluate the ministry’s practical aspects, such as location, resources needed, and participants’ willingness to commit to this new format.

The goal of a PoC is not to create a fully functional church or ministry, but to demonstrate the feasibility of the core idea. Positive results at this stage pave the way for more extensive development. I recently finished reading the biography of Elon Musk and was fascinated by the section on SpaceX. In the proof of concept phase, his rockets were allowed to blow up! Elon blew up four rockets before one succeeded.  It’s OK if something blows up in the proof of concept phase. This is not defeat or loss, but enhanced learning! 

Rather than calling the proof of concept phase a “loss” or “defeat,” this stage of ministry prepares for the next ministry launch. This phase is often self-funded unless the donor base is committed to research. There are no assurances for investors or entrepreneurs at this stage. 

Phase #2: Prototyping

With a successful proof of concept, the next step is to develop a prototype — a more detailed and comprehensive version of the tested model. This is the phase where the initial ministry experiments are redesigned and developed. This stage involves:

  1. Design and Development: Create detailed plans for the new form of church, including meeting formats, leadership roles, community activities, and communication strategies.
  2. Resource Allocation: Determine the resources required, such as meeting spaces, digital tools, and materials for worship and community building.
  3. Testing and Iteration: Gather feedback from pilot groups to identify strengths and areas for improvement. Iterate on the model by adjusting aspects of the ministry (meeting frequency, content delivery, engagement strategies, etc.).

Prototyping is an iterative process, often involving multiple versions before arriving at a model that meets the desired specifications. This stage is critical and where additional outside funding is often garnered. This is when more investors are intrigued and possibly ready to get behind the project. Exponential Next and Next Ventures come alongside projects in the three-month to three-year range as ministries prepare to expand due to promising results. 

Phase #3: Working Model

The final stage in the innovation process is developing a working model ready for greater real-world application and scalability. A working model is a “market-ready product” that has been tested and refined and is ready to be introduced to a larger community, with all major issues resolved. There is no need to blow up rockets unnecessarily at this stage. At this point in the process, major donors (individuals, districts, denominations, networks) are often ready to provide increased funding. This phase involves the following steps: 

  1. Scalability Planning: Develop strategies for scaling the new model of the church, including training new leaders, establishing support networks, and creating a sustainable growth plan.
  2. Quality Assurance: Ensure the model meets spiritual and community standards through continuous assessment and refinement. This could involve periodic reviews and a feedback mechanism for ongoing improvement.
  3. Launch and Support: Roll out the working model to a larger group of people, providing necessary support and resources for those implementing this new form of church. 

Implementing new expressions and models of the church using this structured research and development approach can ensure that the transition from idea to reality is methodical and effective. By moving through the phases of proof of concept, prototyping, and developing a working model, entrepreneurial pastors can create a church that is contextual, flexible in its approach, and impactful in its mission. This structured approach mitigates risks and maximizes the potential for success. 

Funding New Forms of Church

Effective funding strategies are essential for progressing through each stage of innovation, and communication is vital. Misalignment can occur if a donor believes they are funding a working model (Phase #3) when the ministry leader is still in the proof of concept phase (Phase #1). It’s vital that donors and ministry leaders are on the same page to avoid unrealistic expectations, resource misallocation, and potential project failure. 

To mitigate this, clear and continuous communication is crucial, and it’s recommended that donors and supervising agencies have an agreed upon language from the beginning. Regular updates, meetings, and documentation help ensure all parties understand the project’s status and next steps. Establishing milestones and deliverables for each stage can clarify expectations and facilitate smoother transitions. There should be different funding strategies for different stages of the project. Here are a few guidelines: 

  1. Proof of Concept: Initial funding is often secured from personal savings, small grants, or investors who believe in an idea’s potential. Crowdfunding can also be effective at this stage in providing funds and validating market interest. This is often the season when the entrepreneur is co-vocational and working out of their garage! 
  2. Prototyping: As the project advances, a successful proof of concept can secure larger investments. Venture capital, larger grants, and strategic partnerships often provide the required support at this stage. In this phase, Elon Musk had one Tesla sitting on the track to encourage future investment.
  3. Working Model: This is the final phase of the process, where substantial funding is often needed to scale the innovative idea. This might involve applying for ministry-specific grants, building a larger personal donor base, or forming alliances with established ministries. 

The journey from an idea to a thriving ministry is a rewarding process. It often involves moving through these three phases of proof of concept, prototyping, and developing a working model. It’s vital that pastors, leaders, and outside donors understand each of these phases and the impact of their investment. Successful navigation of these stages ensures that innovative ideas are transformed into practical, impactful solutions, and a common language for donors and outside investors. 

Dr. Dwight Nash

Dr. Dwight Nash

Dr. Dwight Nash has 35+ years of pastoral experience as a staff pastor, lead pastor, and District Superintendent. He is the Co-Founder of Mobilize the Church, and with more than 467 church planters helped so far, his “well-done” in life is to play a part in starting 1,000 churches. He would love to hear about the dream God has placed in your heart and come alongside you to make that dream a reality. Email him at dnash@mobilizethechurch.com.
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