by Andrew Mochrie

Andrew is the leader of the Theology Together Program at CYMT as well as a former Innovation Lab Cohort Participant. For more information on our Innovation Lab Cohort Program (which is registering new cohorts now) CLICK HERE.

A few years ago a movie called Free Solo was released. It’s a documentary about Alex Honnold, a prolific free soloist, a rock climber who climbs without any aid such as ropes or bolts to keep them from falling. He free soloed El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, a 2900 ft. climb. He did it without a rope or anything holding him to the wall. Amazing! 

One important thing you will notice in the documentary is that he doesn’t immediately go all in and climb the wall one morning on a whim. No, he studies the wall, testing the route section by section with aid. Then after he had tested each section and each hold, memorizing the route, he began his free solo climb up the wall and achieved one of the most incredible feats of athleticism in history.

I’d really like to highlight that he doesn’t just go all in immediately once he has the idea. Instead, he uses his resources to gain knowledge and understanding of each variable on the route before he executes his climb. Better yet, he prototyped each aspect of his route on a smaller scale in a way that measured and investigated as many variables as possible so that when he was ready to act he would find success. His success as a free soloist can partially be attributed to him having cultivated his own practice of prototyping.

Oftentimes in ministry we skip the necessary practice of prototyping. We go straight to climbing the 2900 ft wall by buying into the big idea before we’ve even tested whether or not it has any chance of success in our context by testing portions of our own routes. 

Think back through the years and I bet you can list the hot, new “model” or “strategy” that was going to revolutionize and grow your ministry. Just add water. In reality, the evangelists for those new things were once practitioners who, whether they knew it or not, tried things on a small scale, multiple times, over time, made notes, and evaluated until they were ready to go all in. They cultivated a practice, better yet, a culture of prototyping.

A culture of prototyping helps to create an environment that allows us to make new and innovative changes that enable us to make a more significant impact in our context. This culture includes a few key things: (1) It prizes evaluation over personal judgments, (2) it sees failure as an opportunity to learn and not mourn, and (3) it values the whole by tending to all components (both participants and idea elements):

  1. Evaluation over personal judgments means you take a critical look at the processes and functions of the idea being tested rather than the person leading the prototype. This opens up a willingness to continue to test and try new things without fear of a personal negative impact. 
  2. Seeing failure as an opportunity to learn and not mourn creates space to take small and calculated risks so as to fit within a prototype, like climbing with aid to test portions of a route. Failures are then seen as valuable insight into what does and does not work because the life of your ministry doesn’t depend on one untested idea.
  3. Valuing the whole by tending to all components means you are seeing each idea element and person involved as something or someone that’s valuable and contributes to success. In light of that, you communicate clearly what you’re doing and why you’re doing that as you prototype the ideas and roles that people will play. Afterward, you listen to their honest feedback and incorporate it into your evaluation.

These are just a few things that can help you build a culture of prototyping. It takes time but doing so will help you begin to test new ideas, make changes, and better respond to the ever-changing needs of the world we live in today. When we build a culture of prototyping into our ministries it opens us up to the surprising work of the Holy Spirit because we take on the risk of asking the question, “what is the Good News for people today?,” trusting it’ll lead to new and more impactful ministry in our context.