Can Agile transform faith communities?

Last Sunday, I had one of my most rewarding experiences as an agile coach. This wasn’t with a software team, as I normally work with, but with a small group of adult friends longing to belong to a vibrant faith community.

For a long time I have been disappointed and discouraged at the lost potential within church congregations, at the hunger for real community left unsatisfied. Most people attending church are not active nor engaged. A few people are doing a lot of work, much of which is not resonating and thrilling. It’s time to re-imagine how we in a faith community want to be in relation to one another, what we want to strive for together. We must take responsibility to create a healthy, vibrant community. For those who gathered on Sunday, this was the first tiny step on that journey.

Agile thinking and the Scrum framework have shown me that the processes and control structures we use greatly influence the values embraced and outcomes achieved. For our session I wanted to avoid it turning into a long rant of everything that is perceived wrong with the current situation. For me the goals of the session were:

  1. to find common ground across our individual experiences
  2. to establish a vision for the faith community experience we long for
  3. and to identify some steps needed to work towards that vision

After a hearty potluck meal, we began by sharing in a few words why we came and what we hoped to get out of our session. I then introduced the Remember the Future game, one of EnthiosysInnovation Games. The game helps people to define an end ‘product’ by looking at the steps in reverse. As humans we find it easier to understand and describe a future event from the past tense over a possible future event, even if neither even has occurred.

I asked everyone to pretend it’s a year from now, October 2010. were part of a vibrant faith community. Describe what it looks like. Jot down steps that were needed to get there. Each item was written on a separate sticky note. After 10 min of brainstorming we posted our stickies on flip chart paper and looked for emerging themes. From that process, four groups emerged. Taking the time to label each group brought deeper awareness of what matters to us in a vibrant faith community.

People became more comfortable sharing and participating as the evening progressed. I had hoped to continue the evening with the Sailboat game, a variation of the Speed Boat Innovation Game. This exercise would help us identify obstacles and opportunities towards reaching our goal of a vibrant community. Since time was running out and our kids were no longer interested in the movie they were watching, we skipped that and finished with an exercise to determine what to do next.

Circle of Questions is a retrospective activity from the book Agile Retrospectives by Diana Larsen and Esther Derby. In this activity, the group sits in a circle, and going around the circle, each person takes a turn asking a question to the person on their immediate left. The question can be about anything they like (barring anything offensive or attacking). The person to the left answers the question to the best of their ability, and then they ask the person to their left any other question (or the same question if they feel they’d like a better answer). This continues until the allotted time is up, or until you have gone around the entire circle twice, whichever comes last. (Thanks to John Wilger for the writeup)

The goal for our activity was to decide what to do next. What transpired was a deep sharing of desires, needs, struggles and hopes. Four guys being vulnerable to one another, listening attentively as each person took their turn. No fluffy stuff, no lighthearted chit-chat. This was a taste of that vibrant community we seek.

So what’s next? I plan to invite another group of people to go through the same exercises, and slowly build a group motivated and empowered to reach our goal. We’ll gather everyone together in about a month, again around a shared meal, and start to discuss community models already out there. Hopefully each gathering will contain the elements of lives connected, spiritual partnership, bonding mission and positive power.

This small experiment was a moving, powerful experience and we were only a group of 4. Imagine if this was done on a big scale with a congregation. We might find the shared vision and motivation to make a vibrant community a reality. I remain hopeful and determined, feeling called to use the gifts from Agile coaching to transform both places of work and worship.