I was recently part of the Bishop's Convocation of the New England Synod, a gathering of many of the rostered leaders in New England. We talked for awhile about the idea of experimenting in the church. Everyone seems to know that traditional churches are struggling; that many congregations are in different stages of decline; that programs that used to work no longer draw new faces.
We also seem to be aware that we need to do something differently but have trouble pinpointing what that something might be. Might a new structure help our ministry (something that we are living in Falmouth)? Will a new worship style be attractive to new folks or repulsive to the rank and file?
So we talked about experimenting, the idea being that we try new things within the congregation (the bishop suggested something as small as lighting altar candles in a nontraditional order) but give them the label of "experiment" as opposed to "program". An experiment is transitory while a program tries to live forever. A failed experiment can be walked away from while a program needs more effort to be shut down.
In addition to this discussion, I had thoughts from the work I have doing on stress bouncing around in my head and I realized that there is another angle to talk about this. The point of the experiment label over a program label is to try to reduce stress within the congregation about change. When the Altar Guild is fuming at you because you cavalierly changed the order of candle-lighting, something that old Pastor Jensen established for sacred liturgical reasons back in the day, you can always call it "just an experiment" and run away.
But there is stress that is good. Amusement parks are places you go and pay money to put your body under stress. The creepy zombie with the clicking teeth at the end of World War Z was a stressor that I bought a ticket to see. We just had the Cape Cod Marathon in Falmouth a couple of weeks ago and every runner had signed up, paid a fee and trained so that they could undergo a good deal of stress. Good stress is exhilarating. Good stress is normally voluntary (you choose to take part), temporary (you know it will end) and moderate (you know you can endure it). Another name for good stress is play.
I am all for experimentation and innovation, but I hope that we can bring a spirit of play to our work together as congregations, realizing that the order of candle-lighting does not define us. We can play with our worship and our groups and teams and committees when we as a body are centered on good news that sets us free for joyful play. Let's play together.