Motivational Clichés Blog

Perspectives on leadership, learning, and technology for a time of rapid change

This post is the fifth in a six-part series on building Digital Church Community with Design Thinking, a series responding to the challenges of building Christian community in a pandemic. Be sure to check out the intro, as well as our guide to Empathizing, Defining, and Ideating!

As we continue through our process of re-inventing church community through design thinking, we turn the corner from thinking to doing. In the "Prototyping" phase of design thinking, we seek to create usable versions of our top ideas to put into a pilot test.

According to, step four of design thinking is the step we start to create solutions:

This [prototyping] is an experimental phase. The aim is to identify the best possible solution for each problem found. Your team should produce some inexpensive, scaled-down versions of the product (or specific features found within the product) to investigate the ideas you’ve generated. This could involve simply paper prototyping.
With prototyping, the way forward becomes immediately clear

But how do we know which of our brainstormed ideas deserve an "inexpensive, scaled-down" prototype? Start by consolidating ideas. See which topics from the ideation phase are duplicates, or which ideas could be logically combined. If we merge the ideas where there is overlap, we will find that most of the heavy-lifting of prioritization happens automatically. Once your group has "de-duplicated" the list, you'll have to make some tough calls on which thoughts to advance.

Some groups simply vote on the ideas they would most like to prototype (see the Nominal Group Technique for more on effective voting processes). If everyone on the team is given one vote, several ideas usually emerge as consensus favorites. The challenge with voting is that it is subject to diluted results. If one idea gets 2 votes and 30 others get 1 vote, is it really the front-runner? To avoid complicating design thinking with the complexities of an electoral college-like system, you might prioritize with two questions:

  • Which idea is the easiest to implement?

  • Which idea will have the greatest impact?

If we prototype based on simplicity, while also prototyping based on impact, we are likely to balance the critical factors of feasibility and effectiveness. We may even find that the ideas with the greatest impact are also the ideas that are easiest to implement! These two questions should lead us into the development of no more than two prototypes for our design thinking test.

But what does prototyping actually look like, in the context of building Christian community? It's a valid question since we're likely designing a process or set of communal actions, rather than a tangible product.

The key to our prototype is that we should be able to use it in our pilot testing. So what we're seeking with our prototype are the parameters that will guide our test. While we can document these ideas in a word doc, outlining the who, what, when, where, and how of our prototype, many innovators will find it more enlightening to create a prototype in the format of a storyboard.

By actually drawing visual representations of our prototype, we can imagine creative ideas that the written word may not facilitate. We can imagine how our ideas will pull our community together, as we remember that this process focuses on real human beings, not textual abstractions! And we can imagine the best-case scenario for our ideas, appreciating how our community will benefit once our vision is realized.

Shelve any concerns about a lack of artistic aptitude. Ignore any preconceived notions of what a storyboard must look like. We're church leaders, not animators for Pixar or The Simpsons. Stick-figures are just fine. Clip art and stock images from Google search are completely adequate. And we don't need expensive software. There are countless free storyboarding apps on the web. I simply use Canva or Google Slides. The tools are unimportant. This is not a high-tech, visually appealing process. It is a collaborative, imaginative process, one that requires creativity, not artistic skill.

The final output of the prototyping phase is a storyboard that guides us through the implementation of our ideas.

Having created our prototypes in response to our ideation lists, we now must seek to put our ideas into a pilot test. We look towards testing, the final phase of design thinking, and the subject of our next post.


@ryanpanzer is the author of Grace and Gigabytes, now available for pre-order wherever books are sold.

This post is the fourth in a six-part series on building Digital Church Community with Design Thinking, a series responding to the challenges of building Christian community in a pandemic. Be sure to check out the intro, as well as our guides to Step One and Step Two!

As we continue through our process of re-inventing church community through design thinking, we transition from listening to and defining problems to identifying bold new solutions. In the "Ideate" phase of design thinking, we seek to generate many ideas by throwing out the constraints and limitations that might inhibit our creativity.

According to, step three of design thinking involves with "challenging assumptions and creating ideas":

Now, you’re ready to generate ideas. The solid background of knowledge from the first two phases means you can start to “think outside the box”, look for alternative ways to view the problem and identify innovative solutions to the problem statement you’ve created. Brainstorming is particularly useful here.

There are many ways to brainstorm. In the context of church leadership, there are three considerations that are especially important to consider.

First, every church leader can likely attest to how quickly some are at pointing out limitations! "We can't do this, we don't have the resource, we can't do that, we don't have the budget, we can't try it, it's in conflict with our mission" - sound familiar?

I've never understood how an institution supposedly anchored in God's abundance can be so adept at pointing out resource constraints! Don't let the limitations get in the way of your brainstorm. During the "Ideate" phase of design thinking, resource constraints are officially off the table. Remind your group of this. Out of the box solutions require out of the box thinking. But we can't think outside the box if a pile of limitations is weighing down the metaphorical lid. The goal of ideation is to generate as many ideas as possible. Quantity here matters far more than feasibility. Rest assured, we'll have plenty of time to revisit constraints during the next phase of the process.

Second, many church leaders have seen conversations de-railed by ideas flying in from "left-field." Talking about the mission? Let's go on a budget tangent. Discussing the Bible? Let's digress into church politics. Running through the council agenda? Let's throw out a few "bonus" topics for discussion. The key to an effective brainstorm is not just to generate many ideas, but to generate ideas that align to our problem statement and research question.

For this reason, I recommend using mind-mapping techniques and mind-mapping tools to keep your ideation structured! My favorite mind-mapping software is Coggle. It's cloud-based, it's interactive, it's free (up to a certain number of mind-maps). Put your problem statement in the middle of the mind-map, and let the ideas branch out quickly and abundantly!

Basic mind-map created on Coggle, a free Ideation tool

Finally, to keep your group brainstorm positive, remember to keep your own thoughts and opinions positive as well. As a Christian education mentor once encouraged me to do, affirm every thoughtful idea! Affirming thoughtful ideas is about more than positivity and exuberance. It is about refereeing the conversation, defending thoughtful ideas from put-downs and fending off "analysis paralysis." As the convener of the brainstorm, your role is to celebrate ideas - and to convince others on the team to do the same.

Having created an extensive list of new ideas in response to our problem statements, we now must seek to prioritize, and ultimately, to protoype. We pick up our proverbial pruning sheers to trim our list of ideas into a workable action plan. We look towards prototyping, the subject of our next post.


@ryanpanzer is the author of Grace and Gigabytes.

Updated: Oct 14

This post is the third in a six-part series on building Digital Church Community with Design Thinking, a series responding to the challenges of building Christian community in a pandemic. Click here for the intro post, and here for thoughts on starting design thinking with empathy!

All church leaders want to build "community." If we weren't invested in community-building, we wouldn't have gone into such a difficult line of work! The key challenge in community-building isn't a challenge of motivation or volition. It's a challenge of specificity.

When we set out to build "community," we don't actually know what we're looking to build. So we set out to extract the concrete from an abstract, which is to say, we set out to take specific actions based on a concept that is vague at best.

During my time working at Pine Lake Camp in Waupaca, WI, I recall seeing a poster on the staff office wall promising "1,0001 ways to build an intentional community." While I enjoyed reading through the ideas, the very fact that one could place 1,001 ideas on such a poster attests to the fact that "community" is an important yet highly ambiguous concept for today's Christian public leader.

What exactly is community? What is community within a virtual Christian setting? And why is a particular expression of community meaningful within a given ministry context? These are the questions that the church leader sets out to answer in "Define," the second step of the design thinking process.

According to, step two of design thinking begins when we realize that:

It’s time to accumulate the information gathered during the Empathize stage. You then analyze your observations and synthesize them to define the core problems you and your team have identified. These definitions are called problem statements.

So while our intentions to build community, and specifically build virtual community are high-minded and idealistic, we do not begin with the question of "how do I build community?" As designers, such a question wouldn't generate ideas with adequate specificity and feasibility. Instead, we must begin with a problem, the problem that was discovered while Empathizing.

The problem we define in this step is never a lack of "community." The problem we must define is situated in the observations of our context, and framed as a question worthy of further design efforts. To truly design a collaborative solution, we must start with a problem that was collaboratively defined. We, therefore, define this problem by carefully analyzing the data from the "Empathize" phase of design thinking. When we listened to our community, what did they say? What themes emerged multiple times?

Analyzing this data and synthesizing it into design thinking, we will arrive at two outputs from the "Define" phase:

  • A problem statement derived from the Empathize process, explaining what a church needs and wants from its "community"

  • A research question that will inspire us as a design thinking group to solve the problem.

Let me provide an example of a hypothetical problem statement that may be relevant to some church leaders, circa October 2020:

"Disconnected from in-person worship, our congregation dearly misses the grace-filled experience of a Sunday morning sanctuary, where they could unplug from the problems of their day-to-day."

This problem statement, likely derived from a congregation struggling to navigate the turbulent conditions of a simultaneous pandemic and an election season, is helpful in that it allows us to craft our research question:

How can our church create moments to come together and unplug during this tumultuous season, so that we can collectively experience moments of grace?

Having defined the problem we seek to solve through design thinking, and framed the problem in the form of a question, we can turn our attention to a powerful brainstorm: the Ideation phase of design thinking, the subject of our next post.


@ryanpanzer is the author of Grace and Gigabytes.


Leadership developer for digital culture. Writing a book with Fortress Press, coming in December 2020!

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