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  • Writer's pictureRyan Panzer

Design Thinking and Church Community: Step Five - Test!

This post is the sixth and final post in a 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, Ideating, and Prototyping!

As we continue through our process of re-inventing church community through design thinking, we make a decisive pivot from the theoretical to the concrete. In the "Testing" phase of design thinking, we test and measure the effectiveness of our prototypes.

According to, step five of design thinking puts our prototype into a pilot test:

Evaluators rigorously test the prototypes. Although this is the final phase, design thinking is iterative: Teams often use the results to redefine one or more further problems. So, you can return to previous stages to make further iterations, alterations and refinements...
Once we start our test, it's all downhill from here.

With enough intentionality, our prototypes should lend themselves to an easy testing format. If we created visual storyboards, we should have a clear idea of who will be involved with the test, what the test might look like, and how success might appear. But to run an effective test, it's helpful to clarify a few parameters:

First, what is the medium of the test? In this time of social distancing, we are likely executing our test virtually. We need to ensure all parties have access to the right tools, at the right level of permissions. What software do we need? How do we ensure everyone involved in running the test has administrative access to these tools? How do we ensure everyone participating in the test has end-user access?

Second, how do we get the word out? We can't run a test if nobody shows up (though nobody showing up might indicate that we need to go back to the Ideate phase!). If we're testing something new with virtual worship, we need to make sure to communicate the change ahead of time, describing any new expectations for involvement. Simplicity is key. If someone needs to click a link to participate in the test, make sure that the link is easy to access, that it is communicated through multiple channels.

Third, what are we going to measure? Testing is not a subjective process. It involves the rigorous collection of data. Before the test starts, we need to understand what we will measure, and how we will find the metrics. Are we testing page views or web interactions? Participation or attendance? With YouTube views or Google Analytics? Be specific about the numbers you will collect, how you will collect them, and over what duration.

Finally, how long do we allow the test to run? This is typically the most ambiguous question related to design thinking and church community. Do we run a test for one Sunday, or do we run it for a month? Do we run it for one worship service, or for our entire church community? To determine these answers, it's helpful to consider what constitutes a valid test - not a rejection/acceptance of our design, but enough data to reevaluate our problem statement and begin the design thinking process anew.

To that extent, we should run our test for as long as it takes to initiate a new round of design thinking, to truly make our process iterative. In most situations, this means allowing a test to run for a month or more, so that it runs through a full communications cycle in the life of the congregation, so that it engages all regular worship attendees. With four weeks or more of data, we can gather enough perspectives so as to begin a new phase of empathizing and defining.

Iteration is always the key to testing, testing is never about reaching a finish line. Design thinking, particularly in the context of building Christian community, is never about delivering a finished product or a silver-bullet solution.

A wise pastor recently shared with me how the use of the word "solution" can be problematic in the church. We're not in the business of solutions. We're seeking to live more fully into our new normal, harnessing the gifts that God has given to us and to our community so that we can bring God's healing and redeeming word to a hurting world. In the context of building Christian community, a test can never "fail" if it leads us to further conversation and discovery, if it helps us to move more decisively into this new normal.

So when is your test done? It's done when you're ready to start over, taking all that you have learned, and committing once again to the work of empathy and listening. It's done when you acknowledge that our designs our never complete, that our community is always changing, that our call as the church is ever-evolving. As church leaders, we design. The spirit dances. And on we go.


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


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