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  • Writer's pictureRyan Panzer

Design Thinking and Church Community: Step Three - Ideate!

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.


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