We at Faith Formation Ministries are in the midst of refreshing our Building Blocks of Faith toolkit for a relaunch this fall. We were a young ministry when the toolkit was released in 2016, and since then we've learned a lot about creating robust launching strategies. The success of an initiative often depends on an effective launch!
Launching well is particularly important for initiatives that are intended to usher in culture shifts. The Building Blocks of Faith, for example, are meant to help ministry leaders “shepherd” their church culture as the whole congregation grows in four basic faith areas. We’re also working toward culture shifts around mentoring by gathering mentoring cohorts and inviting churches to participate in Generation Spark. Launching each of these initiatives well will help create lasting change at the core of a congregation’s discipleship efforts.
Are you looking at launching new initiatives, especially post-Covid? If so, here are four basic steps for launching any program or initiative well.
Step 1: Remember how congregations learn and adapt
In his book How Your Congregation Learns, Tim Shapiro encourages ministry leaders to imagine that their congregation is on a continuous learning journey as they move from challenge to exploration to discovery and then decide what to take on and what to let go (p. 7). In other words, it is important to see the launch as connected to the learning process so that even the beginning of a new initiative may lead to new challenges that can be life-giving to the overall ministry of the congregation. The learning process is just as important as the final product (and even the final product must be open to adaptation as time goes on).
Step 2: Communicate well in the exploration phase
New ministry ideas can create both energy and anxiety within a congregation. Resistance to new initiatives can arise if folks haven’t had enough time to process the idea. Those responsible for starting new ministry projects have spent lots of time thinking about the benefits of the initiative and growing in their enthusiasm for it. Whether or not the congregation shares this enthusiasm depends on how well leaders have communicated with the broader congregation during the exploration phase. This communication might include one or more of the following:
a time for prayerful discernment and readiness that focuses on how the Holy Spirit might use the initiative to grow the congregation
devotional and/or biblical studies to help individuals engage with the goals of the initiative
a sermon series to support those goals.
For example, when launching the Building Blocks of Faith, many CRC congregations planned a sermon series introducing the Building Blocks and then used a congregational assessment tool as a culminating activity and a launching point for their planning phase.
Step 3: Consider a soft launch or a pilot project
The more energy ministry leaders are putting into a new initiative, the more important the launch. Just as beta testing can uncover bugs in a new software before its release, it’s often wise for leadership teams to try out a new initiative with a small group of people in order to identify and address any gaps, questions, or challenges before the entire congregation is invited to participate. You can try a soft launch with one elder district, with a small group, or within a narrow ministry area. After the soft launch concludes, make sure to do a thorough debrief and ask questions that will help your team deliver a successful full-scale launch.
Again, using the Building Blocks of Faith as an example, a planning team could invite the church’s fellowship ministry to help strengthen people’s sense of belonging before a church-wide emphasis on belonging begins.
Step 4: Plan a full-scale launch
A successful full-scale launch has several steps, each of which is important to the launch’s success.
Create anticipation. Begin to generate a buzz before your launch. Some congregations who engaged with the Building Blocks of Faith used the weeks leading up to the launch to create banners, symbols, or even sculptures representing the Building Blocks that could be used at different stages of the initiative. Here are some examples.
Create an event. Depending on the type of initiative, launch events could range from a festive sign-up booth in the fellowship hall to a potluck or catered meal to reveal and invite participants to join in the initiative. Take it up a notch from a newsletter announcement or a sign-up sheet on the bulletin board by making your event joyful and inviting.
Include testimonies. This is a great time to share stories from the planning team and from participants in your soft launch. Share the difference that the soft launch has made already in people’s lives as you invite the whole congregation to engage.
Be clear about specific engagement points. Find ways to share information and invite people to sign up, both online and in person. Tell people how they might invite others and give them invitation tools so that they can do so easily. Remember to give enough time for slower adopters to process and ask questions. And don’t worry about being repetitive! Educators and other leaders will attest to the fact that people forget up to 80% of what is said by the next day, and most need to hear information and invitations repeated four to eight times before they really “get it.”
Create a post-event communication plan. A good launch plan recognizes that continued communication is key. One of Rick Warren’s blog posts refers to the Nehemiah Principle, which says that “vision ‘leaks’ unless it is repeated every 30 days.” Understanding this truth is paramount, especially if your initiative is meant to create a culture shift.
Create a communication feedback loop. Make sure that people are able to easily and quickly communicate both early successes and challenges so you can preserve your initiative’s forward momentum. Use this information to help you with your debrief and reflection endeavors so that your ministry leaders know when to refine and reassess ongoing progress.
Following these four steps for a successful launch will ensure that all the work you do before introducing your new initiative will bear fruit!