by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D. (excepted from Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations, Abingdon Press, 2006)
Recycling is no longer confined to diet coke cans and Evian water bottles. It’s become one of the dominant impulses in American culture today. . . . Whether you call it nostalgia, postmodernism or a simple vandalizing of the past, all this recycling essentially amounts to the same thing: a self-conscious repudiation of originality.
–Michiko Kakutani, journalist and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism1
Learn to “improv.” Michiko Kakutani’s quote that commenced this chapter reminds us that an infatuation with ancient-future elements can lead unknowingly to recycled predictability and triteness. Thus, improvisational originality can be a counterbalance. Solomon’s Porch has been a good example (for more insights on this church in Minneapolis that is profiled in the book see: Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations). This church embraces improvisation each Sunday, and on the fifth Sunday, attendees improvise beyond their customary parameters. Fifth Sunday experimentation may be a good way to introduce a congregation to this environment of Holy Spirit–infused creativity. To ensure this is done prudently as well as effectively, consider the following three keys to improvisation.
(1) Prepare. Preparation may seem contradictory to improvisation, but actually it is the most important element. Improvisation in worship must have a goal. And it should start with a biblical one, to “love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37), doing so “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23). Thus, improvisation begins with this objective, to connect people with God in essential and authentic ways. Collaboration follows, requiring prayer, advice from mature disciples, and an understanding of God’s vision for the future of a congregation. Then, the general parameters of the experience can be mapped out, including customary features. At Solomon’s Porch, several recurring features provide a general framework: scripture and potential implications, worship that is fresh and germane, prayer, and communion.
(2) Present and guide. The presentation must be conducted without tyranny. Solomon’s Porch uses a consensus among mature leaders to guide its improvisational environment. But as Pagitt noted, distinguishing between when someone has something to say from God, or something that originates from self, can be a challenge. Improvisation, however, creates a powerful communal experience, which Viola Spolin describes as “the sharing (union), give and take, of each and every one’s excitement, experience and intuitive energy.”21
(3) Debrief. Improvisation is not only potent, but also as noted above, potentially abused. Allow mature Christians to evaluate and discuss the outcome. Remember, improvisation is not just winging it; but a premeditated foray into God’s Word and its implications for his children. As Spolin explains, “Evaluation … is the time to establish an objective vocabulary,and direct communication made possible thought non-judgmental attitudes, group assistance in solving a problem, and clarification of the focus of an exercise.”22
Release your innovation gene. As a human gene can reside veiled and obscure in an organism, innovation is a talent that can lie underdeveloped in a Christian community until released. To release this innovation in a timely as well as diplomatic manner, the following three steps have been adapted from Hamel and Skarzynski’s work on ingenuity.23
(1) Innovation doesn’t follow a schedule. Though Solomon’s Porch uses a Wednesday evening “musical collaboration” to craft fresh songs for the upcoming Sunday, church administrator Thomas Karki was quick to point out, “But that’s just one venue. Creativity happens throughout our community. Songs may come out of a Bible discussion group, from a ministry event, from personal reflection, anywhere. Songs come out of our community, from out of a place.” Don’t think you can schedule a time or place for creativity to rise. Rather, see the entire rhythm of the community to be one where creativity can arise from the least likely places. Nokia launched its successful line of rainbow colored mobile phones, not after a daylong strategy meeting, but after an afternoon when company execs lunched near California’s Venice Beach and noticed sun-drenched skaters awash in colorful clothes.24
(2) Shatter the innovation monopoly. Innovation and creativity arise from fresh, imaginative, and diverse environs. Thus, Hamel and Skarzynski discovered that innovation wanes if controlled by a small leadership segment. Many seeker-church models may unintentionally do this when they designate “creative teams” to design artistic environments for worship gatherings. My experience has led me to agree, for I have noticed the longer creative teams exist, the less innovation results. Thus, it is important to encourage creativity to come from all segments of a congregation. Unlock and then welcom ideas from across the community. Legendary British entrepreneur Richard Branson encourages employees of his Virgin Enterprises to E-mail him with ideas. Thus, when a Virgin Airlines flight attendant had trouble planning her own wedding, she pitched the idea of a wedding planning boutique to Branson, which eventually resulted in a successful new enterprise.
(3) Build a safe place for people to innovate. Darrell Guder pointed out that much like the temple in the Old Testament, today’s Christian community often becomes an immovable, inflexible, and ostentatious environment. Subsequently, the church inadvertently distances itself from the people it is trying to serve. Instead, Guder believes a better biblical metaphor for a church is that of the tabernacle, an adaptable, movable manifestation of God’s glory and presence.25 The flexibility and movability of a tabernacle best describes how the outward manifestation (that is, the methodology) of the good news may innovatively adapt, but the central essence, doctrine, and principles of the tabernacle’s purpose do not change with its adaptable locale.
Thus, Christian communities must become safe, even welcoming places for innovation to be tendered and shared. Solomon’s Porch does this by welcoming ideas from all community quarters, even from the floor during sermons. While some churches may shy away from this due to the potential for dissenting thoughts arising from the floor, Solomon’s Porch sees this as an opportunity to engage in discussion with modern philosophies and apply God’s truth. And they do so in much the same way that the early church engaged Hellenistic philosophical ideas–at Solomon’s Porch.
Read more in the book: https://www.amazon.com/Inside-Organic-Church-Learning-Congregations/dp/0687331161
 Michiko Kakutani, “Art is Easier the Second Time Around,” New York Times, October 30, 1994, p. E-4.
 Viola Spolin, Improvisation for the Theater (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1999), p. 299.
 Viola Spolin, Improvisation for the Theater, p. 26.
 Gary Hamel and Peter Skarzynski, On Creativity, Innovation, and Renewal, Frances Hesselbeiin and Rob Johnson, eds. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002), pp. 13-14
 Hamel and Skarzynski, On Creativity, Innovation, and Renewal, p. 13.
 Darrell L. Guder, Be My Witnesses: The Church’s Mission, Message, and Messengers, pp. 182-190.