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Experifail: Failing in Faith

We all fear failure.

For some of us, the fear is about rejection. For others, it’s about embarassment. Others fear that failing means they have let someone down – and sometimes that person is long deceased. Still others struggle so hard that they don’t feel there’s any wiggle room for failure. And in this internet culture, we fear that someone will put our mistakes on FailBlog, stamped indelibly with the word “FAIL” – or worse, “EPIC FAIL.”

And it’s even worse when we’re talking about failing not just on our own, but on behalf or with a group of people… a congregation, for instance. Oh, the things we risk if we fail! We will lose members. Our pledges will be smaller. Our volunteers will quit.

And yet we fail all the time – students don’t pass exams. Suitors get rejected. A member decides we aren’t fulfilling his spiritual needs. Only three people show up to a fellowship event. We don’t raise enough money. As a result, we have let people down, including ourselves. And we even seem to have lost the gradations; things are no longer moderate or limited successes – everything is pass/fail.

It sounds pretty depressing, and certainly unsuccessful. So why are we celebrating this experifail/failing faithfully business?

“Experifail” was first coined during a TweetChat about the Faith Formation 2020 report… we were talking about some new approaches in our congregations, and someone remarked that there was a good chance a particular initiative might fail.

That’s when Rev. Phillip Lund spoke up and said we should experiment anyway… we should be willing to “experifail” (he also offered faileriment, but that wasn’t as graceful, nor do I think it conveys the same meaning – “faileriment” puts the failure up front, whereas “experifail” puts the experimentation first).

Needless to say, the idea stuck, and it reappeared in a chat about Generational dynamics in our congregations – again, the question came up about trying some new things, and we agreed that we needed to find the courage to risk.

And that’s all experifail is about: being willing to, and strong enough, to take some risks. To experiment, knowing that the result is not a sure thing, being willing to own the failures and learn from them, and not letting the failures keep us from trying again.

Experifail can be scary – the “what if” list grows longer and longer the more you risk. But experifail carries with it a vitally important element: Faith. Experifail isn’t just charging ahead and trying something risky. Experifail is stepping out in faith, knowing that we’re putting our best selves forward, doing what we believe to be the next right thing. Experifail also has room for success – when we’re willing to fail, we are less likely to second guess…and thus we might actually succeed.

We can employ experifail in our personal lives and in our congregations. There are so many things we can do, if we are willing to take the Risk that it’ll fail. This is when the costs/benefits analysis should be set aside…maybe you WILL lose something… but what you may learn will be worth much more than what you lost. And, maybe you’ll win too.

Shamless Promotion

Now I put this under the Generational Theory heading because Experifail is the topic for our next #GenChurch TweetChat on August 26th. (8pm EDT) As Rev. Naomi King and I were discussing the topic for the chat, she pointed out that in order to better deal with generational transitions in leadership, worship, fellowship, education, and faith formation, we need to be willing to experifail – and prepare our congregations for some faithful failing. I’m going to think (and consult my friendly, neighborhood generational expert) about what barriers and support we might get from the different generations as we approach some of these shifts… and hopfully have some ideas to share when we chat again.

Or I might not. I could walk into the chat the very  model of experifail!

2 thoughts on “Experifail: Failing in Faith

  1. It has been working in me since your first coined it last month… and it keeps coming up, especially as I head into seminary. Talk about experifail! 🙂

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