How to break out of the box

31 January 2024

To celebrate the launch of the A Methodist Way of Life discipleship toolkit, the Evangelism and Growth team is producing a new monthly blog series on leadership and culture change.

Whether you’re mission planning, starting an NPNP, focusing on one of the commitments of MWOL, or re-orienting your church’s focus to discipleship, we hope these blogs will provide inspiration, encouragement and guidance for making your hopes and dreams a reality.

In this blog, we suggest five activities that can help you break out of the box and stop having the same conversation over and over again (we’ve all been there!).

Hear different voices

If we want to break out of the box, hearing different voices to bring a fresh perspective can bring new ideas and help avoid ‘group think’. Different voices can produce ways forward that you might never have thought of. How can you include voices that represent different ages, cultures, ethnicities, theological viewpoints, gender identity, etc? Most importantly, listen to the voices of people who would be most affected by any plans and ask them to co-create with you. To find these voices, go to the places they are, ask them what they’d like you to hear, and what you could do in response (this doesn’t commit you to doing anything).

Dream big

A big dream inspires people and helps keep Godly perspective on details, practicalities and challenges that might otherwise hold you back. It should respond to the voices in your community but be centred in a discernment of God’s voice. If you had all the resources in the world, how would this enable you to do what God wants you to do? The goal isn’t to come up with a realistic, feasible plan (that will come), but to excite people with the possibilities and provide a space to release people’s creativity. Here's one possible activity:

Commit to some fun but firm ‘dreaming rules’: ‘only build on ideas, don’t criticise’, or ‘if you mention a capacity issue you have to wear the mute button for five minutes’. Keep focus by writing out your aim where everyone can see it. Spend 5-10 minutes coming up with as many ideas as you can individually. Then share ideas in small groups, either verbally or by swapping written notes around. Spend 2-5 minutes building on each other’s ideas and noting common themes and repeated ideas. Again, only positive comments are allowed. You could finish with a fun, non-binding vote on which idea people are most excited about for future potential.

Look back on the future

This is another great exercise to give people opportunity to dream about what could be and identify some first steps without being overwhelmed by fears or capacity concerns. Ask the group to imagine it’s a date 10 years in the future and your idea or culture change has been 100% successful. Describe what this ‘perfect’ situation looks like then look back 10 years (i.e. from that future date back to today). What happened to achieve success? What barriers did you overcome? Here’s an example:

It's February 2034: We’ve eradicated racism in the primary school. There is increased diversity in the school and church as minority ethnicity and multi-cultural families are moving to our villages because of the school’s reputation. The whole community feels more welcoming.

In the 10 years since February 2024: We partnered with other faith groups and a local charity to run assemblies, RE and PSE classes. We built relationships through activities like food fairs, world dance classes, and a global cinema club, as well as 1-2-1 conversations and community forums. The school began peer and intergenerational mentoring schemes with diverse mentors and mentees.

Barriers and responses: Families shared experiences about racism in church, so we used the Methodist Church’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion materials to explore our own attitudes. We hosted a weekly justice bible study on Zoom and several Ask Me Anything sessions. We changed our majority-white leadership (in the school, church and this project) to be representative of all the communities present in the five local villages that feed into the school.

Finish by asking ‘what can we do with what we’ve got to start this journey’ and setting milestones. In this example, it might include meeting with local faith and community leaders, teachers and parents, then recruiting a core group to lead the project. As you listen to these voices, your ultimate plan may differ from the one in the exercise.

Prepare for the barriers

If you know there are particular questions or concerns within the community, show you’ve thought about this by preparing in advance. If you’ve got a team on board (or even just one other person) make sure you’re all agreed on how to respond. It’s good to acknowledge the issue - ‘thank you for sharing that, I know it’s something you’re passionate / angry / hurt about’. Then remind the person of what you’re trying to achieve and why (watch Simon Sinek’s classic Ted Talk 'How great leaders inspire action’ for a reminder of the power of ‘why’).


Pray for your team: Ask the Holy Spirit to give a spirit of peace, consensus, or joy to the whole group during your ideation sessions. Pray for good listening ears.

Pray for your neighbourhood: Ask God to open your eyes to the needs and people around you.

Check out the Methodist Church's creative prayer cards for ideas for praying in your community or prayer walking resources from 24-7 Prayer or Hope Together, Hope for Every Home and the Cinnamon Network.

Find out more: explore transformational leadership

What’s your top tip for breaking out of the box? Let us know on social media: @methodistgb #leadingchange