The skills used in improvisational theatre and community organizing can be applied to ministry and ways of doing church, participants at NEXT Church learned March 5.

NEXT Church is a network of leaders across the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) who provide space for hopeful conversations about the theology, culture and practice of ministry in a time of adaptive change. The group’s national gathering was March 4-5 here.

The Rev. Ashley Goff, minister for spiritual formation at PC(USA) congregation Church of the Pilgrims, outlined the ways that liturgy can be done as improv. A technique used in theater, comedy, music and other disciplines, improv involves reacting in the moment to one’s environment and feelings, which can result in new thought patterns or ways to act.

Like other forms of improv, liturgical improv involves spontaneous creation; balances structure, discipline and freedom; requires trust, awakeness and attention; and is interdependent and collaborative.

No one person is in charge; rather, there’s an even playing field, Goff said.

At her congregation, a small group gathers about six weeks before each liturgical season to think about ways to respond. The group is different every time and looks at past seasons while also learning a new song, Goff said.

NEXT participants also heard from the Rev. Patrick Daymond, pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church of Roosevelt, N.Y., and a community organizer.

Although the United States has a variety of technological and communication tools, it’s been called the world’s loneliest country, Daymond said. This could be because we have a skewed idea of what makes for meaningful relationships.

Our religion should be about uplifting human life, he said. In order to do this, we must have intentional relationships and conversations with all involved in a particular institution or problem.

“The quality of the world we live in is connected to the quality of our relationships one-to-one,” Daymond said.

Community organizers start with the premise that communities are made up of one-on-one relationships. Using the tools of invitation, connection, discovering self-interests, evaluation and issue clarification, organizers can learn more about a community and its members.

Daymond also spoke about one-on-one conversations, another tool community organizers use. These public but personal conversations are structured and involve asking personal questions with pragmatic goals: developing a relationship that can be drawn upon later, discovering a person’s passion and asking a person to do something for the organization in question.

Relationship-building is risky and involves the ever-present fear of rejection.

“But that’s where we’ve been called to live, is it not?” Daymond asked. “Community is how God intends us to live life.”