The word innovation has been used more frequently the last few years in the church world. I’ve found the reactions to its usage to be quite fascinating. Some find the word exciting – seeing a future full of opportunity, hope, and possibilities. Others cite being “over it” already. Some of our younger leaders state it is just the latest fad and it, too, will wane just like other church fads have done in the past. Still another group is terrified at the mere mention of the word innovation. For this group, innovation instantly brings up feelings of fear. The fear is often rooted in knowing that innovation often brings about change. For some change equates not only to fear, but also to an unknown future, doubt, loss, and discomfort. Who knew that one word could spark such vastly different responses and reactions for a variety of people? It’s not like we live in a country that already has any social and cultural divides!
Let’s take a deeper look at innovation. According to Dictionary.com, innovate simply means something newly introduced, such as a new method or device. There are actually four (others would say five to ten) different types of innovations:
- Incremental – is also commonly known as continuous improvement. It is often a participative approach for a company to build a culture of continuous improvement to their product or service.
- Adjacent – is an expansion to an existing product or service. This might include expanding into a new market or new audience.
- Disruptive – is an action taken by a smaller company or a new company that enters the market
that shakes up a larger competitor. The smaller company may even eventually take over the market completely.
- Radical – is a brand new (often revolutionary) product or service that have a strong positive impact on customer benefits and/or expectations. This may lead to displacing other products or services.
Upon review of these definitions, it becomes pretty clear. If churches have innovated at all, most often they have taken on incremental innovation to some degree or another. Some may have even had a few spurts of adjacent innovation in their courageous days. Maybe a few churches were disruptive innovators. Now, Jesus, on the other hand was a radical innovator. He turned the whole world upside down and inside out. He challenged people to think differently. He challenged those of authority in their way of ruling the land. He challenged the laws of the time. Jesus was creative in the way he went about his ministry. He didn’t have his disciples gather up people and bring them to Him at the Temple. Instead, Jesus went to the people and taught and healed them as they went about their ordinary daily lives. He mentored the disciples as he ministered to the people. That was radically innovative ministry for that time. In fact, wouldn’t it be radically innovative ministry today?
Circle back to how you and your leaders respond to the word innovation as it relates to your church today. Unless your church is in the small percentage of churches that have grown in the past two years, it’s likely that your church will need to consider some level of innovation in 2023. In my experience, most churches tend to be most comfortable in the incremental type of innovation and some will dabble in the adjacent realm. Yet for this postmodern culture, the church will likely need to be disruptive or radical innovators. This is not to squash out any competition (there are plenty of nones, dones, and spiritual but not religious folks to go ‘round). Rather, the disruption and radical shifts needed are likely inside the hearts and minds of those of us who are already followers of Jesus. We will first likely need to drastically adjust our own methods, thinking, attitudes, and approaches about what it means to be the church in this postmodern, most-pandemic world and significantly alter what effective ministry looks like going forward.
If you and your church would like to explore innovation and looking for resources, check outInside Out: Everting Ministry Models for the Postmodern Culture , Innovating for Love: Joining God’s Expedition through Christian Social Innovation, and consider joining Kenda Dean and Kay Kotan for an Innovating for Love Cohort Experience. Click here for more information.