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The Importance of Innovation


One of the least talked about issues within churches is innovation. There is talk about the importance of evaluating current approaches in light of ongoing effectiveness, and how strategic it is to be willing to embrace new methods, but those topics are different from innovation. What most churches are talking about is whether to embrace something other churches are doing. They aren’t discussing creating something new on their own. But the evaluation of current approaches in light of other models or methods that are “out there” is only half of what is needed. The other half is raw innovation of your own.

Jim Collins, one of the best thinkers regarding organizational leadership I know, suggests there are at least six basic elements of what it means to be an innovative organization:

  1. Receptivity to ideas from everywhere

  2. “Being” the customer

  3. Experimentation and mistakes

  4. People being creative

  5. Autonomy and decentralization

  6. Rewards

Here’s a primer on what he means by each one:

First, “receptivity to ideas from everywhere” really is about fostering a culture of learning. It’s reading books, listening to podcasts, attending seminars and reading blogs.

“Being the customer” is doing all that you can to experience the world – and specifically, people’s interaction with you—as they do. For churches, it’s attempting to get so close to the people you are trying to reach that you experience what they experience.

“Experimentation and mistakes” involve the willingness to take risks, to try new things, and not be overly concerned if the majority fail. Collins notes how Thomas Edison went through more than 9,000 iterations before he successfully invented the light bulb. When one of his associates asked, “Why do you persist in this folly? You’ve failed more than 9,000 times.” Edison replied, “I haven’t even failed once; 9,000 times I’ve learned what doesn’t work.”

The idea behind “people being creative” is nothing more than helping people develop their creative capabilities. This can be as simple as providing books on creativity, such as A Whack on the Side of the Head by Richard Van Oech or Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, who was president of Pixar and Disney Animation. Anything that will spur people on to challenge conventional wisdom.