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The Importance of Innovation

For example, from Catmull we learn several key organizational principles that foster creativity that are uniquely suited to the church, such as:

  • If there are people in your organization who feel they are not free to suggest ideas, you lose. Do not discount ideas from unexpected sources. Inspiration can, and does, come from anywhere.

  • It isn’t enough merely to be open to ideas from others. Engaging the collective brainpower of the people you work with is an active, ongoing process. As a manager, you must coax ideas out of your staff and constantly push them to contribute.

  • When it comes to shutting down alternative viewpoints, there is nothing quite as effective as being convinced you are right.

  • Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.

  • A company’s communication structure should not mirror its organizational structure. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody.

  • Be wary of making too many rules. Rules can simplify life for managers, but they can be demeaning to the 95% who behave well. Don’t create rules to rein in the other 5%—address abuses of common sense individually. This is more work but ultimately healthier.

  • Engaging with exceptionally hard problems forces us to think differently.

“Autonomy and decentralization” are decisive for innovation, and I’ve written in previous books about the importance of rethinking traditional church structures, particularly in Rethinking the Church and What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary. A church’s structure for decision making and managing will determine whether innovation is stifled or set free. As I wrote in What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary,

I cannot begin to tell you how frustrating it is to lead a seminar or conference, lay out some simple decision or action that would radically improve a church’s health or effectiveness, and have it be met by a chorus of leaders saying, ‘We can’t do that.’ And nine times out of 10, it’s not because they don’t have the money, or the volunteers, or the facility, or even the desire—it’s because they don’t have the freedom.

The final element for innovation, “rewards,” may be harder for some to translate into a church environment, but the essence of the idea is actually highly transmissible. Simply make it legal for time to be spent not simply on managing things, but also on developing things. And yes, create incentives for that very thing. And for many on church staffs around the world, the freedom to spend time on new ventures would itself be the reward.

All to say, the next time you sense a need for something new, before you look to other churches, perhaps look to your own,

… and become the lead innovator.


Jim Collins and Bill Lazier, BE 2.0: Turning Your Business into an Enduring Great Company.

Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace, Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration.

James Emery White, Rethinking the Church.

James Emery White, What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary.

This article originally appeared here and is used by permission.