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Innovate Your Way to Better Small Groups

innovation small groups

The vast majority of the books I read, I don’t finish. Occasionally, a book is so good I reread it. Once in a while, a book is so good I start into it as soon as I have finished it. Matt Ridley’s How Innovation Works was just that good. Here are a few key highlights as they related to Small Group Ministry.

Innovation Is the Key to Nearly Everything

How Innovation Works is a sequel of sorts to Ridley’s earlier work, The Rational Optimist. In the book Ridley argued that the world is getting better and better by every conceivable measure. We live longer. We live better. We are better educated. We have better entertainment. We have better medicine. We have access to travel. We have access to unbelievable technology. Here are three quotes:

  • But the vast majority of people are much better fed, much better sheltered, much better entertained, much better protected against disease and much more likely to live to old age than their ancestors have ever been.
  • Even allowing for the hundreds of millions who still live in abject poverty, disease and want, this generation of human beings has access to more calories, watts, lumen-hours, square feet, gigabytes, megahertz, light-years, nanometres, bushels per acre, miles per gallon, food miles, air miles, and of course dollars than any that went before.
  • Today, of Americans officially designated as ‘poor’, 99 per cent have electricity, running water, flush toilets, and a refrigerator; 95 per cent have a television, 88 per cent a telephone, 71 per cent a car and 70 per cent air conditioning. Cornelius Vanderbilt had none of these.

What made all this possible? Innovation.

Of course, as Christians, we have to put an asterisk by the word, “everything.” We know that Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.” We have to be prayed up, Spirit-led and totally dependent on God—not our innovation—in order to see any spiritual progress.

There is a both-and principle in Scripture taught in Nehemiah 4:9 (NIV), “But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.” This is what effective workers do: they pray like it all depended on God and post a guard like it all depended on themselves. And the part that is dependent on us is greatly enhanced by innovation—finding better and better ways of doing things.

Jesus taught us to be a shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves. Whatever else that means, I believe it means we are to innovate.

Innovation Is Nearly Always Incremental

We tend to imagine that there was a day before manned flight and there then came the Wright brothers. Everything changed. Suddenly. All at once. Poof! This is almost never the case.

Ridley uses the light bulb as an example of this. Far from illustrating the importance of the heroic inventor, it turns out to be the opposite story. It is the story of gradual, incremental and collective innovation.

The computer is another great example. There simple was no day that suddenly a computer was invented. We can’t circle a date on the calendar and say that before this day there were no computers and after this day there were computers. There were a thousand starts and stops in labs and garages all around the world.

A great example of this is in a recent podcast by Steve Gladden. There is a tendency to look at a church like Saddleback and all their amazing systems and think that they dreamt all this stuff up from day one. In this podcast, Steve goes through version 1.0, 2.0… 6.0 versions of small group ministry. Innovation is nearly always incremental.

Question: what is the next incremental improvement in your small group ministry?

Innovation Is Nearly Always the Result of Collaboration

We have a picture of the innovator as a loan scientist working alone in a solitary lab. This is almost never the case. Innovation is nearly always the result of collaboration.