Does the established nature of some churches hinder innovation? Is an established structure antithetical to quick, nimble changes?
For most established churches, yes, but it does not mean established churches cannot innovate.
A church plant is an innovation. Innovation is the process of successfully establishing something new. To introduce something new — and to get it to work longer than a month — is innovation.
Perhaps some luck goes into the right change at the right time. Perhaps some churches land on the right demographic with the right leadership. Not all innovations are intentional or well-planned. But an effective church plant should be noted as innovation.
As organizations become more established, they tend to be less prone to change. By its nature, an established organization has a system in place that pushes against change.
To establish is to create firm stability. Churches need stability. For example, a discipleship process that is not rooted in the culture of the church (or established) is not likely to last long. And it’s only a matter of time before the innovative church plant begins to feel the pull of becoming established. Everything is new only once, after all.
While stability is necessary, every church should also innovate.
Established churches, in particular, can take comfort in the establishment. Traditions and history can easily become a guise for complacency. Innovation can take a back seat to the entrenched processes that help create the stability.
While most church planters will admit to having many of the same people-problems as established churches, church plants do innovate more easily. They have no history pulling them in a certain direction. Everyone is new. The church is new. Each decision is new. In the early days of a church plant, everything feels like an innovation even if it’s not.
So what hurdles to innovation exist in the established church? Here are four examples:
1. Lack of intentionality.
Generally, established churches have more resources than new churches. When resources are limited, churches must be more intentional about innovation. Failure — especially one that is expensive — can quickly derail a church with limited resources.
When resources are plentiful, the temptation is to be less intentional. Established churches can generally absorb more failures. But the practice of throw-spaghetti-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks is not true innovation. It’s haphazard chaos. Give it a month and see how many people get annoyed.