I love innovation. I love discovering innovative ways to proclaim the gospel. How can congregations respond in this rapidly changing world to communicate what Christ has already done for us?
Innovation can be a scary word. It’s hard to know where to start without disrupting faithful church members who are prone to take comfort in what is familiar.
Innovation does not mean making slight adjustments to what churches are already doing, nor change doctrinal teachings to reach the lost. It also does not mean launching a new outreach program because somebody else is doing it. Innovation requires examining where you are, before determining where to go. It means examining, applying, and testing different ways to reach the unchurched that is becoming increasingly disinterested in attending church.
From launching outreach initiatives from across the U.S., I have noticed a common thread that is facing most congregations. A stigma that is attached to organized religion that is making it difficult for congregations to proclaim the truth. This stigma is creating a ten-foot barbed-wire fence that many faithful members are struggling to see. I believe this stigma is a primary reason why people are rejecting familiar evangelism methods and approaches that may have worked twenty years ago.
People don’t believe that churches have a relevant message anymore. It’s not that people are rejecting God, but they are rejecting church. Because of this stigma, congregations are having to consider being innovative in how they engage their neighbors and communicate the truth of the gospel.
Here are four ways congregations can begin to move forward to becoming innovative churches in their community to communicate the gospel:
- Is your mission strategy built around the ministry leader or the church?
I believe this question is the most important step for congregations to consider.
Ministries can run into trouble when they focus on a person rather than the product (mission) when implementing outreach strategies. Many congregations can become too dependent upon the gifts and talents of the pastor. Innovation means that a congregation and the pastor insist that future outreach activities will be based on the gifts, talents, and energy of its members and not the pastor.
Congregations that are innovative requires that the pastor no longer makes themselves more important than the mission. This means that pastors stop trying to do everything and find ways to equip their members to be an integral part of the mission. When members take ownership of outreach and evangelism, and have the freedom to try new ideas, then a congregation is setting themselves up to be innovative.
Sounds simple, but very difficult to carry out. Yet, when pastors and their leadership team carefully and humbly consider this question, it will make a significant difference in their outreach efforts.
- Do not be afraid to have God-sized dreams
Innovative leaders don’t think incrementally. They routinely think of God-sized dreams and strategize to reach them. This can start by trusting the Lord of the harvest when he says, “The harvest is ready, and the workers are few.” It means trusting that your congregation – no matter how small – are the few faithful workers that God can use in extraordinary ways. Innovative churches start asking, “How can we make this activity ten times better?” That question adjusts our thinking.
- Know your competition
Congregations have a strong tendency to compare themselves to the mega-churches down the street. They see a large, growing church that offers a myriad of programs and immediately feel intimidated. When they compare their own church to that much larger church as their main source of competition, they will easily feel defeated. Innovative churches recognize that the big church down the road is not their competition… it’s indifference. There are some people that are drawn to large churches, but it only makes up a small percentage of the whole population. Innovative churches trust God’s promises. They trust that God blesses activity. He closes doors to some ideas, and opens doors to others. Competition does not come from other churches, but combating the father of lies who regularly plants seeds of discouragement and apathy.
- Test, test, test
When congregations feel like the are spinning their wheels, then it’s time to try something else. Great ideas are often stumbled upon. Instead of inviting people to come to an event hosted by their church, it may be time to go to the people. The unchurched can provide amazing feedback on how to be effective in outreach rather than a group of believers brainstorming around a table. Innovative churches are not afraid to fail. They celebrate finding out what doesn’t work and move on to the next idea.
One of the great joys of evangelism is being surprised by God. He is ultimately in control of bringing people to faith. In his wisdom, God has designed for his faithful children to engage the world and share the message of salvation. Members can take comfort in knowing that every congregation is planted right where they need to be. There are people in your community whom God has set apart to hear the Good News. He is commissioning us to faithfully bring that news to them. In this ever-changing world, congregations that embrace an innovative spirit to bring as many people to heaven are discovering ways to communicate the power of the gospel.