Innovation can be an intimidating word. Its connotation suggests change and being outside our comfort zone. Yet, innovation plays a key role in helping congregations who feel like they are spinning their wheels with their outreach activities. What are some important steps a congregation can take to start becoming an innovative church?
Transforming a congregation to be innovative does not have to be a scary process. It’s not so much about trying new things, but preparing a congregation to be flexible. It’s learning how to process disappointment, because innovative churches understand that trying new ways to engage the community and proclaim the gospel are going to fail most of the time. We tend to hear only the outreach successes, but we rarely hear about the failures. We don’t hear about how often great ideas often come from adjusting, learning, and tweaking.
An innovative church does not necessarily mean launching new programs or ideas, but having the ability to change course when things are not working out as well as they had hoped.
How can a congregation create and sustain outreach momentum while attempting to find out what works for them? Here are four ideas to help become innovative in outreach strategies. And it all centers upon how ministry leaders communicate implementation to the congregation.
- When communicating a new outreach program, use the language of experimentation
When you introduce a new idea to the congregation and begin the process of implementation, use the word “try” instead of “change.” Certain words can automatically stir up dissension. The word “experiment” is much safer and will draw less resistance.
Many members are going to stand on the sidelines and watch what happens, but will feel safe and be less resistant when they hear experimental language.
Avoid using persuasive language to “sell” change in the congregation. Since we all tend to want to prove that we are right, compromise or retreat may send a sign of weakness rather than a sign of wisdom. Using the word “experiment” allows plenty of room to make corrections or possibly abandon the original idea to try something else.
- When communicating a new outreach program, use the language of flexibility
Plans are great, but make sure your pencil has an eraser since nothing new ever goes as planned. What sounds good around a table sometimes needs adjustments when ideas hit reality. For this reason, it is best to be flexible and keep other options open for as long as possible. We can say, “This is what we will do for now,” instead of “This is the way it has to be if we are going to survive as a congregation!”
Using the language of flexibility allows a congregation to safely make midcourse corrections while maintaining credibility for those who are observing from the sidelines.
- When communicating a new outreach program, use the language of permission
Ministry leaders can become very excited about launching a new outreach program or implementing change within a congregation. In doing so, be careful to avoid the hype and making empty promises.
If something succeeds, that’s great. If ministry leaders have been using hype and a new idea or program fails, then they will lose credibility. If leaders hype everything, people will stop listening all together.
Use the language of permission when launching something new. At least half of your congregation are going to resist change until they see that it works for them and observe that everyone else is for it. Ask and receive permission to try something and see if it works. When permission is granted, it will be much easier to adjust plans or even back away entirely from a new idea when it becomes obvious that it’s not working out as well as people hoped.
- When communicating a new outreach program, use the language of one program at a time
Pastors who are passionate about outreach are prone to have many irons in the fire. Ideas fuel their passion and don’t mind trying many ideas at the same time with the hope that one of them may stick. It’s easy to become convinced that the current idea is what a congregation needs until the next big idea comes down the path.
Long-time members usually figure it out. They will watch their pastor chase the latest butterfly and feign agreement, but end up doing nothing. They have learned that “this too will pass” and keep doing whatever that have been doing and let the newbies jump on the latest bandwagon.
It’s okay to have great ideas, but keep things in experimental mode. When communicating a new outreach program, ministry leaders can help maintain outreach momentum by trying not to oversell until something has been tried. Instead of full speed ahead on the latest idea, try slowing down so that a congregation can apply all its talents to one idea at a time.
The biggest obstacle a congregation faces when starting to become innovative is not coming up with great ideas, but learning to overcome the fear of disappointment when a program doesn’t measure up to expectations. This can be overcome by adopting ways to communicate change and receiving the permission to fail. Great ideas that work for a congregation often come from trial and error. The Lord blesses activity and will allow a congregation to stumble upon a clear way to engage the community and communicate the gospel.
Source: “Innovation and Agility” Outreach magazine, by Larry Osborne