Let's face it: things don't happen the way they used to. We can lament the loss of the good ole days, but if we're honest we really enjoy having air conditioning, GPS, cable television (in color!) and debit cards. But while changes happen around us at a rapid pace, many feel the church is one of the slowest institutions to experience change. Innovation is often met with a response like "We've never done it that way before!"
Innovation opens up so many doors to new opportunities, but unfortunately many churches never come to fully embrace what's put before them. Innovation involves change, and change can often be uncomfortable, require sacrifice, and bring people to rewire their thinking pattern. So how can a church kill innovation? Here's five ways.
Create Complicated Decision-Making Structures - If churches have multiple layers to make a decision, it's too complicated. Making decisions more complicated causes people to not take initiative, which is sad when many churches show greater levels of bureaucracy than the government.
Don't Listen to New Voices - As God sends new people to a church, they come with new ideas. Those new ideas could provide a fresh approach to ministry. When new voices are silenced because "they've not been here long enough" or they're too young or their ideas are too different, status quo becomes engraved in stone.
Be Scared to Fail - Anyone remember the Arch Deluxe? McDonalds spent millions launching a "grown up" burger, only to pull it from the menu when sales absolutely tanked. Apple got into the business of selling clothing, ESPN aired the Hot Dog Contest, and the XFL pushed the boundaries of broadcasting football with overhead cameras and more microphones on the field. When churches become scared of failure, new ideas never get a try. Will some things fail? Of course. But the fear of failure should never be so great that a ministry is scared to try something new. Thomas Edison famously said that he had "found 10,000 ways a light bulb doesn't work."
Never Evaluate - Innovation doesn't happen because evaluation isn't taken seriously. When something is evaluated by "how'd you think it went?" rather than by using metrics and in-depth review, bad ideas are allowed to continue unchecked because there's no objective way of saying something needs to be revised. Constantly evaluate ministries, your teaching, how your services are going, and what processes are in place to take people from guest to member.
Be Comfortable - We should be content with where God has placed us, but we should never let our contentedness become comfortableness. Comfortable maintains for the comfort of those already there. Comfort fails to have urgency. Comfort rarely looks outside. Leaders who are serious about innovation should always be asking "What could we be doing that we're not now? How can we reach our community? Are we missing an opportunity in front of us? Are we doing something now that we need to cut out?" Those are hard questions, but we need to ask them.
How else do you see Innovation killed in churches?
I think we all learned something new this week, that at the Olympic swimming & diving events there is a lifeguard on duty. And the viral picture shows just how exciting that job has to be. It's a job that will probably never require you to do anything except blow a whistle to tell Michael Phelps to stop running to the gold medal platform. But seriously, I feel bad for them. Their job is being ridiculed, mocked, and put on the Internet as a joke. Whether we want to admit it, we need Olympic pool lifeguards. We need them to be ready and poolside in case a swimmer cramps and is unable to get out of the pool themselves. What kind of tragic headline would it be if a swimmer or diver drowned?
As a pastor I see dozens of volunteers serving in a lot of different roles. Some of them are visible and public, and others are never seen. Even though the roles might look different, their importance is the same, regardless of exposure. Why? Because every single one of those roles helps the church flourish, and lets us execute Sunday services without a hitch. My favorite unseen volunteer I've met so far is the Coffee Guy, who makes sure there is coffee set up in our fellowship hall for members and guests. Without him, we'd have some very grumpy and sleepy people!
1 Corinthians 12 is a great reminder that every part is in the Body, and there is no unimportant part in the Body. So whether you're a paid staff member, the small group leader, the guy who sets up chairs, or the lifeguard in the Olympic pool, your role in the Body is important. It's important because:
1) God has called you to it - All of us have been given a calling, an identity, and a purpose within the Church. So whatever you do, you're doing it because God wants you there.
2) You are serving faithfully - I am fully convinced that God is more concerned with our faithfulness than the prestige of our role. If we're faithful to serving and doing whatever He has called us to, then He has a pattern of rewarding that faithfulness. For leaders, we know that people who are faithful in small things can be trusted with bigger things.
3) The Church needs you - You might not feel like the role you serve in the church isn't that special, or you might feel as useful as an Olympic lifeguard. Let me encourage you that you are doing something incredible in the Kingdom, and you are setting up the church for worship, mission, and fellowship. When you take on the responsibility of working the nursery, you're not less important. You're providing a blessing to families. When you set up chairs, you're letting lost people hear the Gospel. When you're making the coffee, you're helping community happen. And when you're feeling like no one is watching, God is.
Leadership isn't easy. Rocket science, huh? But seriously, if you're going into leadership because you want to be popular, feel good about yourself, or because you need other people's affirmation, you're going to be sorely disappointed. Leadership is hard. Selling ice cream isn't. That's what I tell younger leaders, that if they think this will be easy or fun, they need to start selling ice cream instead. Everybody loves the ice cream guy, but not everyone will always like a leader.
Why? Because leadership has to make decisions that are difficult, that carry a cost, and that deeply impact people. We want to make sure we have a zero-sum or win-win perspective, but there are times that we can't do that. Sometimes in order to do what's best for the organization/ministry/company/church, we make decisions that are painful. It's not always this way, there are lots of times when decisions are easy because there's a contagious vision and the momentum pushes things forward. Those great times are when it's fun to be a leader because you're along for the ride.
But the reality is, leaders need to have security. The security of who they are as a person with specific gifting and abilities, serving where and doing what God has called them to, and hanging on to their identity in Christ. I knew someone who served with an incredibly insecure leader, who once called him into the office because he hadn't been liking or commenting on the leader's Facebook posts, who called meetings to have people tell him he was doing a good job, and who spent time creating narratives of how people perceived him and agonizing over these delusions.
Insecure leaders are toxic to any organization, because the focus of the leadership goes from pushing things forward to stoking whatever insecurity the leader has. Meetings take on the feel of a therapy session rather than dreaming, and little risk is ever taken. The end result is an inertia, a loss of vision and enthusiasm, and in many cases the loss of solid people in the organization.
Leaders should be secure in Christ - The first place a leader needs to be secure is in their relationship with Christ. In Christ, we become new creations, we cast aside our timidity and doubt and instead have the power of the Spirit. We have crossed over from death to life, have gone from Enemies to Friends, and we know that nothing on earth or hell can ever shake us from being God's child. If that doesn't get a leader through difficult times, nothing else will. Leaders secure in Christ are not proud, nor do they carry an air of super-spirituality, but instead carry themselves with a contagious humility--an attitude of prayer, repentance, and gracious service to others.
Leaders should be secure in their Calling - As spiritual leaders, we know this is something God has called us to. Let me say that again, God has called you to serving Him. He knew your weaknesses, your shortcomings, your besetting sin, but yet He still called you. I love how Peter describes our calling, becoming a people so that we can "proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into marvelous light." Spiritual leaders aren't better Christians than others, nor are they closer to God, they simply have been given a calling that puts them in a position to influence others for effective Kingdom service and ministry.
Leaders should be secure in their Assignment - The same God who called you to spiritual leadership has also called you to the specific place and role you are serving now. So when it stinks, remember God was the one who brought you there. Insecure leaders constantly keep checking job sites or feel like they're not being used. But there's also something special knowing that God has brought you to a specific leadership position, and that He is going to use you where you are. You can't be an insecure leader and expect to be content where you're serving.
Leaders should be secure in their Team - Secure leaders know that the people around them were also brought there by God, called to some form of spiritual leadership, and above all else their brother or sister in Christ. Insecure leaders isolate themselves from their team, don't develop meaningful relationships with them, and question their role on the team. A secure leader isn't threatened by others' success, nor do they find themselves intimidated by someone on the team who shares their gift set. Secure leaders know that the others around them are there (hopefully) for the same objectives, and can be an incredible partner for accomplishing the vision.
The great thing about leadership is that it's possible for someone to go from being insecure to being secure. Work through this list, starting at the top and moving down, and ask God to help you grow and develop in those areas. Above all else, guard yourself from the discouragement and deception from the Enemy, who only seeks to steal, kill, and destroy. And that includes your security as a leader. Cling to the Savior who rescued you, who called you, and who will never, ever leave you. He is enough, and He is what we can depend on when selling ice cream sounds a whole lot better.
A few days ago I shared one of my passions, the next generation. I'm personally invested because I've got 2 kids, and I'm professionally invested because I spent almost 9 years in student ministry. One of my dreams as a new pastor is to see our sanctuary and property filled with kids running around and young parents chasing after them. But that's not all. As I've driven around our area my heart has been burdened by the number of 55+ communities around us. God's dream isn't just for one age group to be together, but for all. The Gospel's message is for everyone, and Gospel community involves everyone from 1 to 101. That's why I've embraced and loved the word multigenerational--bringing together people from extremely different backgrounds just by the year they were born into a community that's beyond friendship, it's family.
So many times when a church wants to focus on one age group, others are left wanting and neglected. Sadly when this happens a church doesn't become a multigenerational family, it becomes congregations within congregations (young vs. old, contemporary vs. traditional, three-piece suits vs. Skinny Jeans), and it disrupts the unity of the Body that the New Testament emphasizes over and over again. I want to give 7 ways that a church can become a truly multigenerational family.
1. Invest in Next Generation ministry - Investing in these ministries (birth-young adulthood) is more than providing a budget item or space, it's an intentional effort to champion and support these ministries. Investing in them includes recruiting and developing volunteers, promotion during worship services, and inclusion in the church as a whole. Investing also includes facility structures, including safety/security, cleanliness, and accessibility (signage is huge, so is having key people to help guests).
2. Develop Pathways for Assimilation - Are there ways for people, regardless of age, to assimilate into the membership and involvement? Introducing a Prospective/New Member Orientation can help with the front door of assimilation, but beyond that are there ways to involve in small groups, opportunities to use gifts/abilities to serve, and accountability to keep the back door closed? Developing a Multigenerational mindset means asking the question "Can anyone, regardless of age, find a place here to belong?"
3. Reflect Titus 2 - One of the coolest things I learned about Millennials in my doctoral work and beyond is that this is a generation that craves mentoring. Titus 2 gives us a great pattern for older investing in younger. Younger are able to learn from the wisdom and experience of those older, and the older can be incredibly valuable to helping build a legacy.
4. Connect Generations - I love separate spaces for youth and children's ministries, because it gives them "their place" where they can learn, worship, share, and grow in their own way. Sadly what I've seen many times is that this turns into isolation--where kids and teenagers never cross paths with adults (and vice versa). I served in a church 7 years and I couldn't count how many times people would say "oh what a lovely space for the youth, I never knew this was here." Connecting generations means inviting them into each other's space. It can be a formal fellowship or it can be as easy as a middle school class inviting the widows to join them for Bible study. When we bring generations together, we're tearing down the walls that too often separate us in churches.
5. Encourage Deference > Preference - We all have preferences over what we like in music, style, fashion, sermon length, and seating arrangement. When Paul talks about his liberty in Christ, he doesn't use it to flaunt or brag about what he can do, instead he points to deference to others. So when we don't like the music or think the service should be oriented towards _____, we need to put our preferences on the back burner and instead defer to someone else. This attitude of humility, considering others more than ourselves, lets each generation see how the others flourish and thrive. So sing songs you don't know (even if they repeat, because the angels will sing Holy, Holy, Holy forever!), let a teenager talk about Christian rap, and don't roll your eyes when the Southern Gospel quartet gets up to sing.
6. Community Engagement - "If you build it, they will come" worked great for Kevin Costner, but not for churches. Becoming a multigenerational family means finding ways to be involved in the community. Contact your local schools to see if there are ways to serve as volunteers, set up a table at Open House, build relationships with retirement homes and senior centers, encourage members to coach Little League, connect with families at the pool or grocery store, and recognize the influence areas God has given you to engage people who don't know Jesus.
7. Listen - Leaders who charge all-in without listening are asking to step on a land mine. Listen well to your people, develop a vision that they will buy into. James gives us great wisdom that we should be quick to listen but slow to speak--and becoming multigenerational means that we're taking time to listen to the genuine, heart-felt concerns of people. It means we become a people who are willing to listen to each other to learn and grow, rather than a people who dismiss the other generations. When younger people learn the older ones have sacrificed and worked hard for what they have, they listen. And when older people hear the passion and enthusiasm for Christ the younger have, they cheer.
It's a beautiful picture isn't it?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.