Innovation in the church is needed and easily misunderstood. Innovation isn’t about the latest shiny strategy but is about a cultural attitude that is constantly seeking to discern God’s will, follow the lead of the Holy Spirit, a refusal to put human boxes around what is and isn’t church and organizational nimbleness.
Harvard Business Review recently interviewed Adam Bryant about his newest book, Quick and Nimble: Lessons from Leading CEOs on How to Create a Culture of Innovation. He talked with HBR about why a company’s culture is more important than its strategy — and some of the elements needed to create a innovative, high-performing culture. Here are some things we read and how they are related to what we have seen in churches:
- Focus on Building and Maintaining a Healthy Culture . “Culture really does drive everything. Managers do focus on results, but I think culture drives results. That’s the important equation.” In our studies of churches in a multitude of conditions we concur wholeheartedly. We have seen the exact same strategy, implemented the exact same way yield drastically different results. There are some soils that grow whatever gets planted and others that choke out whatever seeds are sown. Leaders who sow the Good News and cultivate good soil – one with strong spiritual intensity, missional alignment, healthy relationships and cultural openness—experience a harvest beyond their wildest dreams like in the Parable of the Sower.
- Create and Communicate an Overarching, Simple Plan. “If there’s not someone creating and communicating an overarching, simple plan for the larger organization and getting everyone to pitch in, people start breaking down into small tribes and pursuing their own goals and agendas. That’s when you see a culture focusing inward, instead of outward …” It is natural for people to form tribes. If all the tribes in your congregation aren’t seeking to pursue the same thing, it could be that there is no simple plan or no one communicating it on a regular basis. Throughout the scriptures there are multiple examples of overarching, simple plans. For example, in Matthew 10:5-10, Jesus delivers an overarching and simple plan: “Jesus sent his twelve harvest hands out with this charge: “Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously. Don’t think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. You don’t need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light.”
- “Keep things simple, and keep repeating it.” “More than three values or three goals or three metrics create a level of complexity in churches that slows down the rate of multiplication. Keeping things simple helps people tell others and helps everyone hear the same thing that gets told.” In some churches with long and complex purpose statements, people pick and chose what to focus on. The simpler a message is the more multiplication potential it has. But simple isn’t enough, we have to continue to repeat core messages in order for them to have an impact. Think about it. In the Great Commandment and Great Commission there is one big idea with three strategic focus areas: LOVE God, self, neighbor. GO make disciples of all nations or TELL in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
- Require effective communication over efficient communication. “Email taps into this bad part of our brain where everyone wants to have the last word.’ Smart companies come up with very specific rules to try to uproot that email culture. They require people to pick up the phone or walk down the hall. Culture is built from relationships between people. Email does nothing to build relationships, and can actually damage relationships.” There is an aspect of this that is recent and an aspect that in ancient in the church. Technology really does have the ability to cause more harm then good; to create transactional relationships instead of transformational ones. Personally, we have experienced the dangers of communicating anything of substance or in need of dialogue through technology. Throughout the New Testament we see Jesus interacting with people intimately. There are aspects of his message that can and should be blasted in every form possible. But we see from the number of questions asked and parables told throughout Jesus’ ministry that it takes authentic conversation and sharing life with someone in order to transform lives.
- Model the importance of “adult conversations.” “When I say ‘adult conversations,’ I’m focusing on the kind of problem that a manager and an employee need to discuss candidly. The CEOs I interview say people will do everything they can to avoid those conversations. This is where the power of rationalization kicks in. Managers will say “I’m too busy,” or “Maybe it was just a one-time thing,” or “I’ll wait until the performance review next month.” People avoid these things because they’re difficult—there’s uncertainty and stress. I spoke with a neuroscientist who says that when a boss asks an employee into the office and closes the door, the same parts of the brain light up as if your life is in danger.” There are many people in the church who are too “nice.” Add this to the fact that somehow we resist holding “volunteers” accountable and you have a recipe for unhealthy networks of relationships fueled by the avoidance of “adult conversations.” Accountability requires spiritual maturity that undergirds our ability to have adult conversations. In Ephesians 4:14-15 we hear: ‘No prolonged infancies among us, please. We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything.’ Who do you need to have an “adult conversation” with today?
What would you add to this list from your experience in creating vital communities of faith?