Innovation. It’s a buzzword in leadership circles these days. It’s really not a new word. I first ran across it a few years back on a business trip in an airport bookstore. I was looking for a novel to read while waiting on a flight. I was perusing the business section and there it was, jumping out at me and like an irresistible candy bar, it seemed to be saying, “This is the book you want. This is the book you need to be reading. This is the book you need to have on your bookshelf. This is the book you need to have on the corner of your desk and refer to it as often as you can. This book is going to change the way you look at your life and ministry.” My mind sends a lot of those kinds of messages to me. Sometimes I listen to them and sometimes I just buy the candy bar and go wait for my flight to be called. But, this time, I picked up the book, read the cover, the back cover, the inside jacket, the index and made my way to the cash register to buy one of my first business strategy books. I headed to the gate area, pulled off the candy bar wrapping and began reading a book on innovation … and the wheels have not stop turning since. So, what does a book on innovation have to do with ministry?
Innovation is about change. Corporations and companies around the world spend millions of dollars every year to implement change. Change in their marketing strategies, human resources, short and long range plans, and a host of other strategic maneuvers. Some with success and some keep on reinventing, hoping someday to land on successful change implementation. Individuals are no different; we are constantly changing things about us—our hair color, hair styles, clothes, weight, the way we eat and what we eat, jobs, careers, or moving the furniture in our homes and offices (if you live and function in a cube world, sorry), and you’ve probably changed something on your desk at some point in time. We are always trying something new or different. For most, being stuck in a rut and doing the same thing day in and day out is boring. So, if and when we get a chance, we become innovative and implement change in our lives.
Our churches and ministries are no different. We are always trying new approaches and innovative ways to reach the lost while keeping the saints happy! There, I said it out loud and some of you are aghast while others are saying Amen! Take an inventory. What innovative changes did you introduce to your ministry this past fall, spring, or even this summer? Some of you are trying a new curriculum, a new way to recruit volunteers, a new song or a new way to worship, a new way of getting kids connected and involved in your ministry, a new way of connecting families into your ministry (because that’s the current trend and we certainly don’t want to be seen as un-trendy). It’s all about change. Don’t get me wrong; change is not always bad. Change can be good. It’s not always comfortable, but it is good. So, why are you being so innovative in your ministry? Is it because you went to a conference and someone else was successful with a new program or idea? Is it because you are tired of doing things the same way? Is it because God woke you up at 3:00 am and said, “CHANGE OR ELSE”? Is it because …
If you’re going to innovate or change your ministry, let me give you four reasons why I think you should be involved in the process.
Innovate or make a change, because you NEED to make a change. Take time with your volunteer team to evaluate your ministry. What are its strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities? In the corporate world they use an acronym S.W.O.T (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats). I’m not using threats in this article, because in ministry we see threat in a negative connotation and there’s no room in the Kingdom for negativity. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.” (Philippians 4:8). Nope, I’m not seeing threats in that passage. So, think and evaluate your ministry. Don’t make changes just because the church down the street, across town, or in another city or state made a change. Don’t make a change because it’s the trendy thing to do. Don’t make changes in your ministry, until you have fully answered the question: why do we NEED to change this ministry approach or program?
Innovate or change those things you value. Let me tell you a little secret about ministry conferences and seminars. You don’t always have to attend and come away with the attitude of, “I’m going back home and we are going to nix this and scrap that!” No, you can go to those conferences and seminars, network, talk and find those who have it ten times worse than you do! But, don’t gloat, Jeremiah 49:4 reminds us this isn’t the spiritual thing to do, “How boastful you are about the valleys! Your valley is flowing away, o backsliding daughter who trusts in her treasure, saying, “Who will come against me?” Surely there is something good going on in your ministry. You’ll discover it as you go through the S.W.O. test! It’s okay to talk about the good things that are happening in your ministry. Conference attendees need to hear from those in the trenches, “We are doing this and that in our ministry and it is working!” What you need to glean (I know you’re not Ruth) from those conferences and seminars is, “Let me take this or that idea and implement it into the ministry we are already doing well to make it even better.” It’s not about cutting, nixing, and starting over. It’s about innovating your existing ministries.
Look for and secure innovative champions. As you recruit your team, ensure that one of your team members includes someone who knows and understands your heart and passion for your ministry. Let this person become the champion for you. When you find yourself inundated with recruiting teachers for Sunday school, planning the ministry calendar for the month, quarter, or year, implementing the latest and greatest, training, and innovating existing ministries, you will find yourself weary, worn out, and not always ready to lead the team in a “hip, hip, hurray” for us cheer! But, if you have a confidant, a team member who can stay focused on the vision and can inspire the team, when you are out of inspiration and perspiration, this will help you tremendously. Remember, even Paul had Barnabas as his encourager. Champions keep the S.W.O. before the team. I understand, realize, and appreciate that you are the face and voice of your ministry. But, maybe now’s the time to introduce a new face and voice to the ministry, who is the champion of the ministry. (Sorry it’s not about you, this time.) It’s about the value and impact the ministry is having on kids, families, the church, and the community. Celebrate the champions!
Innovate your team. The most important asset you have in helping ensure you are successful in your ministry (remember it is never really about you), is the staff and volunteer members who give countless selfless hours to ministry. Have you taken an inventory of all who are involved in making ministry happen for you? There are the behind-the-scenes people and the upfront people. Who poured the juice for the preschoolers? Who made copies of the coloring pages? Who ripped apart curriculum pages? Who created the PowerPoint presentation you used in kids’ worship? Who made the coffee for the volunteers? Make sure you express appreciation to each and every one of them, someway and somehow. Margie Morris reminds us how to ensure and equip our volunteers. “Good training helps volunteers succeed. It equips them to tackle meaningful jobs with determination and skill. If we want to foster involvement and a sense of commitment that transcends the “good enough to get by” mentality, then our training will go beyond “how-to.” We want our volunteers to also consider “how might.” That means giving the people who work with us permission to do it their way. It’s not always easy to let go of tried-and-true methods to allow for innovation. But by loosening our grasp, we allow volunteers to generate their own enthusiasm rather than asking them to be caretakers for our plans.”
There you have four innovative business strategies that you can implement in your children’s ministry. (Other ministries could probably implement these same strategies as well, but I’ll let you slip the article under the door or present it at the next staff meeting.) Change can be hard, but sometimes change is necessary. What is keeping you from innovating your ministry?
PS: The book that started this fascination with innovation (at the airport) was Innovation: The Five Disciplines for Creating What Customers Want by Curtis Carlson and William Wilmot.