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Investing in Innovation

by Austin Maxheimer

“Technology is an indication of currency.” – Dr. Michael Lindsay

About 10 years ago it seemed like any time a new gadget or gizmo was introduced, someone would invariably respond to the marketing blitz by saying something about a new one coming out every five minutes. It was typically a negative sentiment. The speed of innovative technology was coming into people’s world faster than their minds and pocketbooks could comprehend.

I almost never hear that statement anymore. Why? If anything, the rate of production and release has increased.

It seems the expectation is now cultural. People have long learned to prepare for the release of the latest phone or other technological advance. They’ve grown to understand that the shelf life on their purchases is short-lived.

With the global platform afforded by the internet, we are truly an innovative people, even if we are personally not involved in the creation of the innovation. We get the opportunity to participate as an innovative community because the newest big idea is put before our eyes and made available for purchase. The age of your technology is a direct commentary on your place in the innovative community. Heaven forbid you have an iPhone 4!

In our innovative culture, one of the last places an unchurched person would look for innovation or an innovative community is the Church. This is significant. Not for the Church to be “relevant,” but in order for the Church to be missional. The Church must invest in innovation of all sorts. Here are just two examples of where the church must invest:

Invest in Technological Innovation.

The opening quote by Dr. Lindsay is so true. You can immediately tell how current an organization, business, or person is based on the technology they utilize. For an unchurched person, this speaks directly to our ability to communicate with them. It’s hard to keep up because of the “newness rate” mentioned earlier, but churches can ill-afford to ignore any innovation just because they can’t keep up with it all. Individual churches should pick a couple of areas to be technologically viable based on their unique context, and do those really well. The wider Church community has invested a little—screens, broadcast, apps, YouVersion, online giving, etc.—but these are drops in an ocean of possibility if the Church got serious about investing in technology.


Invest in Relational Innovation.

You might not immediately jump to relationships when you think of innovation, but should it be a surprise? The Christian worldview sees people as inherently relational, created in the image of the triune God. With higher percentages of unchurched or dechurched, it shouldn’t catch us off guard to see people coming up with new and creative ways to connect into community. Millennials are finding meaningful community based on their own special interests and affinities. People are creating new and innovative ways to connect with others.

People want fun, innovative experiences even in their social relationships. The last time the Church innovated on a grand scale relationally was by moving Sunday school to living rooms and creating small groups. Well, it’s high time to innovate again in the area of relationships within the Church, and we would do well to take a look at what is happening in the wider culture and incorporate some trends.

Tech and Relationships are just a couple of examples. The Church needs to invest in innovation of all sorts, across the board—holding to the core principles of orthodoxy and orthopraxy, of course. One problem is that many churches are not engaging culture enough to even be able to authentically innovate.

Maybe the biggest issue is something illustrated by Vijay Govindarajan in his talk at the 2013 Global Leadership Summit: Churches are often so focused on the performance engine that they don’t have space freed up to create outside of the current paradigm. We are so busy keeping our Sunday services and midweek programming going that we get stuck in the “dominant logic” and lose the capacity to innovate successfully. This leads to aged and dying churches. His answer was to create an innovation team that operates outside of the performance engine.

I don’t pretend to have the answer for the church—and I’m certain that there is no one answer—but if we are going to be graded as “current” by our innovative culture, we must tap into the creative ethos that historically has been a mark of the Good News of Jesus Christ. What are some small and big ways your church is innovating?

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Investing in Innovation

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