Making Church Matter

Change. Starting With What We Value

March 21, 2010

I am usually carrying around a book.

I have piles of books at home that I am reading, intending to read, thinking about reading, almost finished reading, re-reading. (It’s probably a terrible system, I think I developed it in college.)
But then sometimes there is a book I’ve got going on that is on a fast track to get read: so I carry it with me through the day and in all the odd moments of the day I keep reading till I get it done. The past few days I have been carrying around Tony Morgan’s “Killing Cockroaches.” Unfortunate title, interesting book. Morgan is the “chief strategic officer” at NewSpring Church in South Carolina, one of the most innovative churches in the country. Pretty much, he wants to see Christians revolutionize our approach to a God-less world that’s open to God (but not so sold on church-world). Lots and lots of good stuff in this book.  I particularly liked his comments about embracing change.

What does it take to encourage an environment that values and even fuels innovation? 
How do we develop a culture where positive change is both expected and embraced? It begins, Morgan argues logically enough, by shifting what we value.  Among other things, churches and organizations that embrace change value…

1) Mission over Method
This is a huge one for some congregations that I have been associated with, where it seems method typically trumps mission. In other words, “that’s the way we’ve always done it” is the final and definitive determination when any decision needs to be made. Fulfilling purpose rather than preserving and serving customs and procedures and established ways of doing things is key to innovation.  The message (the Gospel) doesn’t change, the mission (love God, love others, make disciples) doesn’t change, the methods and procedures should constantly change. Refusing to do this, or do it soon enough, leads to irrelevance.

2) People over Programs
Instead of filling a calendar with programs and events (and fundraisers and socials and lectures) innovative communities will ask: “How can we help as many people as possible move into a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ?” Relationships require time.  So, rather than just taking up time, doing everything that everyone can think of to do, as an innovative community we are going to be about stopping programs (even successful and popular programs) to focus on what’s most helpful for people to grow as disciples.

3) Innovative Breakthroughs over Incremental Improvements
Incremental improvements are good and often rewarding and always less risky (though they will still bring criticism and conflict).  I use to be a big fan of incremental changes, not any more. You cannot transition a church through incremental changes because you will eventually die of a thousand knife wounds. Innovative breakthroughs take courage and faith and will move things further, faster. And in the end they’re easier. They also usually build on themselves too, one breakthrough tends to lead to another.
4) Risk over Comfort
We have to give people freedom to fail. An organization that never changes and always tries to keep people comfortable and happy is far more susceptible to failure.  We need to reward people for taking risks, even when they sometimes fail.We can spend so much time trying to develop the perfect solution or strategy (or end up dwelling on why something won’t work) that we never actually move forward.  Analysis has its place, but we need to be willing to risk our comfort.

5) Empowerment over Control
Change will flow naturally when we empower people to create rather than only telling them what to do (and what not to do). When that filters throughout a ministry or organize , things will change.  It can be amazing what happens when people know they have permission to be creative, to try new things and look ahead.

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