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Building a Better Church Model
TODAY, Monday, January 30, 2:30 p.m. EST
In this 60-minute conversation, I’ll unpack how culture has changed, what’s happening in our community, and how your church can respond.
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This week we’re focusing on what’s kept us stuck in 2022 that we’re moving past in 2023.
If we want 2023 to be the best it can be, we must let go of what is now and has been holding us back.
Let’s start our “unstuck” week with a topic every leader wants, but few can deliver:
What is innovation, really?
Simply stated, it’s the creation of something new. But innovation is anything but “simple.”
Often, innovations occur when two existing ideas, products, or things are brought together in a new way. Like Uber or Lyft. Taxis + People’s Personal Vehicle = Innovation. Or Airbnb. Hotels + Homes = Innovation.
If you’re a church, here’s a good one: In-person ministry + Digital ministry = “Hybrid” Church Innovation.
Now, and this is critical, innovation isn’t keeping what exists and adding something new. That’s just complication, not innovation.
Innovation creates something new. Something fresh.
With that in mind, let’s talk about why we must innovate.
* If you want more on innovation, check this out: The Devastation of Innovation
I can think of several reasons why innovation isn’t optional. Here are two:
1. Your idea may have got you here, but ideation won’t get you there.
There’s a substantial difference between ideation and innovation. IDEATION is easy. INNOVATION is not.
Anyone can sit around and ponder new ideas. But implementing new ideas? That takes a special kind of leader, team, and at times, organization (or congregation).
When your organization, church, or company first began, most likely, it was birthed from an idea. Probably a great idea. Then, the organizational life cycle was launched. Even though it was unnoticed and imperceptible, you were on the path.
Here’s the simplified cycle at work:
- Start with an idea.
- Implement the idea.
- Organize the idea so you can scale the idea.
- Orchestrate what was the idea but is now the organization.
- Keep orchestrating the organization.
- Serve the organization.
- Feed the organization.
- Keep doing what we’re doing even though it’s no longer working like it previously did.
- Begin using the phrase, “That’s how we do it around here.”
- Double down. Then die.
That’s the life of an organization: Ideate. Orchestrate. Stagnate. Deteriorate. Die.
So, why must we innovate? Because after we orchestrate, things begin turning south. That’s why.
The only way to avoid this perilous organizational path is to inject innovation somewhere before stagnation and deterioration.
Innovation breaks the organizational cycle.
2. Your model was made for a moment.
“The only constant in life is change.” – Heraclitus
Heraclitus was a Greek philosopher who understood this reality long ago. And it’s equally true today. Maybe more true today. I mean, he noticed this reality before the internet was available!
As leaders, we must innovate our approach, strategy, model, and methods to remain relevant (or current) to the culture and our community. If you’re in the marketplace, add the word customer. Think of it this way: Our current strategies are built for previous realities. I love that phrase, which is why I say it constantly (and I even quoted myself below … who does that?!). Even if you created your model yesterday, something is slightly different in the world today.
“Our current strategies are built for previous realities.” – Gavin Adams
Strategies are made for current realities. Models are built for moments. When the moment passes, the model antiquates. If only slightly. Now, multiply this growing chasm of irrelevance by a year, two, or ten. Or 50! No model is immune to change, and innovation is our only answer.
So, we must innovate when we perceive the moment for which we built our model is passing. Not “has passed” – that’s too late. But when we sense things are changing and moving away from where we’re standing. To use the organizational life cycle terms, we need to innovate the moment we perceive stagnation.
It’s plenty safe to say we all need to innovate. At least on some level. You may need to innovate your entire approach and strategy. Or a portion of your service or product offering. Regardless, it’s nearly impossible for everything to remain hunky-dory.
Breaking free in 2023?
Why are you stuck? What’s stale or stagnate?
Innovation is the answer. How do you unleash innovation? Let me give you 5 secrets to make 2023 the best it can be:
1. Give equal focus to good news and the rest of the news.
All organizations tend to be “good news” organizations. We look at all charts, grafts, and dashboards, hunting for whatever we can find going “up and to the right.” Even if it’s challenging to find it, we’ll look until we do. And we make sure everyone sees it, too.
If you want to better embrace innovation, focus equally on the bad news, allowing it to drive solutions and resolutions. You should undoubtedly celebrate the good, but don’t forget to resolve the not-so-good.
2. Stop equating ideation to innovation.
We’ve covered this already, but let me introject one side note.
Ideas can make us feel good. When we leave an ideation meeting, it seems like we have made progress! But you just talked. And talked some more. And got all excited about an idea. Maybe a great idea.
But an idea without execution is like paint in a can — it only makes a difference when applied! (I first heard this analogy from Lane Jones).
Innovation may begin with ideation, but it only progresses with implementation. So, identify the best ideas that most distinctly resolve your problems and implement them! This inevitably means designing new strategies, systems, and methods. Next, set clear timelines, expectations, and responsibilities. Saying you’re gonna do it isn’t good enough. You must have a plan to get that paint out of the can.
3. Open those hands!
I get it. You created the initial idea, model, strategy, etc. Or, you inherited it from the previous leader, organization, or denomination. But it’s been in your hands so long that it feels like it’s become yours. You are the model, and the model is you.
That’s a super dangerous place to be, especially in 2023.
I once heard Joel Thomas, the current the lead pastor of Buckhead Church, say, “Never let the finish line of the previous generation inhibit the starting line of the next.” That’s a brilliant quote. We all probably need to hear it sometime in our leadership tenure. The longer you remain in a position or place, the more relevant Joel’s quote becomes.
“Never let the finish line of the previous generation inhibit the starting line of the next.” – Joel Thomas
The longer you run point for the way it’s being done, the harder it is to release your grip on the way it’s done. After all, it worked! Like really worked! But as our Greek Philosopher friend once said, “The only constant in life is change.”
Perhaps you’ve never thought of it this way; when your hands are closed, you may feel like you’re holding onto something of value, but your close hands make it impossible to receive something of potentially much greater value. Like a new model. Or idea. Or approach. Or product.
Leaders must have open hands to innovate well.
4. Buckle up your change seatbelt.
Change is a great thing if you’re a leader. Mostly because change is what makes leadership necessary! We’d all be out of a job were it not for the necessity of change.
But leading change isn’t for the faint of heart. People don’t resist change (I’ve written all about that elsewhere), but they do resist loss. This is precisely what change brings. Change means what is becomes what was. And with the change comes plenty of other potential losses, such as the loss of job security, job clarity, and future uncertainty, to name a few.
This is why change is so uncomfortable. It’s also why, when we need to change, we must manage the process AND lead the people. Change management is all about steps, timelines, and deliverables. Managing the steps of change is required for change success, but this singular focus is insufficient.
Successful change only happens when the process is well-managed and the people are directly led. That’s our job.
Breaking free in 2023 means learning to lead people through the change process.
5. Correctly label disruptions.
Disruptions are disruptive. One issue I see in many leadership circles is a tendency to perceive a disruption as an interruption. They are not the same. Mislable them, and the end is near.
Interruptions are marginal. They’re like pausing a movie so you can come back later, hit play, and pick right back up where you left off. Organizational life is full of interruptions. An assembly line malfunctions. Or a customer takes their business elsewhere. Or there’s a shortage of plastic (or toilet paper).
If you lead a church, summer is an interruption. You come out of Easter strong, only to watch everyone vacate until school returns.
These are interruptions. They are not disruptions.
Disruptions are paradigm-shifting moments that demand, you guessed it, innovation. Innovation is the only true answer to disruption. There are obvious examples. The printing press and the internet were complete disruptions. As was the pandemic.
Think about these examples for one moment. Many of us have led through BOTH of these disruptions. At the same time, most of us are attempting to orchestrate a model, method, or strategy created before both of these disruptions.
* Here’s another post on the difference: When Interruptions Become Disruptions
If you want to break free in 2023, you can’t simply hit “play” after some time away. That’s what the business with the closed doors down the street attempted to do. You’ve got to throw out the plan and begin anew. If things feel stagnate or worse, odds are you’re treating a disruption like an interruption.
For all you church leaders…
Innovation is a powerful answer to our changing circumstances. Nobody is asking you to scrap your mission, but there’s nothing special or spiritual about your outdated model. Models are made for moments. They aren’t sacred.
If you are a marketplace leader, don’t marry your model. Date it until it no longer works. Then replace it.
But if you lead a church, I’d add this: Do not allow lousy theology to keep us from great ministry. God never changes. His mission for humanity and the church never changes. But methods? Models? Strategies? Systems? These aren’t spiritual.
And if you think everything is FINE, perhaps this should be your next read: The Rise and Fall of YOUR Successful Organization
So a closing question: What, or where, do you need to innovate?