By Jeffrey Steed

Innovation. Without it, organizations become stagnant and begin a hibernation process from which they may never wake up. Without it, organizations lose ambition and momentum disappears. Without it, organizational morale dwindles and can eventually cause an organization to die a slow, painful death. Innovation helps awaken an organization’s senses and refocus on its underlying reason for existence. Innovation gives a breath of fresh, cool air to a stagnant, humid environment.

But innovation may create many questions for leaders. Will it cause more problems (because of critics) than help? What if I fail, and how will others perceive those failures? How will I find the time to implement innovative ideas? Is it really worth it to make innovative changes at this point in my ministry? The questions (potentially from Satan) are unlimited, but there is really only one valid question: “What will happen if my ministry fails to be innovative now for the sake of the future?” Many ministries that fail to be creatively adaptable and flexible in practice (not theology) will likely cease to exist at some point.

Innovation is an absolute necessity for effective leadership in ministry. That has always been the case and will always be the case. Innovation allows for ministries to repackage in a culturally relevant way what they are offering without compromising their underlying theology. Without innovative repackaging, the “package” appears useless and irrelevant to the world around us.

Effective leadership in ministry helps create innovative organizations. It is not a matter of just developing an innovative idea, but developing an organization that has innovation in its DNA or culture. In other words, innovation should become a part of the character and personality of the organization.

If innovation is so important, how do our ministries become truly innovative? Let us look at some practical ideas to increase the probability of developing innovative ideas and, more importantly, developing a culture of innovation:

1. Involve Staff: Involving staff members, whether paid or volunteer, in innovation can be an integral step. Present a specific ministry situation to your staff and ask for input on:

  • whether that ministry is worth future resources (time, money, physical space), and, if worthy of future resources,
  • how the ministry can be repackaged to be more culturally relevant and meet the needs of the target audience.

It’s possible that these two questions need to be asked of every ministry an organization offers. Some may no longer be effective ministries, in which case important resources can be redirected to new or existing ministries that can better use the resources. Involving the staff with these types of questions is key to developing an innovative culture.

2. Take a Personal Retreat: The senior leader of a ministry occasionally needs to simply retreat for a day or two – get away from the normal routine of the office for prayer and reflection. Part of the time can be spent seeking God’s wisdom and direction, and part of the time can be spent in literal brainstorming sessions about the ministry. Without retreating periodically, leaders may not gain Spirit-led, innovative solutions. Instead, they will be consumed by all the immediate, day-to-day needs of the organization that can actually be delegated to other leaders.

3. Read Routinely: Reading books on leadership can help stimulate your intellect. Some may be hesitant to read secular books, but secular books such as “Mavericks at Work” by William C. Taylor and Polly LaBarre can often relate to the context of ministry. Realistically, we may not remember much of the contents from any of these books. However, as you absorb and process the text, your own ideas will begin to flow more easily. If they don’t come naturally, summarize at the end of each chapter the three main elements of that chapter and how they might be helpful to your organization. Regularly reading organization- and leadership-related books can help you develop an innovative, critically thinking mind.

4. Develop a Strategic Ministry Plan: Develop a strategic plan with your key leadership members who can help with brainstorming and prioritizing. Click here for some ideas on developing a strategic ministry plan.

5. Attend Conferences: Church conferences can help inspire your creative juices as you hear good speakers and as you converse with other attendees about their ministries. It can help you to adopt the successful, innovative ideas of others in your own ministry setting.

6. Talk to Innovative Leaders: Consider meeting in person or over the phone with the three most innovative and effective leaders that you know. You may not want to limit your choices to only ministry leaders, but also consider secular leaders as well. Consider asking them questions such as:

  • What practices do you use that help you to be innovative?
  • How have you been able to create an innovative culture within your own organization?
  • What other advice can you give me that might help me and the organization that I lead to be more innovative?

For some who are not accustomed to listening to the advice of others, this may be an exercise in humility – especially if your invitation is rejected. However, if you’re persistent enough, the leader will agree to lunch. Much can be gained from the wisdom of truly effective and innovative leaders.

7. Dream Big: When was the last time that you spent some quiet, uninterrupted time dreaming about what “could be” – dreaming about the future of the organization you lead, and dreaming about its effectiveness in reaching its audience with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this to realistically occur, some changes need to be made. You may have to arrive at the office early, before the daily routine begins. Or you may need to get up early on a Saturday morning, before your family wakes up, and sit down at the computer with your cup of java, prayerfully recording what comes to mind for the future of your organization. Retreating, as previously mentioned, may also provide an effective environment for dreaming. No matter where you do it, dream big initially and then filter out the ideas that are simply not realistic. Allow the big ideas to grow and develop to the point that you become ready to discuss them with others.

Whether or not innovation comes naturally to you, if you sincerely feel that your ministry will be critically needed by the world in the future, then your organization deserves to be innovative. The effort put forth for this purpose will increase the probability of your church’s future existence, and thus further impact the lives of people with the Gospel. If the organization is not worth saving, let it die. Otherwise, awaken the giant. Develop innovative methods for ministering, and, more importantly, lead an organization to have innovation as part of its culture. Our message and underlying reason for existence is worth the effort for the lives that will be eternally changed.

Jeffrey Steed is vice president of the Arkansas Baptist Foundation and Christian Ministry Services. He has a Doctor of Ministry from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass., and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Steed also has a master’s in business administration. He is a preacher and business instructor on the adjunct faculty of a college in Little Rock, Ark.. He has authored several books and articles related to ministry. You can reach him at [email protected]