Part 3: Leadership To Foster Innovative Church Cultures

In the first part of this 4-part series, we looked at why millions of people worldwide are leaving our churches and Christianity as they know it, but also how Jesus eliminated all the barriers to the Gospel. In the second part, we looked at the role church leaders play in fostering innovative church cultures that provide significant positive change in people’s lives. And the three timeless and placeless attributes of leaders who successfully foster cultures in which people eagerly participate in the ideation, development, and implementation of new ideas!

The first key leadership characteristic church leaders need to exemplify to foster an innovative church culture is risk-taking. Doing anything new inherently involves risk. According to innovation historian Scott Berkun, “there is no way to avoid all risks when doing a new thing.”

Missing the mark is an inherent part of trying new things and taking risks. Outcomes simply cannot be determined 100% before stepping out and doing a new thing. Berkun pointed out that throughout history the greatest inventors failed more than they succeeded.

For them, the risk of not finding the solution to their problem was greater than any failure they could experience.

If discovering electric light, automobiles, and personal computers was worth the inherent risks involved, then finding innovative solutions to spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ in today’s culture must be worth the risks!

When church cultures lack creativity and innovation, risk-taking has been traditionally corrected, punished, and/or ignored and often on the alters of theology and tradition.

Creating a risk-taking culture starts with church leaders modeling it themselves to the church community at large. Beyond modeling the way, leadership experts James Kouzes and Barry Posner suggested that leaders can also create cultures in which risk-taking is safe by ensuring that trying new things is viewed as an experiment or a trial. When viewed this way, they can more easily be seen as learning opportunities. When new ways of doing things is framed in this way, the fear of failure is removed because there is always something to learn from any type of outcome, whether it is the intended outcome or not.

You may be familiar with a story that Jesus told a crowd and His followers found in the Book of Matthew. There was a man who was going on a journey, and before leaving, entrusted his property to three of his servants. To one of the servants, he gave $5,000, to another $2,000 and to the third he gave $1,000.

The servant with $5,000 immediately doubled his master’s investment as did the servant given $2,000. However, the third servant, afraid of disappointing his master, carefully hid his $1,000 in a hole in the ground. When their master came back from his journey, he celebrated the investments made by his first two servants and upon hearing of the third servant’s ‘play-it-safe’ approach, responded “That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that!”

As the cultural managers, church leaders must help create church communities where “playing-it-safe” is no longer the status quo, rather risk-taking becomes the norm.

Risk-taking alone though is not enough to foster an innovative church culture; a high degree of trust must simultaneously exist. Finding a solution to emerging challenges involves first understanding the problem and then coming up with a ton of ideas for solutions. According to creativity expert Michael Michalko, innovative solutions demand lots of new, different, and out-of-the-box thinking which will lead to out-of-the-box doing.

Berkun made the point that people share new, different, and wacky ideas only with those they trust. If brainstorm sessions lack genuinely out-of-the-box ideas, trust might be the crucial missing component. Further, without trust, ideas stay ideas and never actually materialize.

Building trustworthy church cultures again starts with church leaders. Before expecting others to be trusting, church leaders must first demonstrate their trust in others. Trust is revealed by:

  • One’s level of transparency

  • An ability to share power with others (not merely loan it), and

  • The degree to which you give others the authority, resources and ownership to implement their own ideas.

God has demonstrated this kind of trust throughout history, beginning with entrusting all of the earth to humanity’s care as revealed in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis.

Church leaders who foster environments where people feel safe to share their ideas, even if they are in direct conflict with their own, ultimately create cultures of deep trust where creativity and innovation can thrive.

In the last blog of this 4-part series, we’ll be diving into the role that collaboration play in creating innovative church communities and the two options for church leaders moving forward!