Part 4: Leadership to Foster Innovative Church Cultures

As the cultural managers of their churches, there are 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. Part 3 of this 4-part series covered the first two: risk-taking and trust-building.

The third key characteristic church leaders must personify to cultivate an innovative church community is collaboration. Innovation simply does not happen in isolation. Kouzes and Posner pointed out that as the level of trust within a community increases, so do its levels of interdependence and collaboration, which ultimately enables a community to realize its shared vision.

As innovation historian Scott Berkun put it, “innovations rarely involve someone working alone, and never in history has an invention been made without reusing ideas from the past.” For instance, while everyone connects Neil Armstrong with being the first person to walk on the moon, Berkun stressed the reality that more than 500,000 people were working on that project at NASA in order to get him there.

Creating cultures where collaboration is the norm naturally fosters creativity and innovation. According to Senior Executive Leadership Consultant Carl Long, the degree to which people are willing to engage in change is highly dependent upon the level of collaboration and trust established with their leaders.

Collaboration brings people together to find creative solutions by creating space for ideation with people from a variety of backgrounds, knowledge, and experience. According to MIT Sloan Fellows Professor Edgar Schein, a diversity of ideas, experiences, skills, and viewpoints best enable an organization to respond to changing and uncertain environments.

Working in a community to find solutions to problems has always been God’s design. God created humanity to be in community with God and each other as revealed in the Book of Genesis chapters 1 and 2. Jesus’ ministry as revealed throughout the Gospels, as well as the early church’s expansion detailed in the Book of Acts, not only emphasize collaboration but innovation as well.

It is precisely in a community that the best ideas for spreading the Gospel in today’s culture will emerge and it will need to be in collaborative communities that these innovative solutions are implemented.

When it comes to innovation, what is true for organizations, is also true for churches: churches that have a bent towards innovation and can adapt with the changing needs in the external environment will not just survive but thrive as societal change and uncertainty have become the norm.

There are Two Options for Church Leaders Today

Simply imagining creative and innovative churches is not enough to address the current reality that people worldwide are leaving the Church, and Christianity altogether. Churches must innovate, or risk continuing to die. Forming creative and innovative church cultures requires that church leaders model genuine risk-taking, trust-building, and collaboration to their communities.

Jesus entrusted the spreading of the Gospel to His followers and modeled the way for innovation to be a mark of His Church.

So, there are two options for church leaders today. Option one is to remain the same and continue to hope and pray that people will stop walking out of the church never looking back, that people will start prioritizing church over hobbies, friends, yoga, and hiking, and that the church doors won’t lock for good.

Or option two, church leaders can foster genuine risk-taking, trust-building, and collaboration in their communities and form creative and innovative church cultures that respond to the needs of today’s culture while keeping the Good News central to their ministry.

Jesus provided significant positive change to people’s lives through His ministry. The way Jesus conducted His ministry was completely innovative and counter-cultural at the time.  The same must be said of our churches today.

To reach people as they are where they are means new and different ways of doing ministry must be tried because what we are currently doing is driving people away.

Millions of people around the world deserve to not just encounter church communities that provide significant positive changes to their lives but to be a part of them as well!

Through their leadership, church leaders must foster innovative church cultures. Rather than continuing to feel at odds with contemporary culture, may our Gospel communities engage with people as they and are where they are and become the movement that everyone wants to be a part of.