Innovation or Memory

Ideation. Think outside the box. Paradigm shift. Imagineering.

These buzzwords are all supposed to inspire us to think different and do something new. In the church world there are constant attempts at finding the “new thing” that will work to reach people. All indicators show that this is also true in the corporate world. That next “big thing” that will change everything.

Since the church environment is the one that I have the most experience, it is where I will focus in this.

I have made an observation in my experiences with conferences, books, and travels. As I hear people talk about the newest thing that someone is doing, I’ve heard words like “innovative,” “bold,” and ground-breaking,” thrown around. Can I be honest? I don’t believe those words are true in many of the cases they are used.

Fundamentally, church services are the same today as they were 30 years ago. I know some would bristle at that and point to the use of technology, casual dress, loud music, lights, and so on that are so common in churches today. These are all good tools and fit our society. However, they are hardly “innovative” or “daring.”

Where I grew up, it would have been bold for someone to get on the stage to preach wearing jeans, yes. But, that is just a style of dress, nothing more. Today, the ones wearing suits seem to be the exception. Again, it is just style and preference.

The observation I have had is that our church services today seem to look a lot like our youth conventions 20 years ago. That makes sense. Many of today’s pastors and leaders attended those youth conventions 20 years ago and loved them. When it was time to change the way things were being done, these leaders (me included) found it easy to use memory and call it imagination. We wanted a different way to conduct church that fit a more modern society, but we just fell back to a fond memory. Because that memory looked different than the way most Sunday mornings looked, it felt like innovation to bring those things into Sunday mornings. Again, I’m not against any of them. I too enjoy the music and the technology. The style fits me because it is from my generation. However, I need to remember, we need to remember that it is only style, not real innovative change.

An innovative change in society was when we started driving cars instead of riding horses. Since then, most change in our transportation has been style oriented and not innovative until Tesla made the electric car practical to live with in daily life, not affordable for most yet, but that is coming. True innovation will be when self-driving, electric cars are the norm. Why? Because the shift from gas combustion to all electric is a core change in how the whole thing operates. Otherwise, my newer model Honda is using the same basic design and engine principles that powered the Ford Model T a hundred years ago.

Innovation is hard when you are dealing with an existing model. It is easy to make a change and call it innovation, but it is often just an upgrade or a tweak. John Keynes, a British economist in the early mid 20th century said it this way, “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping the old ones.”

When we can’t truly escape the old ones, we tweak them and call it new and innovative.

The world is changing at a pace that no one can keep up with. Technology is advancing at a pace that is nearly unimaginable. The morals of society are shifting dramatically. People don’t naturally trust clergy and churches any longer. The church is not the center of communities. The affect on church service times is no longer considered by schools, sports leagues, or community organizers. Society doesn’t look to the church for guidance in times of turmoil.

What we relied on just a few years ago is completely out of touch today. Yet, we still default to so many of those things. Sometimes we dress it up differently, but rarely change the fundamentals.

I for sure don’t have this all figured out and am on a journey of discovery. The purpose of this post isn’t to give answers, but to take a critical look at how we view innovation. We need to innovate, truly innovate. Not just change the way things look, but change how we do things. There is too much at stake to not. The Gospel of Jesus is powerful and changes lives. However, if people don’t hear it because we are stuck in our ways, then those lives won’t be changed.