Hurdles to Established Church Innovation

Does the established nature of some churches hinder innovation? Is an established structure antithetical to quick, nimble changes? For most established churches, yes, but it does not mean established churches cannot innovate.

A church plant is an innovation. Innovation is the process of successfully establishing something new. To introduce something new—and to get it to work longer than a month—is innovation. Perhaps some luck into the right change at the right time. Perhaps some churches land on the right demographic with the right leadership. Not all innovations are intentional or well-planned. But an effective church plant should be noted as innovation.

As organizations become more established, they tend to be less prone to change. By its nature, an established organization has a system in place that pushes against change. To establish is to create firm stability. Churches need stability. For example, a discipleship process that is not rooted into the culture of the church (or established) is not likely to last long. And it’s only a matter of time before the innovative church plant begins to feel the pull of becoming established. Everything is new only once, after all.

While stability is necessary, every church should also innovate. Established churches, in particular, can take comfort in the establishment. Traditions and history can easily become a guise for complacency. Innovation can take a back seat to the entrenched processes that help create the stability. While most church planters will admit to having many of the same people problems as established churches, church plants do innovate more easily. They have no history pulling them in a certain direction. Everyone is new. The church is new. Each decision is new. In the early days of a church plant, everything feels like an innovation even if it’s not.

So what hurdles to innovation exist in the established church? Here are four examples.

  • Lack of intentionality. Generally, established churches have more resources than new churches. When resources are limited, churches must be more intentional about innovation. Failure—especially one that is expensive—can quickly derail a church with limited resources. When resources are plentiful, the temptation is to be less intentional. Established churches can generally absorb more failures. But a practice of spaghetti-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks is not true innovation. It’s haphazard chaos. Give it a month and see how many people get annoyed.
  • Lack of originality. Build on your foundation, but don’t slap a new logo on an existing program and call it innovation. Innovation is introducing something new, not introducing something with the façade of newness.
  • The wrong metrics. What gets measured gets done, and what you measure is typically an indicator of what you value. A mature church will measure different things than a new church. Most church plants are not attempting to track down meeting minutes from a dozen committees for next week’s business meeting. And established churches don’t have to worry about the retention ratio of people from a launch service. However, an overemphasis on the metrics sustaining the establishment will inevitably deemphasize innovation and dissuade team members from attempting innovation.
  • The ease of appeasement. In an established church some leaders prefer the ease of appeasing members rather than innovating to reach new people. Obviously, a long-term member may not desire to be appeased, but rather challenged. However, most churches have a segment of people who would rather rest in the stability of the establishment. It’s not necessarily a sin issue, and leaders should care about all members whatever their spiritual maturity. Appeasing existing members, however, is much easier than challenging a church to innovate and reach new people. Even in a healthy established church, one ready to reach outward, innovation is a challenge. The typical established church has several groups of people who joined during different seasons of the church for different reasons. Even when people agree to reach outward, getting them to agree on timing, direction, budgeting, and pace is a challenge. It’s easier to appease. But appeasement is never innovation.

Though established churches are not new, they can still introduce new things. They can innovate. Hurdles exist. These hurdles, however, are surmountable.

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Sam Rainer III

Sam serves as lead pastor of West Bradenton Baptist Church. He is also the president of Rainer Research, and he is the co-founder/co-owner of Rainer Publishing. His desire is to provide answers for better church health. Sam is author of the book, Obstacles in the Established Church, and the co-author of the book, Essential Church. He is an editorial advisor/contributor at Church Executive magazine. He has also served as a consulting editor at Outreach magazine. He has written over 150 articles on church health for numerous publications, and he is a frequent conference speaker. Before submitting to the call of ministry, Sam worked in a procurement consulting role for Fortune 1000 companies. Sam holds a B.S. in Finance and Marketing from the University of South Carolina, an M.A. in Missiology from Southern Seminary, and a Ph.D. in Leadership Studies at Dallas Baptist University.

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I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright
"While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
— Ken

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