Churches need to be more innovative. Clearly, the old way of doing things is not working, as demographic studies will show. The exact number of churches closing per year is hard to track , but we know from our own United Church of Christ experience that 1105 UCC churches have closed in the past 10 years, and that our UCC membership nationwide has decreased by more than 25%.
The good news is that these facts should give us a new willingness and energy for trying new things, for thinking about how to follow Jesus on newly forged paths, and for thinking about how to be the Body of Christ in radically new paradigms. Urgency is a friend of change and we need life-giving, Jesus-following change.
But how to cultivate the practices that foster innovation and creativity? Well, here are a few tips for clergy and church leaders.
Stand up for Jesus:
Or at least, stand up while meeting. Not only does this change your perspective, invite movement and clustering while meeting, but it also encourages shorter meetings which are motivational to teams and committees. Make sure you have an appropriate stool or two for those who need them. And since you’re standing, what about a springtime meeting out on the front steps of the church around a fire pit?
Up the lumens:
According to a study conducted by scientists at Michigan state university, lab rats in dim light lost about 30% of the activity in their hippocampus. Do you have meetings in dimly lit rooms? What about brightening the meeting space with a fresh coat of paint and additional lighting. This might be helpful for the finance committee, but is especially important for your pastor who may spend a number of hours in an old church office with inadequate lighting. She needs a brighter space to help envision a bright future.
Innovation office hours:
Pastors, stop the Tuesday staff meetings, and make that your creativity and innovation day instead. Research by Accountemps indicates that Tuesday is the most productive day of the week. Ok, so this is a survey of Monday to Friday workers, so if you normally take Mondays off, Wednesday may be your best creativity day. No matter, make sure you identify that day and set aside two hours every week for your best creative thinking. Focus on the big picture, the vision, and the daring. You may want to invite a few of your creative church folks to join you for a regular innovation round table.
Innovators at the edges:
Research has shown that our most innovative people tend to be the least socially connected (1). That means your innovators aren’t likely on the church council, the women’s guild, or hanging around at coffee hour. They may not even be church members, but they may show up every now and then. Seek out those people and take them out to coffee, or to a brewpub, or go climbing with them and get them to tell you what they might imagine the church to be.
Turn your assumptions around:
We build on an invisible scaffolding of assumptions that dictate the shape and structure of the offerings we create. Start bringing your assumptions to light and then get playful with them. For example, we assume worship is for Sunday and mission projects for Saturday. Why not worship some Saturday evening and then have the whole church engage in service on Sunday? How about making prayers the loud part of worship ringing bells and blowing on kazoos of praise? Then have the sermon be a page that everyone reads in silence and discusses.
Find new conversation partners:
When is the last time you asked a local bank branch manager about what they might want you to do to serve your community? How about the local deli owner? Begin with a conversation and listen for opportunities to support or collaborate.
Creativity thrives with a resource challenge. Take away something that we take for granted and see what happens. Worship without a printed order. Send a round-robin church letter without email or communication technology. Do as much as you can without your building for 3 months.
Want to engage your whole church in creative thinking? Send me an email and ask for a Blue Sky event. Susant@ctucc.org
(1) Dearing, James. (2015). Social Marketing and the Diffusion of Innovations. 35-66.
Many Voices, One Mission is a regular series highlighting the ministries of the
CT, MA, and RI Conference of the United Church of Christ.
The Rev. Suzi Townsley is the Associate Conference Minister for Innovation, Leadership and Change