Innovation not Novelty
When I began to shift in the ‘missional’ direction I very quickly realized that what I thought was innovation was simply novelty. It didn’t take me long to realise I was not alone. Many churches approach the missional conversation with eyes for novelty, not innovation.
One of the first things our church community did as we were seeking to understand and live into what it meant for us to be a missional church, was to move a small outward-focused congregation that gathered on a Saturday afternoon from the church building to our home. Suddenly it looked missional. We gathered weekly with a group of 20-40 adults and children in our home, eating together and worshipping. But in reality, very little other than our location had changed.
Simon Sinek in his book, Start with Why, helpfully unpacks the difference between innovation and novelty. Novelty is the addition of a new feature to an existing idea, but “real innovation changes the course of industries or even society”.
When we moved our group into my home nothing changed. We still did the same things together. We worshipped in song with the words on a screen. We had the same elements in our gathering. We engaged in them the same ways. It was a new feature, but nothing that would change the course of the church or society.
Add a camera to a phone, or put a church in a home, that’s novelty! It’s a new feature. But the underlying paradigm remains the same. Innovation requires a paradigm shift. Spotify and Netflix today have brought about shifts in their industries. They have changed the way we listen to music, the way we consume media.
The Celtic Monastic movement was innovative. In a church that had succumbed to the powers of the day, and become corrupt, it stood apart, as a welcoming, distinctive community, where God could be encountered, and his rule and reign demonstrated in community.
Our community needed a paradigm shift. An understanding that what needed to change wasn’t the location for people to ‘come to us’ and to join what God was doing in our community. What needed to change was to grow in the understanding that God was already at work out there, in the world around us, and he was inviting us out of our homes and into our communities to join Him in His Kingdom work.
The church today needs a paradigm shift. A rediscovery of who God calls us to be, and an understanding of how our identity as God’s people necessarily includes joining Him in His mission in the world. Uncovering our role to be those who demonstrate and proclaim the rule and reign of Christ in our neighborhoods.
Novelty is good. There is nothing wrong with running a house church, or experimenting with new ‘features’, such as missional communities and meeting in pubs and cafes. BUT, novelty must come after innovation, after a paradigm shift in understanding who we are and what God calls us into as His people.
If the church continues to add new features, without making the necessary paradigm shifts, we risk burning out leaders, and damaging further our relationship with our local communities. For today’s church to speak relevantly and effectively into culture, we need innovation, not novelty.
We need to have the courage to tackle the big questions, to sit in the difficult conversations, to step out of comfort and into risk, and do the hard work of teaching and leading paradigm shifts in our churches.
Our community is now three communities, in three different neighbourhoods, joining God in working for his Kingdom in those spaces. Supporting local schools, working alongside local families, and offering help and friendship to those newly arrived in Australia. Why are we there? Because that is where God was at work, and that is what He called us into. We stepped out in faith, multiplied following God’s lead, and have seen incredible Kingdom breakthrough in these spaces.
Novelty will not revitalize the church. Innovation will.