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How Churches Can Innovate Like Google

How Churches Can Innovate Like Google post image

Recently, Fast Company shared “Google’s Nine Principles of Innovation,” giving us insight into what drives the Google organizational engine. After reading these I thought of parallels of how these innovation principles directly apply to churches, whether they be denominational structures or at the local level.

1. Innovation Comes From Anywhere

In declining mainline churches we tend to only be serious about ideas that come from the top down and/or those who have been “successful” in the past. Churches need to be open to soliciting innovation from the top down and the bottom up. Sometimes this is as simple as giving everyone in the organization a “permission slip” to take risks and innovate. Bishop Grant Hagiya, of The United Methodist Church, literally did this when he handed out actual “permission to innovate” certificates to his clergy at a recent training event.

2. Focus on the User

As leaders we tend to focus on what we want and what we think is the right thing to do. Yes, sometimes people can be overly picky or concerned about having their individual needs met, but it’s still important to focus on what others want and need, without putting aside the mission/vision or at the expense of others.

3. Aim to Be Ten Times Better

Too often we fall into the trap of “good enough” and become too comfortable with mediocrity. Making every area of your church better than what you can imagine it to be can be overwhelming, so focus on making one area better than anyone else’s. For example: develop a plan and work to have the best hospitality of any church in your city. You’ll find that this hyper focus on one area will bleed into other areas and eventually excellence will become contagious in all areas of your church.

4. Bet on Technical Insights

If you have a need that’s going unfulfilled, and you’re saying “I wish someone would come up with X so we could accomplish this easier and more successfully,” then that’s your cue to start innovating. Chances are you might end up helping others, as well as yourself. At City Square Church we always say that a deficit is an opportunity. Don’t know how to create what you need? Take the opportunity to meet new people by reaching out into the community to find new partners who can help you. When we needed to start a Sunday morning band, but wanted to avoid putting together a standard “praise and worship band,” we reached out to a non-churchy musician we had met very early on in our networking, but hadn’t interacted with much, since then. He wasn’t much interested in being in a church band, but he introduced us to another musician, who introduced us to the guy who is now our worship leader. Now, all of those musicians are part of our band and they’ve brought in other musicians, as well. All of them are currently some of our most dedicated members. They’ve developed their own unique sound gospel/roots sound and now write original music that has been a huge driver of growth for our Sunday services.

5. Ship and Iterate

How many times have you sat in a meeting where someone came up with a great idea that was quickly squashed with “that will never work” or “we don’t have the resources to do that?” If it’s a great idea, put it into action regardless of an initial ability to resource it, risk, or having a finished “product” or program. If it’s a solid idea it will eventually work out. Launch the initiative and put the wheels on the car, while rolling. Solicit critical feedback from participants, evaluate weekly, pivot when necessary, and refine it, as needed. When I launched my first Theology Pub with graduate students a few years ago, I didn’t really know how it would work, but I didn’t wait to figure it all out. I e-mailed some grad students, picked a venue, time, and topic and we got together the next week. It took some perfecting but that initial rough concept led to what is now a very successful monthly Theology Pub my current church hosts in downtown Phoenix.

6. Give Employees 20 Percent Time

Google’s “20 Percent Time” is famous for allowing employees to work on projects not directly related to their area or department, though this work still must seek to benefit Google.  This can be valuable to churches and pastors too, especially if you get stuck in the same old cycles and routines, and you just don’t know how to break out of them. Spend a few hours a week working on something that interests you, or that you are passionate about, that is indirectly related to your work. You’ll be amazed how working on different projects spurs ideas, creativity, and innovation for your primary work.

7. Default to Open Processes

Be open to ideas and influence from outside of your leadership circle and even your organization. You don’t have to accept or try every idea that is thrown at you, but just listening and inviting/accepting new people into a process sends a signal that you’re outward focused, and that will go a long way.

8. Fail Well

If you’re not taking risks and learning from your failures, then you’re doing it wrong. Failure opens the doors to new insights, learnings, and opportunities, so don’t be afraid of it. Don’t let the fear of repeated failure stop you. If you’re failing well, the amount of times you fail will decrease as you go.

9. Have a Mission That Matters

See these previous posts, from The Blue Yarn on mission and vision statements: “Making Church Mission Statements Matter” and “What’s the Vision.”

This post originally appeared at The Blue Yarn.

About the author: Rob is the co-founder and current co-pastor of City Square Church, a new and innovative United Methodist faith community in downtown Phoenix. In his years of experience in spiritual formation and creating active and engaged communities, Rob has become an expert at connection and networking. He now uses these experiences, along with technology and social media, to bring others together around creative ideas and events that aim to inspire innovation and bold leadership.

{ 3 comments… add one }

  • Tony Mitchell December 20, 2013, 3:56 pm

    Rob,
    I am glad that you posted these notes but how much are we reinventing the wheel? When Tom Peters did his “Search for Excellence” back in the 1980s, he pretty well identified these same steps.
    When I took part in a church sponsored seminar on total quality management, figuring that I would gain some new and innovative ideas, I discovered I was hearing the same stuff that put me through school (see “The Search For Excellence In The Church Today” – http://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2012/10/20/the-search-for-excellence-in-the-church-today/ and the link to “To Search For Excellence” in that post).
    It isn’t enough to just reiterate what has been said time and time again but to go out and do it and then say this is how we did it. But this has to be said with caution because others will try to do what others have done and it will fail miserably (leading to the “we tried that once” attitude).
    Each church has to know where its at and what it can offer to the community. You can’t offer good junior programs to a church that needs a good senior program (though, as I recall, as soon as the senior program gets going, you very well will need a junior program).
    I really think that the critical thing is that each church know what it has and what needs to be offered. That is where the life of the church will be found.

  • william hamel December 30, 2013, 8:32 am

    Churches need to be open to soliciting innovation from the top down and the bottom up.

    • Tony Mitchell January 13, 2014, 12:33 pm

      William,
      I had a chance to think about this before posting. First, how much innovation does come from the top down? All the research that I know of (and which I alluded to in my own comments) says that innovation best comes from the bottom up (and I would note that Rob mentioned that in his review of the points).

      The second point would be how do one differentiate between innovation from the top down and orders from “on-high”? The Bishop’s Call To Action may be seen by some as innovation from the top but others may see it simply as an order from above.

      I am for innovation but let’s innovate and not simply reinvent the wheel.

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