It starts with why

You are attending an evening event with a panel discussion on Innovation in the Church. It has been an excellent night, and the host is wrapping up with one last question:

Host: “I’ve valued your insights and personal sharing tonight, thanks again for being with us. I have one final question for you both to wrap things up. Why innovate? We all get excited about the word and people often seem willing to give innovative projects resources. But what are we really talking about, why is innovation important? What is it the church is trying to achieve?”

Panelist #1

“The word innovation itself is interesting, perhaps its not really about that. I think for me, what we are talking about is a movement of the Spirit, something in our faith that is alive and speaking. We grow and change not for the sake of improving things in the traditional sense of the word innovation, but because faith has to be lived out in each place and time for every generation. Our challenges and context changes, so too does our expression of the grace and forgiveness in the Good News. Sometimes I think this happens in a new wine kind of way, and it is difficult for the structures or institution to respond, or to hold space for it. It can be chaotic, and disorganised or organic which is challenging for an organisation to manage…I acknowledge, it is difficult to plan for it, or be strategic with resources.”

Panelist #2

“We do have to face the facts of strategic reality. If you look at what the Church has always been built on, its been about disciples equipped to be in ministry. We have to pay attention to the systems that enable our presence and voice in the world. Sure we could disband it all and just meet in lounge rooms like we are reliving the birth of Methodism and that would probably be energising for a season, but it’s not realistic for a sustainable future. I know the institution struggles, I see a need for change. We innovate to ensure our future and it isn’t just about experiments on the edges, its about the effectiveness of all that we do as a movement, the way we form disciples, equip people for ministry, communicate the Good News, steward spaces for the sacred.”


  • Imagine you are the third panellist, what would your answer to the question be?
  • What is your definition of the word ‘innovation’?
  • What would a ministry or missional project have to be doing, in order for you to give it the label “innovative”?
  • How do things like: mission, church planting, pioneering, emerging church connect with your ideas of innovation?
  • Is innovation best applied to Church growth, or mission? How might these purposes be different?
  • When you think of innovation in the church, do you think about experiments at the edge, or improvements to the institution or structures?
  • Is it important for the church to consider its own future in the practical terms of membership, engagement with education and ongoing financial security? How might you be part of that happening in a positive way?
  • Do innovators or people seeking to be part of new forms of ministry, need to have training or understanding of traditional approaches? Share the reason for your answer.

Wisdom from the pews

“Innovation in mission are often sparked because of a belief that a new group of people, not currently living with the blessings that a life of faith can bring, needed to be reached out to. The people changed in each context, but a conviction of the need to perhaps ‘be different’ in order to ‘reach different people’ was common.”

“Communicating the Gospel and living in faith centred communities was a driving force in innovation or pioneering new ways of being church. Missional projects encounter resistance to what they were seeking to do at some point in the journey. "It isn’t easy doing something new in an old system.” ”

“Stepping out into the unknown raises anxiety levels; for most groups it is easier to maintain status quo. In some instances there will be concern that a lack of theological rigour underpins new projects and that they had “simply thrown out our heritage.” Critique and questioning are both common parts of the experience of individual innovators, or the groups supporting them. These alternate perspectives can help refine and focus the purpose of a project, but they can also drain energy.”

Going deeper

The complexity of ecclesial innovation by Rev Wayne Brighton

Rev Wayne Brighton in this thesis, explores how complexity impacts on innovation in church contexts, and builds on these insights with recommendations for education, leadership and decision making processes.

The complexity of ecclesial innovation – a paper by Wayne Brighton