Innovative Ministry
Innovative Churches Do This – Imitators Miss It
Don't copy the churches you admire. Learn from their principles. Then extend them into places that only your church can go.

Have you ever been to a vibrant church and wondered ‘what do they have that we don’t have?’

It may seem like 90 percent of what they’re doing is what your church is doing. But they’re vibrant, healthy and alive, while the church you’re from may be static, sick and dying.

The truth is that the two churches may actually have a 90 percent overlap. But the last 10 percent? That’s the difference-maker.

There are a ton of possible issues in that pesky 10 percent. But today I want to talk about one specific factor that makes the difference in many churches.

The difference between innovators and imitators.

What Innovators Do that Imitators Miss

God gave us a brain with an amazing capacity for recognizing patterns.

That ability to see, learn and repeat patterns helps keep us alive. For instance, early farmers learned how to grow a healthy crop by recognizing, then repeating the pattern of plant, water and reap. That’s the 90 percent almost anyone can do.

Creative people don't just recognize and repeat previous patterns, they recognize, repeat and build upon them.

But creative people don't just recognize and repeat previous patterns. They recognize, repeat and build upon them. They extend those patterns into places no one has ever taken them before.

That’s the extra 10 percent. It’s what turns a good church organist into a Johann Sebastian Bach, a good playright into a Shakespeare and a nice young monk into a Martin Luther.

The goal for creative people is never imitation, but innovation. As Carey Nieuwhof wisely wrote, “Imitation kills innovation. Imitators see a pattern and copy it. Innovators see a pattern and extend it.”

Imitators copy. Creatives extend.

While business-as-usual means being content doing more of the same, innovation means studying the patterns that work, then pushing those patterns beyond their previous limits into brave new territory.

Creative, innovative churches do the same thing. They see the patterns in Scripture, learn from the traditions established by godly predecessors, then honor them by extending their patterns out in creative new ways under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Why Should Churches Be Creative?

Every time I write about creativity or innovation in the church, I get some pushback. One recent commenter wrote, “whenever someone uses church and innovative in the same sentence, I’m cautious.”

Their biggest concern is that being innovative might lead to abandoning some essential element of the gospel. But abandoning truth isn’t innovative. It’s foolish at best and heresy at worst.

It’s a shame that many in the church have become, not just detached from creativity, but wary of it. Have some abandoned truth in the name of creativity? Sure. But that doesn’t mean we should abandon it. We need to reclaim it.

Nevertheless, there are still some who wonder why we should be concerned with being creative in the church at all. Why not just stick with what worked in the past? they ask.

Because we don’t live in the past. We live in the present. As I wrote in my most recent post, we live in a different world than those who went before us. And it will be different again next year.

Innovators don’t abandon the truth of the gospel. They learn it, repeat it and build on it. Solid biblical theology is the foundation for everything. But it’s the foundation, not the entire building.

As the Apostle Paul taught us, the church is actively “being built” on the permanent foundation the apostles and prophets laid, with Christ as the cornerstone. And Peter added that we are “living stones” in that temple (Eph 2:20-22 & 1 Pet 2:4-5).

The church is called to extend what Christ, the prophets and the apostles gave us. Not add to it or subtract from it. Extend it. From here to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

Extend the Kingdom as You Extend Your Creativity

The fundamental truth of the gospel never changes, so that's the pattern we strive to see, understand and emulate.

But we can't settle for being mere imitators. It’s not enough to do church the way we used to do church. Or even the way other innovative churches are currently doing church.

Copying innovative churches may make you feel relevant, but it's still imitation.

Copying innovative churches may make you feel relevant, but it's still imitation.

We need to learn from them, then take their patterns and build upon them for our specific ministry situation – a phenomenon I previously referred to as being contextually real, not just culturally relevant.

Don't copy the churches you admire. Watch how they do things. Learn their principles and patterns. Then take those patterns and extend them into the new arena where God wants your church to go.

Honor the past. Hold fast to God’s Word. Learn and repeat those patterns. Then extend them out in bold new ways to reach people beyond your current boundaries.

Presenting the gospel in creative ways is not just great innovation, it’s the Great Commission.

Pivot is a part of CT's Blog Forum. Support the work of CT. Subscribe and get one year free.
The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.

Join in the conversation about this post on Facebook.

Recent Posts

Read More from Karl

Follow Christianity Today

Free Newsletters