Three Steps to Leading Faithful Innovation

Listening, acting, and sharing our way to something new

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five friends eating a meal together and talking

You are ready to start. Your congregation recognizes the need to try something new. Maybe they are looking to you for direction on how they can move forward. You need some simple steps that help people move in a new direction. This blog post is for you! 

Before we get to the steps, let me clarify quickly what I mean by “faithful innovation.” I don’t mean inventing something new or creating a whole new form of church. What I mean by faithful innovation is a process of learning new ways to embody Christian identity and purpose in a changing cultural context. It is about adopting practices and habits that allow the treasures of Christian tradition to speak afresh today. Often, it involves the rediscovery of ancient spiritual practices as much as the embrace of new technologies. See our forthcoming book Leading Faithful Innovation to go more in depth on this. 

The idea of faithful innovation can be found in stories like the one about Paul and his companions in Acts 16. The story is about a group of Jesus followers trying to figure out how to follow God’s leading to share the kingdom of God with communities they aren’t familiar with. It’s a messy process of trial and error as they figure out what God is leading them to do and how to do it. They faithfully follow God’s leadership as they meet new people and learn more about new contexts. This is the same kind of process we need to live out our Christian faith in the changing contexts we all live in today.

Ok, so that’s a basic outline of what I mean by faithful innovation. If you’re ready to start, here are three simple steps you can empower your congregation to take as they begin learning how to faithfully innovate: listen, act, share.

Listen

The first step is to listen. This involves listening to God, each other, and the people around us in our everyday lives. We need to engage in some practices that help us listen to the Bible together so we can start to hear ways God might be leading us to engage with the people around us. Listening involves getting together and hearing each other’s stories of the times when we have felt most spiritually alive and connected to God. This helps us remember how real God is to us and how much impact God has had on our lives. Listening also involves listening to the people around us in our everyday lives in ways that might not be normal practice for us. Things like asking people about their work, about their spiritual backgrounds, and about what they think are the biggest challenges we are facing together are good starting places for learning what the people around us care most about. We must truly listen to our neighbors before we start trying anything new—especially if we think we are going to try something that is intended to help these same neighbors!

Act

The next step is to act. That just means we need to try some new practices that might be unfamiliar to us. We will probably not feel prepared to try these practices. We’ll also probably not be clear about what outcome is supposed to come from trying them. But many of us learn as much or more by doing than we do by thinking and discussing. We need to behave our way into some new thinking. This step involves choosing some simple spiritual practices that will help us act in some new ways that produce new learning about what it means to be a Christian in the 21st century. These are simple, small actions that cost us mostly time. An example would be changing the location of a meeting that usually happens in a church building. Instead of meeting “at church,” have the meeting at a local coffee shop, library, or other affordable public meeting place. This small change in behavior can produce a lot of learning about what it means to be the church in a particular place. 

Another example would be inviting a neighbor over for dinner with the purpose of asking them to tell you about their spiritual background. This is just a chance to share stories with people around you about where they have felt most spiritually alive. You would be amazed at how many people have never been given the chance to share these kinds of stories with anyone! An advanced version of this practice involves building up enough relationships with your neighbors to get invited over to their house for dinner instead of inviting them into your place. Very different conversations are had when you meet in spaces that people are already comfortable in. There are many more faithful innovation practices you can try based on what you hear from God, each other and the people in your everyday life. 

Share

The third step in learning how to faithfully innovate is to share. We need to share stories together that help us reflect on what we learn after we’ve tried to act in new ways. It’s not enough to try new practices, we have to reflect on what we did and what we learned by trying these new practices. So we get together online or in person and we talk about what we tried, what we learned, what new questions we have now, and what God might be inviting us to try next. This is essential to help us learn more and more about how God is leading us. 

Share also involves sharing our stories with people that are not part of our faith community. We need to share what we are trying so a broader audience can learn with us! It is a great practice to write up short stories or create short videos that talk about what you are doing and what you are learning. This helps people who are not sure about church or God see more easily what you are up to. Transparency helps create trust with people who are skeptical about church and Christian faith in general. So by sharing your stories of eating with your neighbors or meeting in a new place, people can learn about who you are and what you care about even before they meet you. This can go a long way in repairing the reputation of Christian faith communities with people who haven given up on church.

Repeat

These are three steps you can repeat over and over again. They become a way of being church together in the 21st century that helps you pay attention to God together, try new actions, and share what you are learning. This process of faithful innovation can help you continually adapt to the changes in your context as you learn and grow together as a faith community. It’s a fun journey to be on as we discover what God has in mind for us next.

Need help navigating the challenges and opportunities of contemporary ministry? Are you wondering how to go about following God into a faithful future? Take your next faithful step with Faith+Lead here.

  • Michael Binder

    Michael Binder is a professor, pastor, and church leadership consultant. He currently is on the faculty of Luther Seminary teaching ministry leadership; Michael also serves on the Innovation Team at Luther. He helped start Mill City Church in Northeast Minneapolis in 2008 and continues to serve there. He also consults with congregations and denominations in the U.S. and Canada. He lives in Saint Paul with his wife and three children.

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Erick Eschenbach
4 months ago

Thanks Michael for this encouraging and insightful article. Faithful innovation are planted with seeds of faith, roots of discipline, and a development of maturity that communities are able to grow spiritually, physically, and mentally.