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September 6, 2016

To Innovate

By Linda Bergquist

In a book I co-authored a few years ago, I wrote: “The two great tasks of the Church (and for church planters) today are to do everything it knows how to do to concentrate on its present situation while at the same time, addressing the future.”[1] It is this second task in which some church planting experiments can be especially useful and also where the culture of innovative cities can inform the Church. In light of studies indicating the decline of Christianity in the West, this becomes a critical challenge for which the practice of church planting provides a constructive laboratory.

Good church planters are generally risk-takers with entrepreneurial spirits. They are gifted by God in such a way that they are willing to explore new ventures, and they are ready to learn by making mistakes. In addition, when they fail, theoretically they have less to lose. They are also more ready to engage in mystery than most other ministry leaders. The above observation about church planters is less true of those who are highly accountable to denominations, primary sponsor churches, and other significant investors to whom they are responsible for their success. While some of these new churches refer to themselves as innovative, they are generally only free to innovate within a set of real or perceived restrictions. Failure is not an option for them.  This is burdensome for any church planter, but it is especially difficult in innovative cities where the pace of change is more apparent.

The Challenge of Planting in Cities of Innovation

Future-oriented regions, such as San Francisco and the Silicon Valley where I live, are home to “the next new thing.” There are many other innovative cities in North America, too. Think Burlington, Boston, New York, Raleigh, Rochester, Boulder, Ann Arbor, Austin and more. Also see this list of global innovation hubs. These cities are known for things like the number of patents produced per million population. They anticipate change and new things as a regular part of life. Why not new churches?

One way that church planters can create their own opportunities for innovation is by positioning themselves as missionaries, not simply planters. Christians generally perceive missionaries as frontier type workers who step out in faith to address the unknown and solve problems creatively. Church planters are usually mandated to produce self-supporting churches within two to three years, while missionaries are afforded more time to display measurable fruit. Accordingly, people who are called church planters have less time, less resources, and less inclination towards radical innovation than missionaries. In such a time as this, the Church would be served to invest in research and development by creating space for a few of the most innovative type church planters to become missionary explorers that help lead the way to its future.

Researching and Development in Church Planting

Unlike churches, many businesses invest heavily in innovation. They have design and research and development components where it is not only acceptable, but also praiseworthy to fail along the way. A premiere example is Silicon Valley’s Apple, Inc. The company innovates indigenously by bringing together a small team of brilliant futurists who imagine design and produce artistically and functionally beautiful products.  When they released the iPhone, their CEO Steve Jobs said that his design team had all hated their previous cell phones because they were “awful to use…the software was terrible and the hardware wasn’t very good.” They responded, “Let’s make a great phone that we fall in love with,” and the iPhone was conceived. Apple rarely asks people what they want, but instead trusts a collaborative team to figure it out. Jobs quoted Henry Ford, “If I’d have asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me ‘A faster horse.’”[2]

What are the appropriate design questions that will afford groundbreaking innovation in the Church? Will any denominations be willing to experience failure on their way to figuring out what church will look like in a millennial era and beyond?  What are the experiments, and who are the innovators?

[1]See Linda Bergquist and Allan Karr, Church Turned Inside Out (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009), 3.

[2]“Steve Jobs Speaks Out” (interview with Fortune senior editor Betsy Morris, March 7, 2008, written in CNNMoney) http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2008/fortune/0803/ gallery.jobsqna.fortune/index.html).


Linda Bergquist

Linda Bergquist is a church planting catalyst, teacher, mentor and author who has been living and working in the SF Bay Area for 22 years. She works among many ethnic groups, and has a special interest in least reached people groups. Bergquist is an advocate of all kinds of churches and church planting methodologies. She has coauthored three books: City Shaped Churches, Church Turned Inside Out and The Wholehearted Church Planter, and is the author of the Exponential series e-book The Great Commission and the Rest of Creation.


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