By Meghan Hatcher

When I talk with ministry leaders who are applying to participate in the Lab’s cohorts, they often tell me about their innovative ministry ideas. I love hearing what they’re dreaming about, but I’m quick to tell leaders that, at the Lab, we’ll intentionally invite them to put their ideas on the back burner.  

That may sound counterintuitive from the perspective of a traditional innovation process.

But our Theological Innovation Process doesn’t center around or start with a Big Idea. Instead, we start with listening.

We’ve learned that this posture makes all the difference in determining future ministry effectiveness. 

Challenge Your Assumptions

When an Innovation Team is assembled within a faith community, each team member naturally carries assumptions about what the experience will be like, what kind of innovative ministry they’ll develop along the way, and who that ministry will serve. Often, faith communities enter the Theological Innovation Process with an idea of the exact ministry area they want to innovate within while part of the Lab. That was the case for Providence Presbyterian Church in Fairfax, Va., one of the faith communities in a current Lab cohort. 

Phase 1 of the Theological Innovation Process guides Innovation Teams to conduct community overview research and interviews with people inside and outside the faith community. The goal is to set aside assumptions and truly listen to what’s going on in people’s lives within the ministry context. 

Since Providence entered the Lab assuming they would innovate within their children’s ministry, we advised the team to conduct interviews with older children, parents, and other adults who are proximate to children (teachers, coaches, school counselors, etc.). What they learned fundamentally shifted the direction of the team’s innovation. 

“When building an Innovation Team, I repeatedly told my team that I didn’t really know what we were going to innovate, but I had hopes it would be in the children’s ministry, as we have a thriving youth program at Providence,” said Paige Bach, director of Next Generation ministries at Providence. “As we completed our community interviews, our team realized that we don’t need to focus on children. What we need to focus on is the family as a whole!”

Providence’s experience perfectly illustrates the power of the Theological Innovation Process to reveal new information and direction when Innovation Teams let go of their assumption roadblocks and follow God’s lead. 

“The community’s need for community is great, and we would be doing a disservice to the Innovation Lab’s process and the Kingdom if we limited ourselves to just kids,” Paige said. “We believe if we follow through with the process with our minds as open as possible, the Spirit will lead us to doing exactly the type of ministry our community needs!”

Truly transformative ministry innovation can only happen with a posture of humility that doesn’t prioritize big ideas or assumptions, but instead, listens deeply to the needs and assets present within a community.

I’m thrilled to see Providence moving forward with a focus on families in their community, not just children. No doubt that shift will lead the team to develop an even more meaningful ministry in the future phases of the Theological Innovation Process.

The Innovation Lab exists to help you innovate faithfully in your context. Our tools and resources can help you develop transformational ministries.

Are you ready to set assumptions aside and innovate in your context? Apply today for the Lab’s Fall 2023 cohort (launching in September) by clicking here.

Meghan is the director of the Innovation Laboratory at CYMT. She holds degrees in journalism; sustainable development and applied sociology; and a Master of Divinity.Meghan has served diverse faith communities through pastoral leadership, youth ministry, new church development, community engagement, and ministry innovation.