Helping your ministry become more effective.
The Innovation Lab exists because we recognize a common problem: traditional models of Christian ministry are no longer effective in many contexts. Data about declining engagement with the church and rising religious disaffiliation among people of all ages tell us traditional models aren’t contributing to people’s spiritual lives like they used to.1 Simply put, if a ministry is not meaningfully inviting people into a deeper relationship with God and others, then it’s time for a different kind of ministry. It’s time to innovate.
So how do we break out of the mold? We develop new ways of meeting people’s spiritual needs by bringing design thinking from the business world into conversation with theology. These new models better meet people’s needs and help them grow in their faith in our shifting culture. Since 2018, the Lab has walked with nearly 200 adults and teenagers across the country to develop innovative ministries so more people experience the love and grace of Jesus Christ.
The Innovation Lab’s mission is to help shape the future of Christian ministry by partnering with individuals and communities of faith to develop innovations that are responsive to people’s needs, theologically informed, and transformative.
1 Pew Research Center, Oct. 17, 2019, “In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace”
In 2017, the Center for Youth Ministry Training received a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., and established the Innovation Laboratory to innovate and test new models for youth ministry. CYMT designed the Lab to help Innovation Teams of adults and teenagers from faith communities throughout the United States develop new, practical models for youth ministry. These models are theologically grounded and intersect with the real lives of today’s teens. We launched our first cohort in 2018. In 2019, CYMT received a second grant from the Texas Methodist Foundation, allowing the Lab to expand into Texas.
Since then, we’ve learned that the Innovation Lab’s process can unlock innovative possibilities in far more contexts than we initially imagined—youth ministries, entire faith communities, passionate Christian leaders ministering outside local churches, and Christian non-profits. In 2021, we launched research to learn from ministers on the ground in various contexts how the Lab can come alongside them to meet the challenges they face. This project is ongoing and will directly inform the resources and tools the Lab creates next.
Participation in a traditional Lab cohort includes walking through our five-phase Theological Innovation Process, working alongside a coach from outside the faith community, and making connections with other innovators around the country.
Applications for our Innovation Lab cohorts are currently closed, however, we are always innovating! If you’d like to stay connected to the work we’re doing and future opportunities to learn with us, sign up for our newsletter below. We’ll share resources and updates on how to engage in ministry within all contexts. If you have a specific question related to the Innovation Lab, email Lab Director Meghan Hatcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Changing how faith communities develop ministry.
Asking deep questions leads to new insights about your community, theology, and the role of ministry. Lab participants can expect to unearth assumptions and explore new territory through the Theological Innovation Process.
JOURNEY WITH OTHERS
Successful innovation is never a solo endeavor. Whether you engage in one of our events or a multi-month Lab cohort, participants are invited into a community that’s breaking out of the molds of ministry as we know it. You’ll experience encouragement, support, and coaching from Lab staff and peers pushing on similar boundaries.
OPPORTUNITIES TO PRACTICE
Innovating is an invitation to fail, and we think that’s a transformative thing. Lab participants receive resources for how to develop innovative ministries and guided opportunities to practice actually doing the work. Innovation in your community is heavily contextual so opportunities to test and evaluate new ideas is critical.
Many ministries fail because they don’t create meaning in people’s daily lives. Lab participants are guided to ask empathetic questions, avoid easy answers and dream BIG about what is possible in your community. You’ll be led to identify how God is already at work and what innovations could help transform lives.
‘2021 Understanding Your Context: Community Interviews’
Community Interviews to Cultivate Empathy
Use this guide to hear about the needs of those in your community.
Theological Innovation Process
Research and design firms all over the world show evidence that innovation happens through a planned process. We combine design thinking with the consensus model of practical theology. Our Theological Innovation Process has five phases:
Phase 1 – Describing
Guiding questions: What’s going on here? What challenges are people in our community facing?
Ministries that address people’s needs are far more transformative than ministries that simply meet the needs of a faith community or organization. We lead Innovation Teams to develop “user-centered” ministry innovations that rely on a profound understanding of the people in their community. We do this through deep listening, observation, data, and the cultivation of empathy. Phase 1 prompts innovators to talk with people in their communities and identify a common Issue Statement based on what they learn.
Phase 2 – Interpreting
Guiding questions: Why is the dominant issue we’re observing in our community happening? What’s the root cause?
We invite innovators to see through new lenses. We invite them to challenge assumptions about why their community, people, and ministry are the way they are. This part of the process illuminates opportunities to create new forms of ministry that meet people’s needs.
Phase 3 – Norming (Theological Reflection)
Guiding question: What should be happening?
Determining what should be happening according to God’s desires for God’s people and creation unearths the innovative potential of a ministry. Innovation teams follow the Holy Spirit’s leading. They discern what theology has to say about the issue in their community and how to address it.
Phase 4 – Ideating & Prototyping
Guiding question: What could we do to address this challenge in our community?
In this phase, innovation teams bring their ministry ideas to the whiteboard. Then they choose one idea to begin testing. This phase involves: (1) brainstorming ideas, (2) getting buy-in from others in the community who will be critical to the ministry’s success, and (3) testing the idea on a small scale through prototypes and pilots.
Prototyping requires humility. Innovation teams must be open to failure as an opportunity for the ministry to evolve and improve.
Phase 5 – Implementing
Guiding question: How will we implement this ministry on a broad scale?
How a ministry is implemented depends on what the ministry’s goals and logistics entail. This phase raises important questions as the ministry moves forward. The biggest question of all is: “How will we know if/when this ministry is no longer needed by the community?” Answering this requires innovators seek feedback and be open to the ministry changing or coming to an end over time as people’s needs evolve.
Hear Our Stories
“It is so enriching [being a Lead Innovator and] working with a dedicated and passionate team of both adults and teenagers from our congregation that have the heart to find new ways of engaging young people in our city. Every time we meet, I leave with energy and excitement, ready for the next part of the journey. Being a part of the Innovation Lab has also infused excitement in being a part of something bigger than just our congregation. It has begun to capture the imagination of many different people in our church, and I’ve watched it contribute to the new energy our church has been seeing recently.”
– Andrew Mochrie, Lead Innovator
Central United Methodist Church in Asheville, NC
At the Lab’s Brain Trust event in October 2019, the Sturgis Innovation Team had a profound realization. They realized the adults on the team had not truly been listening to the youth on the team. A teenage member of the team brought up this communication disparity, which led to a confession/repentance moment that reoriented the team’s innovation work. That moment continues to have ripple effects on the team’s work today.
Story from Sturgis Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Sturgis, KY
Trinity UMC’s progression through the Lab illustrates that the Theological Innovation Process has impacts beyond the youth ministry at participating faith communities. The Trinity Innovation Team’s work has spurred a church-wide re-visioning process involving senior church staff and the broader congregation to work toward comprehensive culture change.
Story from Trinity United Methodist Church, Huntsville, AL
“This process has renewed my understanding of the value, importance, and necessity of going slowly when developing a new ministry. I’m thankful for the discipline that this has instilled in me.”
– Mark Bogart, Director of Youth Ministry
Memorial Drive United Methodist Church in Houston, TX
The Innovation Team at Westbury UMC in Houston identified the following Issue Statement to address through an innovative ministry: “Teens in our community need a common, safe space outside the church where youth can bond with one another.” Their ministry idea is to create a “Westbury Mobile Connector”—a bus that can be parked in the neighborhood near the church and outfitted with games and activities for teens and adults to do together. A fellow Innovation Team in the Texas Lab from St. Paul’s UMC donated a bus to Westbury for this purpose, and it was delivered recently. This is especially exciting because St. Paul’s wouldn’t have known about Westbury’s need for a bus if Tiffin hadn’t been in the Lab alongside Katy and watched the idea develop.
Story from Westbury United Methodist Church in Houston, TX
Theological Innovation In The Pandemic
We were honored to be able to sit down with the Women in Youth Ministry podcast to talk about CYMT’s Innovation Lab and how we are partnering with faith communities to develop innovative and transformative ministries – especially during a pandemic. In the episode, our Innovation Lab director and one of our Lead Innovators share resources available to you. We also share how you can get involved with the Lab, and insights into how youth ministers are continually navigating the pandemic. Click below to listen, and a big thank you to the WYM team for having us!
There are many exciting ways for you to get involved in the Innovation Laboratory that we can’t wait to share with you! For exclusive access to these updates and resources, please sign up for our newsletter here. If you have specific questions, email Innovation Lab Director Meghan Hatcher.