Innovation Lab

Sign up for our Innovation Lab newsletter!

"*" indicates required fields

Helping your ministry become more effective

Who we are

The Innovation Lab exists because, like you, we recognize a common problem: Traditional models of Christian ministry no longer effectively invite people into a deeper relationship with God’s love and their community. But attempts to innovate in ministry too often center around shiny, new ideas. Faithful innovation requires much more than a good idea. 

We believe innovation isn’t synonymous with “new” or “cutting edge.” Instead, it emerges at the intersection of a faith community’s mission, a community’s assets, and a community’s needs, and must be led by the Holy Spirit. 

We’re a group of ministry leaders with decades of experience in pastoral ministry, youth ministry, new church development, faith formation, and academia. We help leaders like you develop transformational ministry models by bringing design thinking into conversation with theological reflection and asset-based community development. We share what we’re learning by developing curricula and resources, facilitating cohorts, and offering consulting and training events.

 

Next Innovation Lab Cohort – Fall 2023

An 18-month, guided experience to develop, test, and launch an innovative ministry.

Changing how faith communities develop ministry

New Perspectives

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.

Cultivate Empathy

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.

Is your faith community’s culture fertile ground for innovation?

To borrow a metaphor from Jesus and gardening, a faith community’s organizational culture is the soil into which an innovative seed is planted. Faith communities need to tend the soil before they’re able to enact change effectively. Doing so greatly increases the likelihood an innovative ministry will take root. 

And yet, organizational culture is often overlooked in the context of ministry innovation. The Lab’s Innovation Culture Index (ICI) is a self-diagnostic questionnaire that measures a faith community’s outlook and attitude in nine key areas that impact the ability to innovate. The ICI also includes a group discussion package to debrief scores and strategize appropriate next steps.

This tool can be used in a variety of settings:  

  • Individual faith communities and faith-based non-profits: Use the ICI in your individual ministry setting to self-assess the organizational culture and its impact on innovation. 
  • Denominational bodies: Use the ICI with churches and leaders in your region. The Lab staff is available to facilitate training and workshops and offer coaching to faith communities.  
  • Seminaries and universities: Train seminarians and ministry students on the impacts of a faith community’s culture on efforts to innovate and the ICI’s nine indicators for measuring innovative potential. This is a critical area of knowledge for emerging ministry leaders! The Lab staff is available to create custom training sessions for your context and needs. 

Other opportunities: The ICI can be licensed for use with multiple churches or organizations. The Lab staff is available to facilitate ICI debrief conversations, offer coaching, and lead other training opportunities adapted for your context. Email us at innovation@cymt.org to discuss how we might collaborate.

What are leaders saying?

“The ICI is a fantastic—and fun—way to launch a conversation about organizational change. It has been an essential tool for the churches we work with who are exploring new ways to approach ministry in a post-Covid landscape. I recommend it constantly!”

Kenda Creasy Dean, Mary D. Synnott Professor of Youth, Church and Culture, Princeton Theological Seminary and co-founder, Ministry Incubators

Our work with the Innovation Culture Index helped us unearth essential truths about our staff’s and congregation’s relationships with risk, relationships, and motivation, rather than follow our biased perceptions. Although our points of view and experiences differ, our staff is equipped with common language that frees us to share more safely and vulnerably. Assumptions about who we are as a staff and as a church body have given way to both encouraging and humbling realities. We’ve discovered that our eagerness to innovate must be met with a willingness to embrace the beauties and challenges of inevitable failure.

Mark Bogart, Director of Youth Ministry, Memorial Drive United Methodist Church

Theological Innovation Process

Research and design firms all over the world illustrate that innovation happens best through a planned process. We bring together design thinking, practical theology, and asset-based community development. Our Theological Innovation Process has five phases:

5-PHASE PROCESS

Phase 1 – Describing

Guiding questions: What’s going on in the lives of people in my community? What joys and challenges are people facing? Where is God at work? 

Innovators learn about and grow in their understanding of their context — meaning both the faith community and the wider, geographic community beyond the faith community’s walls. Innovators learn about the impacts of their faith community’s culture on their ability to innovate and cultivate empathy for the people in their wider community.

Phase 2 – Interpreting

Guiding questions: Why is the dominant need or challenge we are observing in our community happening? What is the root cause? What community assets are present?

Innovation Teams explore why their context is the way it is and identify community assets, while attempting to see beyond their own assumptions. The phase ends when teams identify one primary purpose statement that will guide their innovation moving forward.

 

Phase 3 – Norming (Theological Reflection)

Guiding question: What should be happening in our community according to God’s desires for people and creation?

Determining what should be happening according to God’s desires unearths the innovative potential of a ministry. Innovation teams follow the Holy Spirit’s leading. They discern what their unique theology has to say about what’s happening in their community and how they’re called to address it.

Phase 4 – Ideating & Prototyping

Guiding questions: What innovation could we create that would address the challenge or need identified in our purpose statement? How can we draw on the community’s assets as we innovate?

Teams begin ideating, testing, and assessing an innovative ministry. Innovators move through three stages in this phase: (1) brainstorming innovative ministry ideas, (2) getting buy-in from others in the community, and (3) testing the idea on a small scale through prototypes and assessing impact.

Phase 5 – Implementing

Guiding question: How will we implement this ministry on a broad scale? 

Teams strategize the implementation of the innovative ministry in light of the outcomes from prototyping. Innovators consider the ministry’s logistical and leadership needs moving forward.

Phase 1 – Describing

Guiding questions: What’s going on in the lives of people in my community? What joys and challenges are people facing? Where is God at work? 

Innovators learn about and grow in their understanding of their context — meaning both the faith community and the wider, geographic community beyond the faith community’s walls. Innovators learn about the impacts of their faith community’s culture on their ability to innovate and cultivate empathy for the people in their wider community.

Phase 2 – Interpreting

Guiding questions: Why is the dominant need or challenge we are observing in our community happening? What is the root cause? What community assets are present?

Innovation Teams explore why their context is the way it is and identify community assets, while attempting to see beyond their own assumptions. The phase ends when teams identify one primary purpose statement that will guide their innovation moving forward.

 

Phase 3 – Norming (Theological Reflection)

Guiding question: What should be happening in our community according to God’s desires for people and creation?

Determining what should be happening according to God’s desires unearths the innovative potential of a ministry. Innovation teams follow the Holy Spirit’s leading. They discern what their unique theology has to say about what’s happening in their community and how they’re called to address it.

Phase 4 – Ideating & Prototyping

Guiding questions: What innovation could we create that would address the challenge or need identified in our purpose statement? How can we draw on the community’s assets as we innovate?

Teams begin ideating, testing, and assessing an innovative ministry. Innovators move through three stages in this phase: (1) brainstorming innovative ministry ideas, (2) getting buy-in from others in the community, and (3) testing the idea on a small scale through prototypes and assessing impact.

Phase 5 – Implementing

Guiding question: How will we implement this ministry on a broad scale? 

Teams strategize the implementation of the innovative ministry in light of the outcomes from prototyping. Innovators consider the ministry’s logistical and leadership needs moving forward.

Innovation Resources

   
   

The Hope of Innovation

A Research Report Identifying the Needs of Diverse Ministry Leaders and the Communities They Serve  The Lab conducted research earlier this year to hear directly from leaders about their joys and challenges in ministry. And we’d like to share that research with you! We anticipate you’ll find points of resonance with the experiences of the 76 ministry leaders we interviewed.

Understanding Your Context: Community Interviews

Community Interviews to Cultivate Empathy  Learning what is happening in people’s lives leads to greater empathy and awareness about how a church or organization could help bring about meaningful transformation.Use this guide to hear about the needs of those in your community.

Spend some quality time taking a deep dive into several articles written on the subject of innovation.

Be the first to know about Lab workshops, resources, and events.

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.

"*" indicates required fields