Innovation is seldom linear. It lurches forward erratically rather than progressing in predictable stair-steps. Craig Groeschell tells the story of YouVersion. Originally it was designed for a personal computer along the lines of BlueLetterBible or Bible Gateway. It was an utter failure. Only when if failed did they pivot to make it an app for a smart phone. Since that shift, it has had explosive growth. Last year (2019) they surpassed 400 million users, making it, the single greatest advance in Bible reading since the first printed Gutenberg Bible in 1455.
What causes these forward lunges in innovation? There is a pretty standard formula: When we have a great need and we have little or no resources with a very limited amount of time, it is then that innovation lurches forward. It could be expressed mathematically like this:
need > resources – time = innovation
Here is a tasty example. Prior to World War II, the candy giant in America was Hershey’s Chocolate. Its nearest competitor was Mars confectionery, but they were lagging behind significantly. World War II was terrible for the US economy, not to mention the tragic loss of lives and the uncertainty of the future. The entire axis of world powers was shifting. In the midst of this chaos there was a desire to support our troops. However, our resources were limited, and time was truncated. In order to supply our troops with sweets, they had to be portable and resistant to heat. Someone at Mars came up with the brilliant idea of coating the chocolate with hard candy. They could then be shipped easily, resist melting, and were extremely portable. They called the new candy M&M’s. That was the creation that surged the Mars candy company past the dominant Hershey’s chocolate brand.
Similarly, the Covid crisis has put the church in a position of great need, limited our resources, and truncated time. That is the precise environment for radical innovation. We are ripe for opportunity, even opportunistic transformation of how we reach a world in desperate need. If we can leverage this moment, we can vastly expand the church and bring hope to our culture in unprecedented ways.
Some may be skeptical, or cynical, or just plain lazy. However, history has proven time and again that the greatest innovation comes in very short periods, with very great needs, when resources are most limited. If we can figure this out, the church of Jesus Christ can lurch forward with innovation at precisely the time when spiritual clarity is most needed.
Others who are far more creative and capable than I can address the specific innovative potentials. Yet here are some that come immediately to mind:
- The House Church: Without giving up on larger weekend gatherings in the future, right now we are learning how to reinvent the house-church within the Megachurch (or churches of all sizes). This could include, but not be limited to teaching fathers (and
mothers) to be priests in their home, celebrating the Lord’s Supper around a kitchen table, providing curriculum for kids that can be taught in the neighborhood, or doing summer camps in a local park. Imagine the power of your local church, if every key home was also a house church.
- Groups. Every church of every size is reaping the benefit of small groups right now and pushing “fast-forward” on effective techniques. This includes but is not limited to Zoom meetings to include those from very distant places, new groups to include the most vulnerable, cul-de-sac gatherings, frequent high touch-points through texts, calls, and social media, Facebook live for personalized content. We are using various technologies to gather groups that are more distant in a way that is more agile
- Social Media. The political divide and social rage is sadly evident. Yet now, more than ever, if Christians can keep Jesus at the center, the positivity and unity of our social presence could have a calming and healing effect. More than ever, acts of kindness and compassion, posted with humility and authenticity, will cut through the noise of social unrest.
- Racism. The church of Jesus Christ has a poor reputation in recent history (often unfairly). Yet historically no other group in history has been more inclusive of age, gender, ethnicity, geography, economics, or education. Beginning with Ephesians, Paul pointed out the unprecedented unity in Jesus that broke down the deadly divide between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female. We can do it again because our Lord has not changed, nor the power of the Gospel diminished.
- Homeschooling. We are about to rewrite educational history from elementary school through the university. The good news is that Christians have been some of the early adopters at every level of educational technology from radio, tv, internet, homeschooling, private schools, and distance learning programs. We know how to do this and can again lead the way at the very time that our nation is reeling from the decay of educational systems. This is NOT a call for all Christians to abandon public schools. It is, however, a call for Christians to augment whatever educational choice with Christian values and biblical principles. We are no longer slaves to a system but initiators of the changes we have been calling for.
- Online Church. Those critical of online church are now rethinking their positions. Early adopters are sharing their technologies and methodologies. Every church, regardless of their size, is learning how to better communicate the gospel online as well as in person.
Since the days of Constantine, the churches’ victory has also been a liability. The church is genetically designed to win from below. When Christians are forced to the underbelly of society through persecution, intimidation, and marginalization, they experience victory through the power of the cross. Welcome back to the right side of innovation.
Mark joined the staff at Christ’s Church of the Valley (CCV) in Peoria, Arizona in July 2012 as a teaching pastor. CCV currently has nine locations and 35,000 in weekly attendance.
Prior to joining the CCV team, Mark was a Professor at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri,(1990-2012).
Currently, he is an online professor for Ozark, an Adjunct Professor at Hope International University in Fullerton, California, and Haus Edelweiss, Vienna, Austria.
Mark is also the author and co-author of many books mostly on the Life of Christ, book of Acts, and Revelation.