Balancing Tradition with Innovation

Churches like many institutions is naturally conservative, i.e., averse to change, desiring what is to remain as it is.

The constantly changing cultural environment in which we live poses many challenges to that conservatism. We face issues in the last 10 years that were unheard of in the last 100, e.g., same-sex marriage, how we interact with and support transgender people.

So, innovation can be seen as a scary threat around which some Church leaders “marshall the troops” and keep any–and every–change out.

Innovation and tradition can be complementary companions when approached in the right way. (The following are adaptations for ministry from a business article by Dr. Waguih Ishak in an online article from McKinsey & Company.)

Regardless of your role–pastor, DRE, teacher, diocesan director, choir director–we are all in a position to foster an environment of creativity in the planning, development, and implementation of our ministries. Here are a few ideas on how to do it.

Practice ‘Innovation Parenting’

  • Give your key volunteers the problem and let them solve it in their own way and time. Give them the important guidelines like budget and timeline, then let them go. This will take work off your plate and build your delegating skills.
  • Invite input from those you are least likely to involve, e.g, teens or grandparents for help with your elementary religious education program.

Bust Hierarchy

  • Don’t let the formal roles in your environment keep you from saying “yes” when someone comes to you with a unique idea that just doesn’t obviously fit in with your plans.
  • Create a work group of some of your biggest and most honest critics, and ask them to brainstorm ideas on how to fix the very problems they have identified.

Encourage the Unreasonable

  • It’s easy to say, “We’ve always done it this way,” so make a rule and ban that kind of thinking.
  • Put “old ways” under a really detailed microscope and explore the most reasonable and most unreasonable way your could change it or do it differently. Somewhere in that conversation, you will find ideas that both surprise and please you.
  • Set concrete goals for . . . registration, recruitment . . . beyond anything you think you can achieve — then foster the truly unreasonable things that you might have to do to get there.

Don’t Die of Indigestion

  • Don’t take on too much yourself. Innovation and creativity take up a lot of energy, energy that can be easily displaced by all of the other things you think you have to do.
  • Don’t take up too many new or creative ideas. Pace is everything. Do one thing really well and give it a really good chance for success.

Cultivate External Relationships

  • Get the broader community involved. Local business or other churches may have expertise in an area in which you are working.
  • Pair up with a neighboring parish. Two is better than one (and three is better than two!) If your goal is what you have in common, e.g., growing a strong youth ministry, collaborate instead of competing.

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