What can the church learn from the pandemic about engaging with technology?

The move to doing church online isn’t just a necessity during the pandemic. It prepares religious institutions to become more flexible in meeting future challenges long-term, says a scholar who researches digital religion.

iStock / Lubo Ivanko

From the outset, the pandemic has forced religious groups and leaders to re-imagine their traditional practices and forms of gathering.

Religious leaders who had been technologically resistant in early 2020 have had to rethink their critiques of technology; indeed, many have had to embrace it for their very survival. Since March 2020, Facebook, YouTube and Zoom have become hosts to dozens of experiments in digital worship each weekend.

As someone who has studied how religious communities respond to technology for two and a half decades, I quickly realized that this move marked a unique and important moment for contemporary religion.

Over the first six months of the pandemic, I closely studied how a variety of churches engaged with technology. I collected essays and reflections from an array of church leaders, theologians, students and media scholars around the globe and published a series of three e-books -- in April, May and August 2020 -- exploring issues faced by congregations and pastors during this time.

Each of these e-books ends with an essay summarizing the common observations from the authors’ essays on how religious communities and their worship are being shaped by the conditions of the pandemic.

From this work, I’ve compiled a list of key lessons for religious leaders and scholars about how churches’ choices about engagement with technology will affect them in the long run. These 10 lessons appear in a new e-book, published in February 2021. Here are the first five lessons.

Religious leaders are being forced to reconcile their concerns about technology with the clear benefits provided by the internet during this time.

COVID-19 has been difficult for some religious groups -- in particular, those that were previously hesitant about or entirely resistant to the use of internet technology in worship. The pandemic has forced these groups to go online and consider how technology can be a benefit instead of a threat.

For years, researchers have highlighted the potential benefits that moving online can offer religious groups, challenging them to consider how technology could potentially expand their influence to new groups and opportunities. Religious communities are now, out of necessity, taking up that challenge, and seeing in a new way the benefits of technology.

Experimenting with worship online has revealed the power of technology that many religious groups were previously unaware of.

While some religious communities have been gathering online for a while, many communities made their first appearances online because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For those groups, there was a steep learning curve that was not without its mistakes and challenges. But this hands-on learning has given them technological insights and opportunities to try out new tactics and strategies that have helped build connections within their congregations beyond what was possible in the offline world.

Mediated worship raises the question, How much of religion is -- or needs to be -- embodied?

Many of this project’s researchers questioned what the pandemic might mean for embodied religion. How much of religion is embodied, or how much needs to be embodied to be authentic?

In a period when people are not allowed to gather in person, the very purpose and definition of religion comes into question. This connects closely to the next lesson.

Social distancing practices and the creation of online worship services spotlight what religious groups actually see as their core values and defining rituals.

Not being able to meet face to face has caused many people to rethink the fundamental focus and practices of their religion.

For example, the project’s researchers found that while some churches proudly proclaim in their mission statements that they are focused on discipleship or outreach, what the pandemic has revealed is that they are primarily in the business of worship service delivery.

This revelation should challenge religious institutions to reevaluate their mission and identity. Social distancing is a catalyst that has pushed groups into examining how they define and live out religion in America.

Religious communities that are flexible and willing to innovate during this time are better placed to foster resilience in the long run.

Researchers noted that by being flexible, religious community members help prepare their traditions and groups for future changes and encourage religious creativity. Within days of learning about the crisis and impending lockdowns in the United States, many religious leaders were able to be innovative with the centuries-old traditions and ways of doing church.

By being willing to test out new technologies and experiment with novel ways to celebrate together, these institutions have encouraged adaptation.

This forced flexibility is showing dwindling congregations that they can reinvent religion and build communities able to adapt to changing conditions.

Collectively, these lessons speak to the positive potential of the pandemic to bring about shifts in the way Americans both “do” and think about religion. As the pandemic continues, innovation and adaptation will continue to be demanded of faith communities.

There may never be a full return to the business of religion as it once was -- event dependent and fixed to one location.

Religious groups and leaders that allow themselves to imagine and try out new forms of gathering, relationship building and community engagement will not only adapt more easily to the conditions created by COVID-19 but will also create a platform that will enable their faith communities to prepare for and respond to future change.

Interested in learning more?

Heidi Campbell’s four e-books are available free online.

“The Distanced Church: Reflections on Doing Church Online” presents an international dialogue between church leaders, theologians and media scholars on churches’ practical and theological challenges during their forced migration to online forms of worship and ministry.

“Religion in Quarantine: The Future of Religion in a Post-Pandemic World” offers reflections from religious studies faculty and students from Texas A&M University on how their spiritual journeys and their study of religion are being shaped by quarantine and social distancing.

“Digital Ecclesiology: A Global Conversation” addresses in greater depth the ecclesiological questions raised by churches readily embracing digital media and culture. Theologians from around the world explore the ways a church’s technological choices can create unforeseen theological implications for faith communities.

“What Should Post-Pandemic Religion Look Like?” outlines 10 trends religious groups need to understand to survive and thrive in the next decade.

In the second edition of her book, the author of “Dear White Christians” reiterates that listening and responding to calls for reparations precedes the possibility of reconciliation.

 

Jennifer HarveyWhen Jennifer Harvey wrote her book “Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation,” she couldn’t have imagined the context in which it would be published.

Just weeks before the book came out in 2014, Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, and a powerful advocacy movement burst onto the national scene with a simple message: Black Lives Matter.

In the wake of the protests, some white churches were confused, even shocked, at the “grief-filled rage” shown in Ferguson, Harvey said.

And some of those churches turned to Harvey and her book for education.

“The book is for white Christians … who are asking the questions, ‘Why are our churches built so white? Why don’t we have more multiracial communities? Why do we seem so divided and alienated still?’” she said.

Her book, the second edition of which was released last summer, helps white Christians understand how the history of Black Power movements informs current organizing efforts and calls to redistribute resources.

Understanding and heeding this history, she says, is a prerequisite to moving toward the Christian vision of reconciliation.

Harvey is a professor of religion at Drake University and an award-winning author and public speaker. She is also the author of “Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America.”

Harvey spoke with Faith & Leadership’s Chris Karnadi about the importance of knowing the history of Black Power movements and the differences between the paradigms of reconciliation and reparations. The following is an edited transcript.

Faith & Leadership: How important is it to know and teach history that doesn’t whitewash civil rights?

Jennifer Harvey: One of the things I excavate in the book is the degree to which Black Power movements are obscured in how we remember history. What I explore in the book is that these power movements were not only part of the civil rights movement but they also had Christian elements.

It’s critically important that we know these histories that many white communities, and in this case, white Christians, either haven’t been taught, have ignored or have been taught to ignore.

I was raised in the church. I’ve been a Christian my whole life. I didn’t learn any of these histories until I was doing my Ph.D. at Union Seminary. I had even gone through an M.Div. program without learning this history.

F&L: Can you describe the importance of Black Power movements?

JH: The history of power movements helps us reckon differently with what came out of the civil rights movement. It wasn’t wonderful progress where white Christians and Americans started doing better around Black demands for racial justice; white Christians started to reject and step back from civil rights when it made progress.

We have to learn this history, because Black Power movements made different kinds of demands from calls for integration. They demanded power and resource redistribution, and part of the crisis we’re in today is directly related to how deeply we have -- not just white Christians but white America -- ignored and rejected those calls for power and resource redistribution.

Knowing that history is important for that reason, because our actual racial story is not the story we often tell in the white church. So that’s one piece of the reason why it’s so important.

The other reason that it’s so important to excavate and remember these histories is that the erasure of those histories is itself a form of racial harm.

It’s not just an accident that we don’t know the history of Black Power movements inside the white church -- the way James Forman and other activists, including Black clergy, for example, made calls for reparations to white communities in 1969.

It’s actually a site of sin, is how I would talk about it. We actively rejected the history of Black clergy in Black Power movements, and then we pretended those calls had never been made.

There’s been this kind of amnesia from white Christians; we don’t even know the sins that we’ve committed, and so we’re stuck in our calls for equity and reconciliation and diversity. These calls are so hollow, but we don’t even know that, because we haven’t named and confessed the erasure that we actively committed moving out of the civil rights movement era.

Dear White ChristiansI say this in the book, but it’s critically important to see that many of the things Black Power advocates were naming and predicting about the reality of racial relationships is what we’re seeing right now. In the last five years, this beast we have never repented from or repaired has created our national climate. I feel very clear about that.

It’s past time to confess what we’ve done and pick up partnership with those communities who have never stopped making those same demands.

F&L: Were Black Power movements prophetic?

JH: I think “prophetic” is the right word to use. They were telling us that integration -- or reconciliation, which is the way we talk about it in the church -- was going to fail without massive resource redistribution.

To be clear, I long for reconciliation. I do think that’s the space to which we are called, but just making integration the solution to racial injustice and racial violence is misguided. You need to change the systems of exploitation.

Black Power movement leaders and the diverse communities that were organizing with them were calling for things like reparations to enable resource redistribution that would enable Black self-determination, Black business cooperatives, Black media networks and outlets.

They called for a radical transformation in how we thought about public education. If you have inequitable school systems, where Black children don’t have access to high quality education because of segregation and racial injustice, just integrating kids is not a solution. It’s important to reject segregation, but simply putting some Black children in a white classroom with a white teacher who doesn’t even know how to love Black children is not necessarily better.

You need Black teachers. You need Black principals. You need to shift all the power structure so that resources are distributed differently.

They also called for a radical rethink on policing. Police violence in the ’60s was creating these instances of just community rage and grief because of the way policing happened in Black communities, which is still very relevant today.

We cannot be siblings to one another in a genuine, mutual way if we haven’t repaired the harm and the exploitation that were not only present in the foundation of the United States but are actively constructed even today.

We need to repent and repair those things in order to even begin to talk meaningfully about beloved community. What I’m trying to get us to think about as white Christians in the book is that history had prophetic things to say to us about who we actually are and how we could be converted to become something different.

F&L: You make this delineation in the book between a reconciliation paradigm and a reparations paradigm. Can you explain both of those?

JH: The reason I use the word “paradigm” is because I think that helps us think about what kind of lens we are using. I believe as a Christian that reconciliation is a state to which we are called, but the framework of reconciliation is a problem, because of what it teaches us to be.

For example, a reconciliation paradigm is universal. It would say things like, “We need to come to the table and celebrate and embrace our differences. We need to come together across our diverse experiences and learn to love each other more fully and truly.”

The problem with reconciliation as a paradigm, again separate from actually being reconciled, is that it assumes that our differences are equally problematic. A reconciliation paradigm assumes that I as a white person need to better come to love Blackness, Nativeness and Latinoness and also implies that Black, Native and Latino people should better love my whiteness in order for all of us to reconcile. But it’s not a moral parallel. Blackness and whiteness are not moral or cultural or political parallels.

White people owe something different and distinct if we are going to be reconciled. So a reparations paradigm says that the crisis of racism and racial injustice is a multiracial crisis and we each have a different location in it.

In particular, it says historically white communities, whether actively or passively, have engaged in perpetrating harm. We have unjustly reaped economic benefits from that harm, and we’ve also been spiritually and morally malformed by our participation in that harm.

So if we want to be at a multiracial table, then we name that and repair that as the way we come to the table. There’s no responsibility of Black people learning to better appreciate and understand white people. It’s about, “How do we together address and redress the structures of harm, violence and unjust benefit that exist between us?”

If we can redress those and redistribute resources from white communities to communities of color, that actually might make us beloved to one another. But the repentance and the repair piece is how white folks show up to the table in a reparations paradigm.

F&L: You say that you’ve seen progress since 2014. Can you talk about ways in which you’ve seen white Christians moving forward and how some of the gaps remain?

JH: I tried to include in the book’s appendix some anecdotal examples of reparations-informed movements that have begun to emerge in the last four years. They’re scattered all over the place, but they’re worth naming, because it’s an energy and sort of responsive kind of percolation that is starting to happen.

The Minnesota Council of Churches is starting to unroll a 10-year project of reparations relative to Native communities in a central way, but there is also language for reparations toward African American communities.

The Fellowship of Reconciliation has a national reparations and truth telling campaign that has gotten underway. I’m seeing in my local community in Des Moines in the last year all kinds of white clergy who have -- not just as individuals but speaking in the name of their church -- have been not just putting signs for Black Lives Matter on their churches but have been out organizing with Black Lives Matter movement leaders.

They are organizing by asking, “OK, what do you need us to do? What role do you need us to play? How do you need us to hold the police authorities accountable?” That’s another example.

It’s just new for white communities. I think a lot of people are still asking for a model out there that we can just implement here in our church -- but there’s no universal model out there.

We are actually the ones who have to do the thing. There are some landmarks, some language, some principles we need to try to embody, but we haven’t corrected this injustice before, and so we literally are the ones who have to figure out what it means. And it’s going to look different in each local context.

It’s new to white people, but there is a different kind of sharing that is happening. And it’s because, I think, of the leadership and insistence and ongoing tenacity of Black Lives Matter movement leaders over the last seven or eight years that we’re getting to this inflection point.

Talking about church buildings is fun for the bishop of the Diocese of Indianapolis -- not just because she is trained in architecture and historic preservation, but also because it leads to questions like, “What is this congregation for?”

When Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows was growing up in New York, she walked all over the city, reveling in the historic buildings all around her.

She was inspired to study architecture, urban planning and historic preservation as an undergraduate and graduate student. Then, encouraged to discern a call to ministry by leaders at Trinity Church Wall Street, where she was an active member, she earned an M.Div. from Church Divinity School of the Pacific.

Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows

Photo courtesy of the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis

“I was being called to be a priest who also knew something about preserving all of these old church buildings,” said Baskerville-Burrows, who wrote her master’s thesis at Cornell University on the role of church buildings in revitalizing downtown communities.

In her current role as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis, she continues to combine these areas of expertise.

“Instead of seeing buildings as albatrosses, I have always seen them as opportunities for ministry,” she said. “To me, they are part and parcel of the work of being bishop.”

Baskerville-Burrows, the first Black woman to be elected diocesan bishop in the Episcopal Church, oversees 48 churches in central and southern Indiana. She spoke with Faith & Leadership’s Sally Hicks about the role of religious buildings in ministry, in communities and in the work of racial justice.

Faith & Leadership: How do these interests combine in your work now?

Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows: Bishops have oversight over people and assets that make ministry possible, and buildings are usually the largest asset that congregations hold if they don’t have endowment funds.

If a congregation is going to have a place out of which to do ministry and worship, then it’s got to have a building that’s connected to and appropriate for that purpose. And if a congregation is going to be planted in a community that it has relationships with, then ideally the building is serving a role in the community beyond that of just the congregation.

I am always asking the question, “Who else shares your space?

“Who else has access? I entered your building, and I didn’t know even how to get in. How are you thinking about your signage? How are you thinking about your neighbors who are adjacent to your property?”

Those are all signs and signals about the vitality and possibility for ministry of a congregation, to me.

Buildings come with all kinds of anxiety, because often people don’t know what to do about them. I see that part of my role pastorally is to help congregations and their leaders not see them only as sources of anxiety.

F&L: How do you do this?

JBB: I talk about it a lot. We try to create a context where the building is not just a topic for when there’s an emergency -- the roof fell in or there’s a flood or we can’t get in our buildings because there’s a pandemic.

I meet with all the priests and deacons of the diocese who are active every year. We talk a lot about how if you’re going to have a building, it’s got to be tied to the mission. And congregations then need to know what their mission is.

This time that we’re in a pandemic, we’re saying, “Well, what kind of use do you want these buildings to serve, now that you’ve been out of them for all this time?”

I can set the conversation. It’s a lot of fun to be able to do that.

F&L: How can you help folks reframe their thinking about the building, moving it from liability to asset?

JBB: I think part of it is talking about it that way. It’s complicated. There’s no one easy thing to do.

A lot of the talk in the church is that the building is always a problem -- except for our worship space, which we love and we never want to change.

If we think about the building as an asset, which has been a lot of the work of Partners for Sacred Places and a couple of other statewide preservation groups, [we change that conversation].

They’ve been saying that buildings are a lot of work and they were built to do things that we no longer do and they were built to hold congregation sizes that we no longer have.

So how do we use them for the ways in which they can be an asset not just to us but to the rest of the community -- which is an ethic the church should have all along, right?

To those who are in small congregations struggling with big buildings, I think first of all trying to help them see that yes, it’s a burden, but there are also some opportunities, and it may be that that congregation shouldn’t be in that building anymore.

As a preservationist and an ordained person, I’ve never been fundamentalist about it.

I’d say many of our church buildings are not best cared for by our own people. I’d rather see them be put in the hands of somebody else who can take care of it better -- a different denomination, a different use -- than to see what our churches do by letting them crumble around them because they can’t let them go. The demolition by neglect -- that’s the train wreck.

We’re going to go over that cliff very quickly in the next five or six years, with the number of buildings that will not be able to be sustained by the congregations that have title to them.

F&L: Do you think the pandemic will hasten congregations’ going over the cliff?

JBB: Absolutely. The pandemic is an amplifier and accelerator, and it’s going to amplify and accelerate some of the trends that are troubling. But it can also amplify and accelerate some good things, so let’s try to get more in the driver’s seat on this.

Not all of the congregations are going to make it through this pandemic in the way that they were before. And that’s ultimately a hopeful thing for the church.

Because we’re finally asking the questions, “What is this congregation for? What is the building for now that we’re not in it?”

Most of our congregations, and I think this is true in other denominations and faith groups as well, to the extent that they’ve kept their buildings open, it’s been primarily for serving the community.

Food pantries have continued to function. Meal programs have been adapted and continue to distribute meals to people who are used to coming to a sit-down for lunch every week. We have a clinic in one of our churches that has continued to function. It’s the only place to get free health care in the county.

People have been worshipping online, but the ministry and presence has continued. That’s teaching us something we should be paying attention to, I think.

Clearly, we don’t need the buildings to be a church community. We need to be able to gather, but we may not need to do it in the buildings we’ve historically done that in. And if the buildings are hampering our ability to do the ministry, then we need to ask some hard questions about that and confront the answers.

We have 48 congregations [in our diocese], and so we’re small enough that we can check on all of our congregations each month.

We know what’s going on on the ground, because we’re checking in on them on a rotating basis. We are trying to have congregation leaders check in on their people between my visitations, the visitation of my canons, just watching carefully what’s happening. We meet every other week with the clergy and wardens who are serving churches who don’t have settled clergy.

It’s not a survey, but we’ve got good anecdotal data to give us a sense of what’s happening.

I’d rather have a small diocese in terms of numbers of congregations that are really clear about who they are, why they exist, what their call to walk with Christ is about and what their building can do to help support that mission than to have 48 churches half of which don’t know why they’re there and their building is just empty most of the week.

That’s not edifying to God. It just isn’t. The work of my episcopate is to help shape that conversation.

F&L: What’s your vision for your diocese, which has a lot of small-membership congregations?

JBB: That’s a really big question.

What I say to people in the diocese is that we have started churches, congregations, and we have closed buildings over the whole of our 180-some-year history. We’re going to continue to do that, and we’re not going to be afraid of it.

So we can start a congregation like Good Samaritan, which has got some land banked. They’re probably going to build a building that has a ministry-center focus with a space for the congregation to worship. It’s not going to be a big worship space with a small parish hall.

They’re flipping that script, because they’re a community that’s built upon the notion that they serve.

We have St. John’s, Speedway, which is worshipping at the golf course clubhouse next to the track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. They’re a pretty healthy congregation of some 30 people that is about as vibrant and active as I would want some of our most long-standing congregations with stone buildings to be.

The mission we have as a diocese is to be beacons of Jesus Christ, to be inviting people to join us in the work of transformation, to stand with the marginalized and vulnerable and be working to transform systems of injustice and to be networking with anybody who will come along with that vision, people of faith or none.

That’s the work, and to be raising up leaders, lay and ordained, to do that.

When I get up in the morning, my question is -- after thanking God for a new day -- how are we doing that?

Because of the legacy of the Lilly family over the years, we have resources to say, “Your roof has caved in? We can give you a revolving loan and help you with that.”

[My predecessors and other leaders] set up that fund because they understood the value of having some resources set aside for building emergencies -- because those things happen -- so we don’t have 48 emergencies all the time with the buildings.

The conversation I have with other bishops is, “How do you put in place some of those mechanisms? How do you change that conversation in the diocese around the buildings?”

When I think about most of my colleagues in the Northeast, [I know that] their problems are outsized compared with ours, because of the size of their buildings, the price of the real estate, the price of living and all of that stuff. I just need to say that upfront.

But I don’t think that any of that gets us out of the conversation of “How does our building serve our mission?”

F&L: How is your work with buildings connected to your commitment to racial justice?

JBB: I just think racial justice is the work that has to be done 24 hours a day, all the time, every place. To the extent that buildings can host conversations, I think this is a gift that the church is learning to step into, even now in this pandemic.

The place where social justice and racial justice issues come into play with church buildings is really more about the fact that in the Episcopal Church and lots of mainline churches, we have decided that we don’t need churches in poor, Black and brown neighborhoods and we’ve opened up churches in suburbs. This is the story across Protestantism.

The fact is that particularly in poor, Black and brown communities, a church building plays a lot of roles for that community way beyond what the small congregation that’s using it on Sunday [may need].

We now thankfully have this Lilly Thriving Congregations [grant] that we’re starting in partnership with Partners for Sacred Places. We have this grant in partnership with them and with our statewide historic preservation office, Indiana Landmarks, which has a Sacred Places Indiana program.

Collaboratively, we’re going to work with those institutions and with the Diocese of Northern Indiana to do this asset mapping. We talk about the assets of our leadership, and now we’re saying, “Well, what are the assets that the building has -- and every building has them -- that provide opportunities for a more effective mission?”

iStock / Tolgart

Innovation isn't a good unto itself; at its core, innovation is about solving problems, says the co-founder of RootedGood. She shares the lessons she has learned as a social entrepreneur.

Is innovation becoming an unholy grail?

It’s tempting to believe the promise of innovation: Innovate and our future will be secured. Start something new and people will flock through the doors. Like the quest to find the holy grail that will lead to everlasting life, the current hunt for innovation seeks a grail that often is anything but holy.

While the drive for innovation might lead to an increase in new programs, new plans and new products, how long is it before they are replaced by other new programs, plans and products?

How often is our constant push for the new and cutting-edge coupled with mounting expectations, competition, burnout and fatigue?

It’s not that we don’t need innovation. But innovation for innovation’s sake is pointless -- and it can be destructive. We must ask ourselves what good innovation is and why it matters.

As someone who has worked with countless entrepreneurs, faith communities and business leaders, and currently helps congregations seeking to innovate, with tools such as our Mission Possible game and The Oikos Accelerator, I have come to recognize these important facets of the innovation process.

Ten aspects of faithful innovation

Good innovation begins with dissatisfaction. Innovation is about change. We have to long for things to be different. This longing isn’t just about style or preference; it is about solving a problem. This means we have recognized that something is fundamentally broken and believe things can be different.

It is fueled by empathy. Empathy is arguably a byproduct of love, and innovation requires loving people and places. It requires proximity -- we must be close enough to care. Empathy is at the heart of good innovation, as well as good design, because it puts people at the center. We have to think first about whom we want to serve and what they want or need, not what we want to do for them.

It isnt just about great ideas. Innovators want to be the people who create the next shiny object, whether it’s a program, a space or a product. But we need to be careful not to get hung up on our ideas. Innovation isn’t about you and your idea or me and my idea. It should be about the impact we want to make; the idea is the strategy to achieve that impact.

It requires us to know what good is -- and what it looks like. It’s not enough to know what is broken; we have to be able to clearly describe the alternative. What, specifically, is the change we want to see in people, places, policy or systems? When we get clear about that, we’ll be clear about the impact we want to make.

It challenges us to think big. Innovation is not about incremental change, and it’s not about just tweaking things. It’s about having a big, audacious goal and believing -- truly believing -- that anything is possible. Thinking big is a David-and-Goliath mindset. It is Henry Ford aiming not for faster horses but beyond horses. It is Wilberforce aiming not for kinder slavery but beyond slavery. Far too often in the church, we think too small. We have limitations on what we imagine to be possible, and we think with our own survival in mind. But Scripture says that with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). All things are possible. Good innovation forces us to act like it!

It requires a willingness to fail. Christianity has never been for the faint of heart. True innovation involves many failed attempts. Yet these failed attempts offer priceless opportunities for learning. This is also why measurement is a critical ingredient. It creates learning loops and helps guard against mission drift. If a measurement reveals that a given innovation is not creating the desired impact, we must change our approach and try again and again and again.

It demands a commitment to excellence. Innovation is undertaken because what is is not good enough. Faithful innovation demands that we think, build and act with a commitment to doing our best and greatest work. Put another way, if our goal is doing good, let’s make sure that we do good work. For far too long now, excellence has not been the hallmark of our work. Over 100 years ago, the church built the best schools and hospitals -- but now? When we need to deal with systemic racism, generational poverty, falling education rates, the church isn’t the place where most people look to bring about new solutions. Why not? Let’s change that!

It takes time. True innovation doesn’t happen overnight or lead to immediate success. In a world that thrives on 24/7, on-demand service, we have fooled ourselves into thinking we can control the timeline. But innovation requires understanding, listening and patience. We may rush to act, but God often asks us to wait, to prepare, to watch and to listen.

It demands collaboration. Innovation isn’t for lone rangers. Collaborators bring with them a diversity of ideas, skills, talent, experience and other networks. They often will see the problem -- as well as opportunities and resources -- from different angles. Resist the urge to see others as competition and to jockey for position.

It emerges from unlikely leaders. The freshest thinking often comes from the margins, not the mainstream. People who innovate often have what my friend Jonny Baker calls “the gift of not fitting in.” I worry that with the increased desire for innovation, we are seeing a “cool kids club” emerging. However, this is the Achilles’ heel of innovation. The more we seek to be seen and validated, the less radical, less innovative, less inclusive we become.

If we are to have faithful innovation, we will be looking for those who are humbly and diligently working for change, unseen, and will listen to their voices and elevate their leadership.

I believe we need innovation because what is is not enough. Innovation should help us do work that transforms the problems of our day and leads to the flourishing of people and communities. It should help us achieve our mission.

Let’s make sure we aren’t chasing an unholy grail. This is a holy endeavor that cannot wait.