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Don't let the pursuit of stability prevent your church from innovating.

Does the established nature of some churches hinder innovation? Is an established structure antithetical to quick, nimble changes?

For most established churches, yes, but it does not mean established churches cannot innovate.

A church plant is an innovation. Innovation is the process of successfully establishing something new. To introduce something new — and to get it to work longer than a month — is innovation.

Perhaps some luck goes into the right change at the right time. Perhaps some churches land on the right demographic with the right leadership. Not all innovations are intentional or well-planned. But an effective church plant should be noted as innovation.

As organizations become more established, they tend to be less prone to change. By its nature, an established organization has a system in place that pushes against change.

To establish is to create firm stability. Churches need stability. For example, a discipleship process that is not rooted in the culture of the church (or established) is not likely to last long. And it’s only a matter of time before the innovative church plant begins to feel the pull of becoming established. Everything is new only once, after all.

While stability is necessary, every church should also innovate.

Established churches, in particular, can take comfort in the establishment. Traditions and history can easily become a guise for complacency. Innovation can take a back seat to the entrenched processes that help create the stability.

While most church planters will admit to having many of the same people-problems as established churches, church plants do innovate more easily. They have no history pulling them in a certain direction. Everyone is new. The church is new. Each decision is new. In the early days of a church plant, everything feels like an innovation even if it’s not.

So what hurdles to innovation exist in the established church? Here are four examples:

1. Lack of intentionality.

Generally, established churches have more resources than new churches. When resources are limited, churches must be more intentional about innovation. Failure — especially one that is expensive — can quickly derail a church with limited resources.

When resources are plentiful, the temptation is to be less intentional. Established churches can generally absorb more failures. But the practice of throw-spaghetti-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks is not true innovation. It’s haphazard chaos. Give it a month and see how many people get annoyed.

Sam  Rainer Sam S. Rainer III serves as president of Rainer Research (, a firm dedicated to providing answers for better church health. He also serves as senior pastor at Stevens Street Baptist Church in Cookeville, TN. He writes, speaks, and consults on church health issues. You can connect with Sam at, or at his blog,

More from Sam Rainer or visit Sam at

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  • Dama McKennell

    It is easier to birth a baby than resurrect the dead. In our experience trying to change the status-quo is an uphill battle even in ideal circumstances. I agree with all your points, but I see a real decline in the ,”traditional,” church. When working in the traditional church, we used to say,”One more funeral till growth.” Sometimes people have to actually die, before a church can grow, it is sad and misses ,”Kingdom,” in every realm!

  • Revndon

    For background I panted the church that I now pastor 25 years ago. After 25 years the median age member of our church is 31-32. I have served as a denominational leader and church consultant.

    The solution shouldn’t be an either or proposition. I can hardly process the dialogue that asks should we birth new believers or nurture existing ones. In the Christian dialogue concerning the great commission we have become so culturally polarized that the traditionalists seem willing to abort every innovative approach while the non-traditionalists seem willing euthanize every tried and true approach.

    The word status-quo means the mess we are in and we are in a mess today. In all of the arguing and divisiveness the real focus of the mission of the church of our Lord Jesus Christ becomes even more diminished. We defend the turf of our positions and guard the sacred doctrines of our church kingdoms. We do this with passion while the truest metric of our success which is the transformation of individuals and their culture is ignored.

    Jesus the greatest church consultant who ever lived said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matt 28:18-20 NIV

    The metric is disciples and after 25 years I can testify that disciples is a messy business.I encourage myself in the journey with, Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty,
    but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest. Prov 14:4 NIV

    What I have discovered is that we need healthy churches that have a very balanced approach to innovative ways to reach new people and effective and reproducible systems to nurture and train disciples.Someone said, “Healthy things grow and growing things reproduce.” I concur but I have discovered healthy is messy.

    If you start a new church look out it won’t be long until you will be what you have criticized so severely but if you are an existing church and you refuse to balance your focus between in-reach and outreach you’re graduation will be to retirement and expiration.

    May wisdom prevail and we cease from the either or mentality and rediscover how to employe a both and even more approach. We really can learn from each other.

  • Edmund Chan

    Intentionality. I love that!

    I have the privilege of pastoring the smallest church (in the slowest-growing denomination) in my country – and nursing it to be an influential church through innovative leadership over 25 years. In practical terms, our pastoral staff and leadership team are committed to three leadership fundamentals –

    1. To champion the vision while personifying the values –
    A commitment to leading by example!

    2. To manage the success while mentoring the successor –
    A commitment to leading thru’ intentional disciplemaking!

    3. To extend the ministry while enlarging the soul –
    A commitment leading from the inside-out!

    In this God-given adventure of faith, I have learnt that to re-vitalize an ingrown church, we’ve got to think BIG, start SMALL and build DEEP!

  • Alts

    I think that is the major point that every pastor can drive, traditional practices is a hindrance for growth. Many people afraid of innovation because it is laborious but today people are changing nor time, we need to become innovative in order to reach people and continue to plant churches.

  • Dave Ekstrom

    Innovation for innovation’s sake, change for change’s sake, is not good. The article is well written because it does share the value of establishment. It’s emphasis is on innovation because that’s what it’s about. But there is a restlessness among some who think that the new is always better. If an organization is to survive, its best practices need to be institutionalized. Yes, reviewed and revised regularly. But you can’t live on a roller coaster. The real work gets done in the day-to-day, one foot in front of another, executing best practices with excellence. Or as Jim Collins calls it in Good to Great, the flywheel principle. I don’t think there’s enough emphasis on that. We all love to talk about change. I have the hardest time not with change but with consistency. I’m excited about it the first time I do it but the 100th time, well, I need more discipline.