46. Decision-making in Church Boards. #4: Innovation, Decisions and the Role of the Chair.

How important is innovation in ministry to the health and vitality of your church? What happens if no new ideas about ministry are discussed or approved for implementation by your church board? How many innovations can a church board reasonably expect to process within a year? What role does a church board chair play in the innovation cycle? Generating good ideas and turning them into services that can assist the church achieve its mission requires wisdom, foresight, and discipline. How does your church board encourage innovation in ministry?

Congregations generally tend to be conservative groups, preserving traditions. Even church plants soon develop an ethos that characterizes “the way we do things.” This urge to resist change has a logical origin in the need to preserve the Gospel truth. However, preserving God’s truth does not negate the need to be innovative about sharing the truth, expressing this truth in patterns of leadership, or serving people in your community. Think back over the past several months or years. What was the single, most significant innovation your church board approved? Do you regard it as significant because it advance the congregation’s mission or for some other reason? If you cannot identify one innovation, then probably your church is not growing, you may be experiencing leadership change, your current leaders may have become complacent or burned out, or people may have lost confidence in the vision. Lack of innovation may be symptomatic of agency inertia.

When ministry leaders identify problems and seek creative solutions, innovation will be present. If your church board has not wrestled with an innovative idea in the past year, then perhaps as chair you might ask yourself whether the ministry leadership in the church has lost some momentum, focused on keeping the church machinery going, but no longer aggressively tackling key issues that hinder or advance church health. In your monthly session with the lead pastor you might carefully explore what key issues he is identifying within the congregation and possible solutions he is considering. If you receive a muted response, then perhaps this suggests something more significant is happening in his life.

Who’s accountable for innovation within a congregation? What’s the pathway by which new ideas can be championed, evaluated, and if deemed appropriate, implemented in your church? What role does the church board play in this? Can board members propose new ideas? What about the paid leadership? How would someone in the congregation present a new idea? Do people know how to do this and are they encouraged to do so? When was the last time as a congregation you celebrated together the successful implementation of a new, innovative ministry idea? What kind of excitement did that create among the people?  Perhaps new ideas are not emerging because people in the congregation or on the board do not think they have permission to present them!Maybe some have tried, only to have their ideas ignored, not taken seriously or outright rejected. When that happens, people become very leery about making any new suggestions.

Can a church board improve the climate of innovation in your congregation and among your church leadership? A significant element in good governance is governance that has a future orientation.  A diligent board member will not be satisfied with the status quo, recognizing that improvement can always be made. Further, a conscientious board member will be asking what decisions need to be made today so that the church is healthy and dynamic five years from now. Innovation means change and that always carries risks that have to be met with certain courage. So as a board member, what in your view is the most significant issue/problem/challenge that your church currently is facing and what innovations must be made to address them? Are you prepared to carry the load necessary to discern, define, and implement such innovations?

What can you as a church board chair do to create a climate that values and welcomes innovation within your church? Perhaps two strategies can be useful for you as a church board chair to support innovation. First, encourage your board to evaluate its own work over the past twelve months. Take the list of board responsibilities defined in the bylaws (or in some other document as that may be the case), create a series of questions that invite the board to evaluate the degree to which they think they are fulfilling these responsibilities, tabulate the results and share them with the board. You will probably find a surprising consensus about the things that are going well and other stuff that is not working very effectively. Invite the board to discuss the results and suggest ways and means of addressing those areas that are less than effective. Innovation needs to start within the church board itself.

A second strategy is to suggest to the board that it invite the ministry staff to dream a bit. Ask them to prepare a five page document (no longer) which defines the five most significant innovations that they believe have to happen (and citing reasons for this) if your church is to achieve better health and fulfill its mission. The basic rule in this is that it cannot mention personalities and there must be consensus among the staff that these are the five most significant innovations. This will require the staff to debate and discern together what these might be and not create a list driven by personal agendas. The board will probably be surprised at the creativity that results. There is no guarantee that any of these ideas will be implemented, but at least it will generate prayerful discussion and open the eyes and hearts of some to things they have never contemplated. It could be church-changing!

This year as chair of our church board I am encouraging the board to review and consider innovations in terms of prayer ministry. This issue has arisen from within the board as a matter of urgency and also within the congregation.  Second, I am suggesting to the board that a better means of equipping people to serve as board members (elders in our context) needs to be discerned and implemented, as part of our vision for leadership development. What this innovation will look like, I do not know, but if we can find a good way to achieve this, then it will enable the board of our church to have a strong and healthy future.

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