May 8, 2009
Catalyst Leadership: Ministry Mastermind
Why a small church mindset is crucial for ministry innovation.
The following interview was excerpted from the latest issue of Catalyst Leadership--our new free digital magazine created in partnership with the Catalyst Conference. For instructions on reading the full text, see the note at the end.
Any church with a virtual campus in Second Life and an iPhone app used by thousands of people deserves the title "Innovative." The brain behind many of LifeChurch.tv's creative ventures is Bobby Gruenewald.
Bobby Gruenewald's journey into ministry was anything but typical. Like thousands of others, he started attending LifeChurch.tv ten years ago as the church experienced rapid growth. After a stint as a volunteer keyboardist, Gruenewald joined the staff in 2001 as the "computer guy" overseeing IT.
But Gruenewald's earlier career in start-up businesses and venture capital equipped him to help LifeChurch.tv as it moved toward a multiple site strategy. By 2003 the "computer guy" had become the "new campus development guy." Today, Gruenewald combines his entrepreneurial instincts and talent with technology as LifeChurch.tv's "Innovation Leader" - yes, that's his real title.
The editors of Leadership spoke with Gruenewald about the nature of adaptation in ministry, the risks of constant change, and why innovation has less to do with the resources available to a church and more to do with the mindset of leaders.
What is the danger of focusing on technology and innovation in ministry?
One of the biggest dangers for our team is focusing too much on what we do and overlooking why we do it. God was doing amazing things at our church long before we were using a lot of technology. We had 3000 people attending before we had a lick of video. That reminds us that technology isn't what fuels our ministry; it's simply a tool.
You can apply that same lesson to innovation. It's not about innovation for innovation's sake. We innovate because we're really passionate about seeing people connect with God. It becomes dangerous when you trust in how you're pursuing the mission rather than trusting in God.
How do you fight against that danger?
We make sure that every team member understands that technology is not the center of our ministry. We don't believe in change for the sake of change. Our goal is to reach people for Christ, and we're going to do everything short of sin to accomplish that.
Speaking of sin, are there any technologies that you won't engage because they are inconsistent with the gospel?
We see technology as amoral - it's not good or bad. It's a tool that can be used either way. Our desire is to redeem technology and use it to bring people to God.
Some are saying that online social networking and virtual sites like Second Life don't offer "real" relationships and may actually be harming genuine community. What do you think?
A lot of people are predicting what consequences online community is going to have. But that happens with every new technology. When the telephone was new in the early 20th century, there were bold predictions that it would negatively impact how people interact. But very few of those predictions came true. The same thing happened with the VCR. Some thought it would kill movie theaters.
History has shown that these innovations become incorporated into people's lives. They become tools for community and catalysts for relationships, but they don't replace them. Right now we are seeing online connections taking place all over the Internet. Some of these relationships are so powerful that people are leaving their spouses for people they've met online. We are trying to create online environments that are God-centered. We want the church to be present in these environments to redeem this technology and use it for good.
With technology and culture changing so rapidly, how can a church keep pace?
Some organizations take three or five years to change, so to keep pace they would have to predict what things will look like years from now and begin making adjustments now. That's really inefficient. The alternative is to be an adaptive organization and nimble enough to adjust within a few months to what's actually happening.
What does it mean to be nimble at LifeChurch.tv?
First, it means having the right governance structure. Some structures can dramatically affect a church's ability to respond. But we also work hard to recognize how small we are as a church. As churches get larger, they begin to feel large and that changes the way leaders think. They take fewer risks and the focus turns inward.
Once your team believes your church is big you'll start to hear excuses like, "We're like the Titanic, and it takes a long time to adjust our direction." But when we compare the 26,000 people who might walk through our doors any given week with the 6.7 billion people alive today that God has called us to reach, our church is tiny.
The shift in mindset is significant. If you see your church as tiny you'll be more willing to take risks and your focus becomes more outward rather than inward. You'll think less about protecting what you have, and more about what God has called you to do. We try hard to have the mindset of a small church.
You can read the entire article here. Just click on "Mastermind" in the table of contents. And remember to maximize the digizine with the button on the toolbar for optimal viewing.