Innovation Explained

Innovation in Context:

When considering innovation within ministries, it’s crucial to understand the spectrum of possibilities and decide on the most suitable path for your organization’s goals. Here are three categories of innovation to guide your decision-making process:

Core Innovation:

  • This type of innovation involves a dedicated focus on refining and optimizing the existing core functions of the ministry. Organizations pursuing core innovation ask questions such as: What are the best practices in our field? How can we enhance our current processes? What strategies can be employed for better optimization? While there is always room for improvement in the core, it’s important to note that sustained organizations may find themselves primarily consumed by this type of innovation, directing most of their energy towards refining what already exists.

Proximate Innovation:

  • Proximate innovation revolves around identifying and implementing new approaches that are similar to existing practices but come with distinct differences. Key questions in this realm include: What new practices can we adopt? How can we approach our mission differently? What experiments can we conduct? Innovative organizations not only refine their core functions but actively seek proximate innovations, exploring variations and expansions to broaden their impact. “Innovative ministries” often refer to those with a primary focus on proximate innovation.

Transformational Innovation:

  • Transformational or disruptive innovation involves a radical shift towards a completely new core ministry approach. Organizations pursuing transformational innovation grapple with questions like: What should our new core be? What actions should we take to bring about this transformation? This type of innovation demands significant effort and requires organizations to shift their focus from the existing core and proximate innovations to make room for a disruptive change. One challenge here is the potential displacement of previous approaches, a step that many ministries find challenging to undertake due to various constraints.

In summary, the choice of innovation depends on the organization’s readiness for change, its capacity to take bold steps, and the desired level of impact. While core innovation optimizes existing practices, proximate and transformational innovations open doors to new possibilities, with the latter requiring a more significant shift and readiness to embrace disruptive changes. Each type of innovation has its merits, and the right balance depends on the specific goals and capabilities of the ministry in question.

Overview of Innovation Concepts:

Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation, emphasizing empathy, creativity, and iteration. The process involves five phases:

  • Empathize:
    • Understand the needs, wants, and motivations of the people for whom you are designing.
    • Methods include user interviews, observation, and participatory design.
  • Define:
    • Frame the problem in a human-centered and actionable way.
    • Utilize tools such as problem statements, personas, and empathy maps.
  • Ideate:
    • Generate a wide range of potential solutions to the defined problem.
    • Encourage creativity and suspend judgment through brainstorming techniques.
  • Prototype:
    • Create rough models of promising ideas for testing with users.
    • Prototypes can range from low-fidelity sketches to high-fidelity digital mockups.
  • Test:
    • Gather user feedback on prototypes and iterate until solutions are effective and desirable.
    • Testing methods include user interviews, usability testing, and A/B testing.

Design thinking is an iterative process, requiring multiple cycles through the phases to develop a solution meeting user needs. Following this approach increases the likelihood of creating innovative and effective solutions.

What could this loosely look like in a missional context?

Phase 1: Empathize

The first phase of design thinking is to empathize with the people for whom you are designing. This involves understanding their needs, wants, and motivations. In the context of church planting, this could involve:

  • Interviewing potential church members to understand their spiritual beliefs, values, and needs.
  • Observing existing churches to see how they are meeting the needs of their communities.
  • Conducting surveys to gather quantitative data on the needs and preferences of potential church members.

Phase 2: Define

Once you have a deep understanding of the people you are designing for, you can begin to define the problem you are trying to solve. In the context of church planting, this could involve:

  • Identifying the specific needs of the community that you are trying to reach.
  • Defining the goals and objectives of the new church.
  • Developing a clear mission and vision statement for the church.

Phase 3: Ideate

The next phase of design thinking is to ideate, or generate a wide range of potential solutions to the problem. In the context of church planting, this could involve:

  • Brainstorming different church planting models, such as traditional church planting, missional church planting, and replanting.
  • Developing creative ideas for reaching out to potential church members, such as using social media, hosting community events, or partnering with other organizations.
  • Generating ideas for worship services, ministries, and programs that will meet the needs of the community.

Phase 4: Prototype

Once you have a few promising ideas, you can begin to prototype them. This involves creating rough models of your solutions that you can test with users. In the context of church planting, this could involve:

  • Developing a one-page plan for the church, including the church’s mission, vision, goals, and strategies.
  • Hosting a trial service or event to test out your worship style, preaching, and ministries.
  • Creating a website or social media page for the church to connect with potential members.

Phase 5: Test

The final phase of design thinking is to test your prototypes with users. This involves getting feedback from users on your solutions and iterating on them until they are effective and desirable. In the context of church planting, this could involve.

  • Gathering feedback from potential church members on the church’s mission, vision, goals, and strategies.
  • Observing how people respond to the church’s worship services, ministries, and programs.
  • Conducting surveys to measure the church’s impact on the community.

By following the design thinking process, church planters can develop innovative and effective solutions to the challenges of reaching and growing new churches.

Assessing Innovation: A Comprehensive Perspective

Determining the innovativeness of a project is a multifaceted process that involves evaluating various factors across different methodologies. Here are key innovation criteria that should be considered in each project.


  • Originality: Does the project introduce a new idea, concept, or approach?
  • Uniqueness: Does the project stand out from existing solutions?
  • Distinctness: Does the project offer a clear advantage over existing alternatives?


  • Significance: Does the project address a significant problem or need?
  • Value: Does the project create substantial value for its users or stakeholders?
  • Impactful: Does the project have the potential to make a lasting and positive impact?


  • Technical Viability: Can the project be technically implemented with available resources and technology?
  • Economic Viability: Is the project economically viable and sustainable?
  • Practicality: Can the project be implemented effectively within given constraints?

Additional Insights:

  • Consider characteristics like problem-solving, market impact, technological advancements, collaboration, risk-taking, creativity in execution, adaptability, user-centric design, measurable outcomes, economic viability, learning, adaptation, intellectual property, and environmental and social impact.

A truly innovative project should exhibit a robust combination of novelty, impact, and feasibility. It introduces a unique solution to a significant problem, creates substantial value, and is technically, economically, and practically feasible. By carefully considering these factors and incorporating insights from innovation measurement methodologies, informed judgments about a project’s innovativeness can be made.

Innovation is an Ongoing and Dynamic Process
Projects may showcase varying degrees of innovativeness at different stages of development. The key lies in consistently evaluating and refining projects based on these comprehensive criteria to foster a culture of continuous improvement and groundbreaking innovation.

Determining whether a project is innovative involves assessing its characteristics, goals, and approach. Here are key aspects to consider when evaluating the innovativeness of a project:

  • Originality of the Idea:
    • Assess whether the project introduces a new idea, concept, or solution to a problem.
    • Consider how the project differs from existing solutions or approaches.
  • Problem Solving:
    • Evaluate the project’s ability to address a specific problem or need.
    • Determine if the project offers a unique or more effective solution compared to current alternatives.
  • “Market” Impact:
    • Assess the potential impact of the project on the “market or industry” (Focus on ministry context and people group).
    • Consider whether the project has the potential to disrupt existing “markets or create new ones” (focus on disrupting current obstacles to gospel proclamation).
  • Technological Advancements:
    • Determine if the project incorporates new technologies or methodologies.
    • Assess whether it pushes the boundaries of current technological capabilities.
  • Collaboration and Interdisciplinarity:
    • Evaluate whether the project involves collaboration across different disciplines or industries.
    • Interdisciplinary projects often lead to innovative solutions by combining insights from diverse fields.
  • Risk-Taking:
    • Consider whether the project involves a degree of risk or challenges the status quo.
    • Innovation often requires a willingness to take calculated risks.
  • Creativity in Execution:
    • Assess the creativity and uniqueness of the project’s execution plan.
    • Look for novel approaches to implementing the idea.
  • Adaptability:
    • Evaluate the project’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances or feedback.
    • Innovations are often refined through an iterative process.
  • User-Centric Design:
    • Consider whether the project takes into account the needs and preferences of end-users (the unreached, the unengaged).
    • User-centric design is a hallmark of successful and innovative projects.
  • Measurable Outcomes:
    • Define measurable outcomes and goals for the project.
    • Innovative projects should have clear metrics for success and impact. (Both quantitative and qualitative)
  • Economic Viability:
    • Assess whether the project is economically viable in the long run.
    • Innovations that can sustain themselves financially are more likely to succeed.
  • Learning and Adaptation:
    • Evaluate whether the project team demonstrates a willingness to learn from failures and adapt their approach.
    • A culture of continuous improvement is essential for sustained innovation.
  • Environmental and Social Impact:
    • Consider the environmental and social implications of the project.
    • Innovations that contribute positively to sustainability or social well-being are often seen as more valuable.

By considering these factors, you can gain insights into the level of innovativeness of a project. Keep in mind that innovation is a complex and dynamic process, and projects may exhibit varying degrees of innovativeness at different stages of development.

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