National Lutheran News

Is God a CEO?

Innovation that helps at work may also help at church

Can you run a church as though it is a business? In some ways you must, but in other ways, a church is a very different outfit.

Richard Brynteson may have some guidance for you. The business professor at Concordia University in St. Paul also works as a consultant on innovation for clients, including Dell Inc., and for the military in the nations of Singapore and Malaysia.

Much of Brynteson’s advice is familiar. Indeed, it is often observed in the breach at firms and at church: Create a culture of openness, he urges. Adopt an inquiring, flexible mindset. Collaborate creatively.

Regarding customers — that is, at church, with regard to members and prospective members — he tells clients to cultivate close relationships.

Richard Brynteson

Churches do indeed have common ground with his clients, Brynteson argues. “Whether you’re a church or a college or a Medtronic,” he says, “what worked yesterday does not work today.”

Hip enough?

Is your church hip enough to do social media? “If you want more younger people, figure out how to use Facebook,” says Brynteson. His own church, St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in St. Paul’s Crocus Hill neighborhood, doesn’t yet. “We mainline churches have been losing membership,” he says, “especially younger people. We have to harness innovative ways.”

Have you tried intergenerational discussions of old TV shows and movies, or talking about World War II rationing compared with being limited to 400 texts per month? What about spirituality according to The Simpsons TV show? “What does that tell us?” muses Brynteson. “Kids could relate.”

You be the judge of whether such events might help your church. If nothing else, Brynteson’s suggestions at least seem to bring elements of Christian practice into church management — certainly a good place for Christian practice.

Should Christians be open? Of course. Collaborative? Of course. Everyone brings good things to church. “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit,” says St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 12.

Should we be inquiring? Yes. “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” says 2 Peter 3.

Develop close relations? No doubt. “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you,” says Jesus himself in John 13.

Innovate? Well, anyone in Christ is already “a new creature,” writes Paul in 2 Corinthians 5. To Christians, finding a new way should be — well, nothing new.

No change?

All this might place church in a separate category from business. Yet despite its special standing as an organization endeavoring to follow Christ, a church does resemble a business. A church must strive to balance its budget, promote itself, and provide good services — literally, in this case.

So should churches innovate? Can a church awaken its core by changing? That’s a more difficult question than it appears.

To begin with, some people don’t want change. Brynteson knows a congregation that dumped a church secretary five years ago. The church wanted to set up a website and she wouldn’t learn the Internet. “We resist a lot of innovation,” he says, “probably because we’re comfortable in our ways, with our desk there and our friend’s desk nearby. … In particular,” he adds, people near retirement “don’t want to rock the boat.”

At church, when it comes to innovation, some might argue that the greatest innovation ever has already happened, that we need only accept the overwhelming incursion of God into history — the earthly mission of Jesus. Meanwhile, the other overwhelming innovation is imminent — the pending arrival of the kingdom of God. So why fiddle around with day-to-day detail?

Still, somebody has to run churches, clunking along in daily routines — and finding better ways from time to time, if they can.

So should churches innovate? In fact, they always have. God’s big Church is one of the oldest enduring institutions in the world — yet it still keeps changing. The Reformation comes to mind.

Business ideas that may work at church

What does innovation mean at church? Here are ideas from Richard Brynteson, who teaches business at Concordia University in St. Paul:

* If the old no longer works, set it aside. Find something to stop doing. What is it that you no longer need?

* Persist. Successful innovators are “serial failures,” Brynteson writes. If something doesn’t work the first time, evaluate what went wrong. If you still truly believe in the idea — try it again.

* Study consumers. What is it that people need? For business and for churches, this may be the toughest challenge of all. In many cases, people may not even know they need a product — or what God offers.

Brynteson writes for business, but some of his advice may apply at church. His book is The Manager’s Pocket Guide to Innovation (Amherst, Massachusetts: HRD Press Inc., 2010. ebookee.org/The-Manager-s-Pocket-Guide-to-Innovation_971570.html.

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