9 Indicators that Reveal a Church’s Innovative Potential

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Meghan Hatcher says particular characteristics within a church’s organizational culture foster an environment in which innovation thrives. She outlines nine key indicators strongly associated with an organization’s ability to innovate revealed through research by the Innovation Laboratory at the Center for Youth Ministry.


Congregations nationwide continue to face unpredictability as we enter a third year of the pandemic. Ministering from a posture of anxiety and scarcity might seem difficult to avoid. And yet, God continues to call the church to be a living, breathing body and equips us to adapt and innovate even as we do the hard work of ministry in this peculiar season.

But innovation doesn’t happen by accident or in a vacuum. Fostering an environment where innovation thrives requires particular characteristics within a church’s organizational culture. A congregation’s culture directly impacts its ability to change and develop new forms of ministry so innovation can take root and flourish. The impacts of organizational culture on innovative potential are often overlooked, but they can’t be ignored.

Nine indicators of innovative congregations

The Innovation Laboratory at the Center for Youth Ministry Training conducted research into how a church’s or organization’s outlook and attitudes affect their innovative potential. Our work reveals nine key indicators that are strongly associated with an organization’s ability to innovate. Scores on each indicator fall along a spectrum from low scores that signal characteristics that hamper innovation to high scores that signal the necessary conditions for innovation.

1. Risk response grounded in hope

Churches where innovation flourishes see failure as a necessary and positive step that can reveal the right way forward. These churches are not afraid to “fail forward” as they passionately pursue a mission that they believe is worth risking to achieve.

2. Openness to input from external voices and perspectives

The seeds of innovation can come from outside and unexpected sources. As such, the most innovative churches are open to a range of voices and perspectives, not just those of the senior leadership. They are not closed to the world or input from beyond the confines of the faith community.

3. Clear mission and purpose beyond simply surviving

An innovative faith community is clear about its purpose and reason for existing, especially amidst fear or uncertainty (like a pandemic!). A clear mission contributes to an organizational culture where people are encouraged to take initiative and the necessary steps to achieve a ministry’s goals.

4. Playful environment

How the atmosphere of a faith community feels to its members impacts innovative potential. Relaxed and playful environments build team morale and encourage creative thinking and problem solving much more than rigid or severe environments.

5. Adaptable infrastructure

A church with significant red tape and bureaucracy to navigate can hamper innovation. But an adaptable environment fosters a nimble infrastructure to implement ideas and changes, speeds along innovative progress, and empowers team members to make decisions.

6. Intentional interconnectedness

Various parts and people within an innovative church communicate and interact with intention. Since innovation can rarely be undertaken alone, the most effective innovators share and collaborate with others across programs and areas of ministry.

7. Trusting relationships

Widespread feelings of trust, care, and support among members and staff help foster innovation within a faith community. Churches with high levels of trust between its people collaborate more, take better risks, and demonstrate greater stability.

8. Inclination to act

Innovative churches move forward with implementing new ideas rather than spending endless time discussing and debating. The best feedback about new ministries comes from real-world implementation of ideas. Faith communities that quickly enact small-scale prototypes of new ideas ultimately achieve the greatest impact.

9. An understanding that change is continuous

Truly innovative churches don’t settle for the status quo when a new ministry idea works. Innovation must be continuous, and the most innovative churches embrace a culture of constant tinkering and learning, rather than only resorting to change when a crisis requires it.

Is your church’s culture fostering innovation?

The Innovation Culture Index (ICI) is a self-diagnostic tool developed by the Innovation Laboratory to measure a faith community’s perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes about these nine indicators. The ICI provides a snapshot of a church’s current organizational culture to increase awareness of innovative potential. From there, a church can learn how to shift their culture in meaningful ways so innovation becomes increasingly possible and sustainable. For more information on how your congregation might use this index or access other Lab resources, contact the Innovation Lab at innovation@cymt.org.


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About Author

Meghan Hatcher is the director of the Innovation Laboratory. Her work involves walking alongside diverse leaders and congregations as they create an innovative culture and engage the practice of theological innovation for the sake of more impactful ministry in the 21st century.


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