What place does innovation have in our thinking about cultural change in the Presbyterian Church? I think development of innovative capacity is critical if churches able to respond to a post-modern environment, both now and in the future.
Perhaps that innovation might recommend some renovations and ask what might “externals” like our present brand represent to people, both inside and outside the Church? What exactly do we think is being communicated by the term “Presbyterian” and does it matter?
We know that it speaks of a certain style of Church government and ministry, but does this distinctiveness really matter to the vast majority? Even if it was understood to mean something about the “rule of elders”, it is likely to be understood as meaning we are less democratic and possibly authoritarian on the governance continuum.
My question is not intended to negate our ecclesiology or devalue our preferred form of polity, but rather ask why it is important enough to our mission to be used on the front sign? I am not asking us to throw away who we are as a family of churches, rather to ask what capacity we have to welcome and encourage innovation. Or are we so wedded to the debates of the past that we would not even explore defining ourselves in a name that people could understand and mean something to them?
Innovation is needed at different levels. One of these is artistic expression. How we do thing and how we communicate says much about the level of creativity and innovation.
I remember back to the 1980s when one of the possible signs of creative innovation was the making and hanging of church banners. Just a few weeks ago I attended a meeting at a certain Presbyterian church and, sure enough, there were a number of banners hanging on the walls. All of them said good things. There was no faulting what was written on them. They were the product of commitment and conviction and possibly a desire to break the monotony of the colour scheme.
However, I would advise that particular church to ask some of their young people what they made of the banners, and then ask others outside the church how they understood the message. There could be some surprises, perhaps similar to the ones I gained over listening to younger people’s perceptions over the last seven years of some of the banners hanging in my last church.
My suggestion is that many of these banners are now old hat. But what culture of innovation exists that would allow them to come down and be replaced with creative pieces more at home and able to communicate in the present environment?
Often, to question many of these trappings is interpreted as some sort of desecration or negation of the past, and this is indicative of a low innovation quotient.
Perhaps the situation with church banners is indicative of a wider problem. We live in an era of discontinuous change and we appear to be institutionally handicapped.
What is needed is a culture of innovation but this does not mean a “free for all”. That would be more a revolution than a reformation, and revolutions have the tendency to eat their children. A culture of innovation needs to be anchored in who we believe ourselves to be and what we exist for. Both of these need to be understood and expressed creatively in terms of what we are for, rather than what we are against. Not for what we reject, but what we embrace.
Perhaps this might mean a change of name that expresses something more important than a form of church government, a dead issue for the majority of people. It might go so far as to replace church banners with modern “iconography” that engages people and communicates the Christian story and the biblical narrative of the people of God.
Perhaps we might like to consider the importance of being an organisation oozing innovation and creativity. We might particularly consider it if we are to attract young and highly capable leaders for the future. Young people are attracted to a cause and if we wish to enlist their imaginations and energies, then we must communicate an enterprise that both challenges and gives permission for innovation.
In an era of discontinuous change, the rule is innovate or die.
Kevyn is a Presbyterian minister, and has recently completed research which, among other things, examines the links between missional churches and innovation. Read Kevyn’s research >