No Lone Rangers: Part 5

written by Kat Bair
5 · 07 · 24

We have spent the last four weeks establishing the basics of an innovation team: why you need one, how to build one, how to equip one, how to use one, and finally, we’ll cover how to make it work for you long-term.

One of our co-founders, Mark DeVries, wrote this book called Sustainable Youth Ministry. The book is a standard text in any intro to youth ministry curriculum and provides a lot of the basic structure and ideas behind a huge portion of youth ministries. Its basic premise is that youth ministry shouldn’t be done through the whims and impulses of whoever happens to be in charge. Youth ministry should have systems, structure, dense webs of relationships and accountability. It should be predictable, stable, and, yes, sustainable.

Over time working with churches, Mark has defined 17 systems that churches should have in place, to help ensure that young people have the support they need and youth pastors can lead well. He realized those systems work pretty well with big people churches, too. At Ministry Incubators, often some of the early work we do is a systems audit, where we engage with an organization by unpacking how many of these systems they have in place and how well they are functioning. 

One of the systems that sneaks up on people? The innovation system. Just like we recommend having systems in place for communication, volunteer recruitment, and finances, we recommend having a system for innovation in place. This can sometimes surprise people because they hear innovation and they tend to think of it happening when inspiration strikes (or when you’re so desperate that you don’t have another option). 

But we believe that innovation can be part of your ministries routines and rhythms the same way that any of your other work is, and having a team can help make that happen. How that rhythm works will vary by context of course, but there’s a few basic questions that you can ask to lead to building a rhythm that works for you:

  1. What time of year do we have the space to think about this? 

Many ministries run on an annual rhythm that has natural high and low seasons, and since innovation work is a bit more flexible than, say, Advent, you can place your focused innovation work at a time that works best for you and your team! As a youth pastor, this season tended to be February-April; after mid-winter retreats, and before Graduation season began, but that’s only because we didn’t have much of a role in Holy Week! So what time works for your ministry? When do you tend to have a little margin? Identify a season of at least 8 weeks that you’ll be able to think about innovation more intentionally. 

  1. Would my team work better with a sprint, a marathon, or a hybrid?

For an innovation team to do all the things we’ve talked about, from understanding context, to ideating, to planning prototypes, to reviewing feedback and making tweaks, they are going to have to meet pretty frequently. There’s a few options for how you can break up that workload: 

  • Sprint: you can meet every week for a season (something like 8-12 weeks), with team members doing independent work between meetings, and even having daily stand-ups during ideation and execution weeks. You would launch something, or change something at the end of the intensive season, and then the team would go on hiatus until the next year.
  • Marathon: you can do longer monthly meetings, with teams working as task forces in between meetings. This method works best if you have a team with a lot of accountability, who can work independently, which may be difficult if a team is just starting out. This is easier for people who have busy schedules but pace will be very slow. 
  • Hybrid: You can start with a high-intensity meeting schedule, such as a scrum sprint with daily stand-ups, a few weeks of weekly meetings, or even a half-day retreat. You then, once you have an idea that you want to start prototyping, move to less frequent meetings with team members working independently in-between. This is a popular model among many of those we partner with. 

There is no right or wrong answer here, as long as you find a rhythm that you can stick to. Annual rhythms of innovation will start to decalcify the stuck spots in your ministry and make innovation a fun, energizing, expected part of your routine, instead of a jarring shift in a new direction. Once you’ve landed on an annual rhythm and cadence of meetings, you have all the pieces you need to start! 

Building an innovation team can be one of the most fun, life-giving, spirit-filled things you do for your community, and for yourself as a leader. I have spent so much time talking about this because I can honestly say that if I hadn’t been forced to create an innovation team, I wouldn’t have, and that if I hadn’t made that team, and watched them work for two years, I wouldn’t be doing the work I do now. The idea that launched all of my work in ministry innovation didn’t come from me, it came from my team, and in particular, from a 14-year-old boy. The Spirit is at work, and is moving powerfully in your community, and the more ears you have listening, the better.

We’ll move on to other ideas next week, but thank you for hearing me out on this, and if you want help thinking through how to design, equip, and use your team, contact us, we’d love to hear from you. 

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Kat Bair

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