Below is summary of a webinar presented by The Church Network discussing the Project Thrive 7 Thriving Traits found in a congregational study conducted by Belmont in 2019. The webinar is part of a series that focuses on how congregations practice the thriving traits.

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Thriving Traits 2: Innovation

Defined by Project Thrive: born out of a joyful willingness to take risks

Bill Wilson, director of Center for Healthy Churches, introduces Cathy Hoop, Chuck Rush, and Charles Johnson. The three leaders share key stories of their experiences leading churches through innovative change.

Blending for Strength
Cathy Hoop is a Pastor of Grace Presbyterian in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She shares her experience of blending two congregations that didn’t have a lot in common.

Cathy shared powerful tips for merging as an innovative move for two congregations:

  • Have honest and difficult conversations during the process, without leaving tense situations. Leave conversations as siblings in Christ.
  • Cultivate lots of patience, love each other, and take your time.
  • No, really. Take your time! The merging church needed time for adjustments (female pastor, worshipping together, name changes)
  • Help congregations anticipate the change with communication.
  • Acknowledge the full range of emotions experienced in the midst of merging two congregations.
  • Build relationships: the real work began when the two churches moved in together, to build and mend relationships.

Grace Presbyterian is now a fully merged church committed to racial-justice activism and the welcoming of LGBTQ+ community.

Early Innovation
Chuck Rush is Senior Minister at Christ Church in Summit, New Jersey. Chuck shares two ways in which Christ Church chose innovation in early years, yielding the survival and thriving of their church today.

In 1994, Christ Church underwent a series of testimonials, trainings, and discussions before voting to bless same-sex unions in the church. The openness to being a welcoming church opened a door to also welcome interracial couples and multi-cultural families, which led to a diversified staff and leaders with different sexual orientations.

This became a focus for the church: optimizing the opportunity that became of Christ Church to develop sound-faith values and relationship development for families to navigate a world that is absolutely diversified outside the church walls.

In addition, Christ Church chose to join United Christ Church as it was a move towards non-denominational worship in the 1930s, a time where it was uncommon for First Baptist churches to lean towards that change.

The early decisions to be inclusive and to be a United Christ Church were two risk taking decisions that have not only kept the church from dying, but also thriving throughout the years.

Movements of Innovation
Charles Johnson is Pastor of Bread Fellowship, a public education advocate, and founder of Pastors for Texas Children. Charles shares two timelines, or frameworks for the work of innovation in congregations.

            The work of innovation

  • Spiritual: A mission or vision advances the will of God
  • Relational: Test imaginative conversations with other key leaders, “what would it be like to have a X, Y, Z church…?”
  • Congregational: A long-term process to cultivate a shift in values
  • Conciliatory: May create a lot of conflict, deep pastoral work to bring faith imagination to affirm people who are walls of “no’s” against change of culture

The timeline of innovation

  1. The unthinkable: never thought of this before
  2. The undoable: OK I see it, but it cannot be done here
  3. The unstoppable: enough people sign up, and momentum drives the work
  4. The unattributable: the likely success for which key leaders won’t receive the credit

Unlearning and Learning
Bill Wilson closes by asking the three leaders what they unlearned from being institutional-managers and what they learned now that they are movement ministers:

  • The leadership image and style changed from “do what I say” to being collaborative with the congregation
  • Found a strong voice as a female pastor to address powerful men in the church who are wrong or have a skewed idea of what justice looks like
  • Challenged the expected corporate idea of running a church as a business, and redirecting congregation towards spiritual envisioning

Watch the full Innovation webinar here.

Feel free to learn more about Grace Presbyterian Church, Christ Church, or Bread Fellowship.

Want to learn more about the 7 Thriving Traits? Access videos and shareable content!