s a preacher’s kid, I spent countless hours roaming the halls of my father’s church buildings, looking for something to do. I was around church, but I never really connected with it. The language and symbols of the church confused me.
As I got older, my confusion gave way to frustration and then embarrassment over the inability of the church to communicate. I came to follow Christ, but many of my best experiences of the Word and of Christian community happened not within the usual worship and gathering rituals in the church, but outside of the church, such as with a small group of brothers in a Bible study on my college campus. It seemed to me that the church has the best story, but it is rarely told.
Deeply bothered, I decided to devote my life to helping the church be more creative and more effective in its ability to tell the story – through its technology, language, images and symbols, and so on.
In my 20s, some friends and I experimented with telling the gospel story visually, using new digital technology. That experience, at Ginghamsburg Church in Ohio, helped launch the era of screens in worship as well as my first two books, The Wired Church and Digital Storytellers. But it was never just about technology in worship for me.
In my 30s, I taught churches how to design and implement more creative worship, using metaphor, image, team dynamics, and so on. My work with Jason Moore through our company Midnight Oil Productions led to several more books and helped thousands of churches produce more creative experiences of God in worship. But it was never just about creative worship design for me.
Now, in my 40s, I am back in the local church, leading all of creativity and communications in one congreation’s life. I oversee digital, visual and print technology, worship’s visual components, and all church wide marketing and advertising. And while branding is large part of what I do, it’s not just about church marketing for me.
There’s a common foundation under each of these ventures – a need to find connection, or meaning. A need to overcome esoteric and off-putting language, symbols and experiences that prevent people from experiencing the life changing power of Christ. And it doesn’t matter if worship consists of guitar-led choruses instead of organ-led hymns, or offer seats and coffee instead of pews. People can be confused in any sort of setting.
I think a lot of our problem has to do with the fact that we lack new creative ideas and innovations.
There’s an old Texas saying that goes, “If the horse is dead, dismount.”
All organizations tend to ride dead horses, and need innovators to do the hard work of raising up new horses. I want to help the church innovate. However – and this is the problem – the church, I believe, is worse when it comes to riding dead horses. In addition to the natural human bias against new things, we make it worse because we ordain our old ideas holy. They’re just ideas for a time and space, but we make them sacred and unassailable, or at least allow this to happen without question.
All of those confusing phrases and images I heard as a kid were simply creative ideas from a previous era that we the church rode until they died.
What the church needs is to set about the business of making new ideas. New horses. And not just once more – but in perpetuity.
We need to create an environment where people are free to create, try new ideas out, and discover what resonates with people, both outside of and inside the walls.
What we need in the church is a culture of creativity and innovation.