As 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, I realized the problem is 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.
I decided to devote my life to helping the church tell better stories – through its technology, language, images and symbols, and so on. In my 20s, some friends and I experimented with telling the gospel story using screens in worship. But it was never just about technology. In my 30s, I taught churches how to design and implement more creative worship. But it was never just about worship design. Now, in my 40s, I am back in the local church, leading all of creativity and communications in one congreation’s life. But it’s not just about branding.
There’s a common foundation under each of these ventures, which is a need to find connection, or meaning.
We in the church expect people to understand our symbols.
The church’s big challenge is the 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. What makes it worse is that most of the time we don’t bother translating, because we don’t even realize we’re speaking a different language.
Largely, we lack creative thinking and action.
There’s an old Texas saying that goes, “If the horse is dead, dismount.”
The issue isn’t language per se. It’s the more fundamental problem of stagnant creativity.
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, the church makes 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.