Friday, November 17, 2006

Christensen & Innovation

There are many who think that all innovation in Christianity is essentially heresy. They are like the proverbial man who gets married hoping that his wife will not change.

I am of the opinion, however, that innovation is not only a good thing, but it is inevitable. What appears to be “holding the line” is innovation in disguise.

I don’t want to take the time or the space to make a detailed argument. Besides, it would all be a waste of effort. Those who are opposed to all innovation will not be persuaded by anything I might say.

So I will address those who see innovation as good and even inevitable.

Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School, has written several books on innovation in business, The Innovator’s Dilemma, The Innovator's Solution & Seeing What’s Next. These are primarily focused on why some new products were successful and why others were not.

While I have been
quite vocal that the church should not be operated like a business, I do believe that we can use insights from all fields of learning within the church.

All truth is God’s truth, after all.

Christensen is not concerned with the process of coming up with ideas. He wants to know how to develop ideas into successful products or services.

Template for shaping disruptive ideas:
Target nonconsumption. Look for a set of consumers who are trying to get a job done, but because they lack the money or skill, a simple, inexpensive solution has been beyond reach.

Leverage the low performance hurdle. Since these new customers compare the disruptive product to having nothing at all, they are delighted to buy it even though it may not be as good as other products available.

Make it “foolproof.” Deploy technology not to make the product more sophisticated, but rather to make it as “foolproof” as possible so that customers with less money and little training on the product can begin using it.

Lock in and take over. As a new value network forms around the new consumer market, certain channel partners will come to depend on your product to fuel their own need for disruptive growth. In addition, consumers will begin to use the product in new venues. Over time, the disruptive product will improve in quality, attract more customers, and take over the leadership position in that category.
Here are a few other quotations from his books:

“When searching for ideas with disruptive potential, look for ways to help customers get done more conveniently and inexpensively what they are already trying to do. Don’t invent new problems for customers to solve—they won’t reprioritize what’s important in their lives just because your product is available.”

“The resources, processes, and values that allow your core business to thrive may well prevent great new ideas from succeeding.”

“Don’t assume that your initial strategy is the 'right' strategy for a potential disruption.”

“Be impatient for profits, but patient for growth. Demanding early profitability will save years of losses that come from pursuing the wrong strategy for a long time—and help your team hit upon a truly viable strategy more quickly.”
Those of you with a missional mindset will see applications right away. In fact, there are so many different ways to use these findings in pursuit of a missional agenda that I cannot even begin to list them all. Let me make just a few observations.

“Target nonconsumption.” Too many churches are trying to compete with other churches. They are trying to produce better and more diverse programs. In this situation the mega churches will always “win.” But our real competition is not other churches but the activities that people do instead of “church.” (I know this is over simplified. But those of you who "get it" understand my point. I don't have the space to explain it precisely to those who don't.)

“Don’t invent new problems for customers to solve.” People are already trying to get “jobs” done. The strategy for the church is to show people that Jesus is the solution for “problems” they are already trying to solve. Traditionally, churches have tried to convince people that they needed “church.” Most people do not think that they have a “lack of church” problem.

“Leverage the low performance hurdle.” If we truly target nonconsumption, then people will be comparing our “product” to nothing at all. The typical seeker-church strategy is to try to convince people that we are “just as good.” But what if the church becomes the channel through which people receive something they were unable to get before? What if the church becomes the agent through which God transforms their lives?

“Make it foolproof.” This has an obvious application to church planting.
Neil Cole advocates planting churches with as little structural, financial and leadership overhead as possible. Most attempts to start new churches require enormous investments of money and other resources. But that doesn’t seem to be the strategy that was used in the early church.

“Lock in and take over.” This is essentially what the early church did. It was very much a new market disruption. It was composed of the marginalized and ostracized. These people often became respectable. Then church became legalized in the Roman Empire. And before long we have Christendom. Now “the church” is the establishment.

Success kills off innovation. The very things that make an established church attractive to its members will prevent it from taking the risks that a start-up church is forced to take.

Strategy evolves. One of the important findings of Christensen’s research is that new businesses almost never get their strategy right in the beginning. But because they don’t have unlimited resources, the successful innovators are forced to test and refine their strategy. In the church we often confuse theology and methodology. Because our message is timeless, we assume that our methods will be as well.

“Be impatient for profits, but patient for growth.” This again applies to church planting. Most strategies try to build a big church right away. Instead we should seek to quickly establish a vital, self-sustaining church. Because the investment is low, we can afford to make more attempts. Because the resources are limited, the church planting team is forced to test all their assumptions quickly.

Christensen points out that established companies try to force innovations into their existing markets. In other words, they try to fashion the new idea to make it attractive to their existing customers. Ditto for the church. Pastors are pressured to “serve” their existing members. New ideas are evaluated on how well they will meet the needs of current members.

I hope that your brain is starting to spin with the implications of these ideas. I don’t have the luxury of spelling them all out in detail. I suspect it would require a full-length book to pull that off.

Maybe we can develop this further in the comments. Let me know what you think.

Pastor Rod

“Helping you become the person God created you to be”

Update: Comparison of some of these ideas with the words and actions of Jesus.


Echindod said...

Correct me if I am wrong, but for not thinking the church should be ran like a buisiness, this sure makes the gospel look like a product worth selling. Could we run any of these ideas through the filter of scripture?

Pastor Rod said...


First, thanks for stopping by and for taking the time to share your view.

I am aware that many will take it that way.

However, the post was rather long just trying to outline some of the more important observations made by Christensen.

Those with a missional mindset, I think, will be able to see how these findings can be used without treating the gospel as a product to be packaged and marketed.

Same goes for the "filter of Scripture." The first thing is to get this information on the table. The next step is to evaluate it in the context of Scripture.

(I plan a subsequent post to do just that.)

I know that some will say that we must "start with Scripture." Of course, we start with Scripture. But we must allow other sources to provide "provocations" that allow us to see things that we might never have seen before.


mark o wilson said...

Rod, this was an excellent post with good food for thought! Thanks.

Pastor Rod said...


Thanks for the kind words. This kind of stuff just makes my head spin thinking of all the implications.


Phil Perkins said...

Pastor Rod,
Have you ever thought of how Jesus treated His "customers?"

More to the point, why is it, in your opinion, that God's assembly for the past 4,000 years has never ever thought of the people it had to deal with were customers? Were Paul and Moses a little dull? Jesus didn't seem to get it either.

What gives?

In Christ,
Phil Perkins.

Pastor Rod said...


Thanks for stopping by.

I a little puzzled by your comments. I'm not clear what the nature of your disagreement is.

I am sure, however, that I never said that Paul or Moses were dull.

Is it your position that nothing new has been discovered since the time of Moses? Should churches become hyper-"Amish" and live with the same technology as 3500 years ago?

Is it really surprising that we might progress in our understanding of God? We claim to have a deeper understanding of Isaiah's prophecy than the people a century or two before Christ.

While Calvin and Luther claimed to find traces of their theology in the early Fathers, no one had formulated it as they did before them.

In any case, thanks for your contribution. If you would like to help me understand your objection a little better, I'd be happy to give you a more detailed response.

God Bless,


Phil Perkins said...

Are you really suggesting that we stoop to making "customers" of our friends and neighbors? Isn't that what Amway is for?

You said, "I am sure, however, that I never said that Paul or Moses were dull."

Yes, you did. The sky is pink. There I didn't say the sky is not blue, but I really did. You have disagreed with our Lord, who saw all people as lost sinners to bring to repentance. Not customers. The differences are insurmountable. The loving Lord loves the sinner. The business man loves himself and seeks to gain from the customer.

You said, "Is it your position that nothing new has been discovered since the time of Moses?"

Humm. Do you see anywhere that I wrote that? Purposeful mischaracterization is not an answer.

You said, "Should churches become hyper-"Amish" and live with the same technology as 3500 years ago?"

Umm, that's a good answer, too. So if I ask you to be biblical I'm Amish? Good thinking!

You said, "Is it really surprising that we might progress in our understanding of God?"

If we do that we fail to contend for the faith once delivered. Remember that Jude thing?

You said, "We claim to have a deeper understanding of Isaiah's prophecy than the people a century or two before Christ."

That's hardly like changing the entire doctrine of man, now isn't it?

You are not biblical in your thought process at all. And your response to someone who corrects you is to mischaracterize and do ad hominums.

The church will not be grown by any technique other than that given to it--witnessing. The reason the churches are stagnant is that no one is witnessing.

In Christ,
Phil Perkins.

Pastor Rod said...


I am suggesting nothing of the kind. I believe that one of the problems with the church in North America is the consumer mentality. I do not think that the church should be operated like a business. I do not think that a pastor should see himself as a CEO.

I’m not sure that you have a good grasp of what I’m saying. You seem to be reading things into my post that are not there: calling Paul & Moses dull, “disagreeing with our Lord.”

So your position is that if we “progress in our understanding of God” then we are “failing to contend for the faith once delivered”? Is it your contention that Matthew had a fully-developed understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity?

I have to inform you that you are completely wrong that I “purposefully mischaracterized” you. I understand that you see yourself as an expert on the true meaning of Scripture, but I happen to have a slight advantage in knowing the thoughts that were going through my mind when I wrote those words. I was simply trying to refine my understanding of your position.

I don’t see how you get the idea that I’m “changing the entire doctrine of man.” I do understand that we have different ideas about what that doctrine is. But I also know that there is a range of positions held by intelligent, spirit-filled students of the Bible.

What makes my thought process unbiblical? Is it because I don’t begin with the same assumptions as you do? Is it because I end up with different conclusions than you do?

How did you get appointed to “correct” me? How exactly did I come under your authority?

Here’s the wikipedia article on ad hominem. You might want to review it. It doesn’t help your position to make uninformed charges. When someone disagrees with you, it may feel like a personal attack, but it’s not. And it certainly is not a fallacy.

I’m curious what your understanding is of the “biblical technique” witnessing.

Using the phrase “In Christ” at the end of your comments does not make them in Christ. That comes from exhibiting a Christlike attitude. And that is characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

I do appreciate you giving me the opportunity to practice what Jesus taught us to do in Matthew 5:44. I’m still working on having the attitude of Christ Jesus.

May God bless you and cause his grace to abound in your life.


Phil Perkins said...

You said, "What makes my thought process unbiblical?"

I don't care to speculate. I will give you some examples, though. First, you suggest that we treat our fellow man like a customer. Second, you think that theological innovation is good, counter to the sufficiency of Scripture and the call to faithfully proclaim the gospel the same as was first delivered to the assembly. Third, when you are faced with a Scripture or scriptural principle by a brother, you deny the priesthood of all believers by saying you can't be corrected because of authority issues. Fourth, you say all truth is God's truth, but you forget the truth that God gave us about not changing the doctrine once delivered. Fifth, you speak of being missional, not evangelistic (there is a difference.) Sixth, you fail to obey the scriptural command for doctrinal purity by defending heretics. Seventh, you compare biblical truth to an aging wife. (Close to blasphemy, since it is the word of God of which you speak--If you are ashamed of Me and My words, I will be ashamed of you...) Eighth, you insist that theological innovation is inevitable, but Solomon said it will only be a rehash of what has already occured under the sun. Ninth, you reject the notion of logic with statements like this one: "What appears to be “holding the line” is innovation in disguise." (The rejection of the laws of logic is the rejection of a basic biblical epistemology.) Tenth, you insist that theological innovation is "a good thing" without qualification. (I could innovate and say God is a an Irish gnome with yellow teeth and a hooked nose and you are his daughter-in-law. There--tell me how good that is.) Eleventh, you change the doctrine of salvation. Twelfth, you deny the total depravity of man (no one seeks after God.)

Twelve is good for starters.

You said, "I have to inform you that you are completely wrong that I “purposefully mischaracterized” you."

Oh? Was it and accident? Did the cat jump and walk across the keyboard and just happen to hit the right keys in the right sequence?

Actually, to mischaracterize purposefully is to misrepresent someone or something for a reason. To intentionally lie about them. You implied heavily with a rhetorical question that if one disagreed with the idea of theological innovation, one was like the Amish. This is purposefully lying. You knew that your readers have computers. The Amish do not. You lied to denigrate anyone who disagreed with you even before they had the chance to do so. Or were you un aware that your readers were not Amish? And that some who disagree with you may be even more sophisticated than either you or I?

In trying to back track, you said, "I happen to have a slight advantage in knowing the thoughts that were going through my mind when I wrote those words."

Oh, but I read those words. And my eyes are working just fine.

Finally, you said, "I am suggesting nothing of the kind. I believe that one of the problems with the church in North America is the consumer mentality. I do not think that the church should be operated like a business. I do not think that a pastor should see himself as a CEO."

Nice back track. But if this is not a fabrication to suit the moment, why did you use the rest of your comment to suggest that innovation is good and that those who wish to preserve the gospel in purity are obscurantists?

Not buyin' a word,
Phil Perkins.

Pastor Rod said...


I'm not selling anything, so you don't need to feel any pressure to buy anything.

If you'll pay a little closer attention, you'll see that the first paragraph contains links to previous posts in which I made my point quite clear.

A friendly word of advice: if my words disturb the stability of your black-and-white world, then keep your blood pressure low by not reading them.

Don't read into this a request to quit posting here. You do me a valuable service. You give me much-needed practice in "blessing those who curse you."

Besides you make my position look even stronger with your naive tirades.

May God bless you and fill your life with his goodness.


Phil Perkins said...

I apologize all over myself. Really. How could I have missed your point so? I'm absolute giddy with realization.

Now I understand. I'm "naive," as you say. And you're really, really smart, in contrast with anyone who may be so "Amish" as to ever disagree with you.

Thank you SO MUCH for the godly, biblical, and very reasoned answers.

I can go on with my life now.

Ever grateful,
Phil Perkins.

Phil Perkins said...
This comment has been removed by the author.