Great innovations come from great questions. The quality of your ministry will be determined by the kind of questions you have the courage to ask yourself. If you don’t ask the right questions, you won’t get the right answers. If you don’t get the right answers, you won’t build the right strategy for your ministry. And, if you don’t have the right strategy, you’ll never get the results you hope for. It is critical for you to ask the right questions!
Asking the right questions is a skill you can develop. And you can get good at it. I want to suggest to you eight questions of innovation. These questions will help you innovate—no matter your area of ministry.
I call them the eight nations of innovation, but these nations aren’t geographic. They’re nations of imagination. I’ve used these exact questions to build Saddleback Church, the Purpose Driven Movement, The PEACE Plan, the Global PEACE Coalition and a number of other ministries.
1. Termination: What do I first need to stop?
You can have so many irons in the fire that you put out the fire. The great Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter used to call this creative destruction. One of my mentors, Peter Drucker, used to call it systematic abandonment. When the horse is dead, dismount. This is a real key to success.
Here’s an example: For many years at Saddleback Church, we had a midweek Bible study, and we had a thousand people coming each week. Despite that, we decided to end the Bible study. Why? We weren’t satisfied with a thousand people. So we decentralized the study material and funneled it into small groups. And so today, because we terminated our midweek service, we now have more than 32,000 people in small group Bible studies all the way from Santa Monica to San Diego. There are cities all across Southern California where Saddleback small groups meet. This never would have happened if we hadn’t asked the question, “What do we first need to stop?” Asking this question helped us see the necessity of terminating our midweek service.
2. Collaboration: How do we do it faster, how do we do it larger, how do we do it cheaper—with a team?
If you want to start a movement, you need a team. Your team can include paid staff, but the real path to success is to create a team of volunteers. One of the secrets of Saddleback’s growth is that we’ve mobilized thousands of volunteers. A few years back, during 40 Days of Community, our church fed every homeless person in Orange County. We fed 42,000 homeless people three meals a day for 40 days. We couldn’t have done it without volunteers working together as a team.
3. Combination: What could we mix together to create something new?
One way to innovate is to take two existing things and combine them together. Years ago we combined the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and the eight beatitudes of Jesus to create Celebrate Recovery. It’s now the official recovery program in 17 state prison systems, and used by tens of thousands of churches. More than 15,000 people at Saddleback have gone through Celebrate Recovery. Why? We combined two existing things and created something new and innovative.
4. Elimination: What part could we take out to make it simpler?
Software designers who are truly innovative ask this question. Steve Case, who founded AOL, says we always overestimate the amount of complexity people will put up with. So at Saddleback, we ask what we can take out to make things simpler. When I moved here to South Orange County in 1980, I was 25 years old. I was starting a church in a place where land was going for a million dollars an acre. I knew I’d need 50 acres someday, but until then, we eliminated our need for a building. We went 15 years and grew to more than 15,000 in attendance without a building. We used four different high schools, camps, banks, parks and tents. In the first 13 years of Saddleback Church, we used 89 different facilities in Orange County. We became one of the largest churches in America before we ever had a building.
5. Reconstitution: What has died, but we could bring it back to life in a new form?
Ask yourself, “What worked twenty years ago and died?” What great idea from the past could you bring back, but in a new format? For 2,000 years the Christian church has done systematic training. Catholics called it catechism. But a few years back, it had pretty much died. We reformatted systematic training for the Internet age, and we’ve had thousands go through it.
6. Rejuvenation: How could we change the purpose or motivation for doing it?
Sometimes changing the how and why makes all the difference. There are probably 1 billion health plans in America. So why did we start emphasizing biblical health through the Daniel Plan? We knew that for people to fulfill their God-given destiny, they needed to be healthy. We helped people change their motivation for both losing weight and exercising, and we changed the delivery system by having small groups work together to encourage one another to get healthy. Listen to this: In 2011, the Saddleback Church family lost an average of 4,000 pounds a day! Why? We provided a new motivation and created a new delivery system for dieting.
7. Illumination: How can we look at this in a new light?
When you’ve been working with something for a while, it’s hard to look at it with fresh eyes. I remember a number of years ago, our bathroom mirror cracked. Here was this big crack that went down the middle of the mirror, and it really bugged me at first. I told my wife, “We’ve got to change that.” Yet I didn’t. A couple of days later, I said, “That mirror really bugs me,” but again I didn’t change it. About six months later, it occurred to me I still hadn’t changed out the mirror because it no longer bugged me like it did at first.
We have an amazing adaptability. We just get used to stuff, and all of a sudden, we don’t see the problems anymore. We no longer see the critical issues like we should. So it takes some new eyes to come in and see what you need to do in a new and innovative way. Ask your congregation what they see. Ask them, “How could we do this in a different way?” Find out what innovations they suggest. And take a look at other churches and see how they do things differently from you.
8. Fascination: How could we make it more interesting?
Whatever you’re doing, try to figure out how you can make it more interesting or attractive. For instance, we wanted to create a sense of expectancy in our weekend services. We wanted our services to start with people sensing God in our midst and that lives were about to be changed. So we thought, “What would encourage this spirit of expectancy?”
We came up with several factors: having members praying for the services all week; having members praying during the services; having enthusiastic members bringing their unchurched friends to the service; having a history of life-changing services; music that celebrates the transformational nature of God; and a worship team that faithfully believes lives will be transformed during the service.
If you ask the right questions, they will lead you to the right answers. And the right answers will help you build a solid strategy for your ministry. Then believe that God will lead you to success.