Limitation Breeds Innovation

The limits are high right now, but so are the possibilities.

What do you picture when you hear the word innovation? I used to picture a Google-esque open floor plan littered with Ivy League grads. Some are sitting on yoga balls. In one corner a team is gathered around a glass whiteboard having a dream session. Others are perched at large tables, AirPods in, sipping cappuccinos with a smile as they pound away at the keys and stare off for inspiration. What a perfect ecosystem to nurture innovation, right?

But now I picture something much different. I see the face of a woman I met in Nicaragua. With just a small pile of charcoal and a large kettle, she boiled, mashed and smoothed corn into cornmeal that she would dry and sell every day. I watched her transform a basic resource into a living for her family with very little. Innovation does not come from excess—it comes from limitation.

The story you tell yourself about innovation is crucial. If you believe it is reserved for well-funded grads at a tech agency or a large multisite church that can build new buildings at will, you will believe you do not get to play. You’ll count yourself out before you’ve created new things for your church and the world. We need to tell ourselves a new story about innovation, because the church in North America must innovate right now. The limits are high right now, but so are the possibilities.

Innovation is about bringing new solutions into the world, which means innovation is born from problems, not resources. Churches are ripe for innovation. This is a broken wineskins moment. Programs that used to work are not working now. People who used to participate in the life of a church with no questions asked are asking big questions. Online participants are wondering whether they should reenter physical church community again or for the first time. Many in our communities are suffering and need the life Jesus brings, but are guarded and jaded.

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Innovation is not for the elite—it’s for the limited. We discovered our limitations in the last year personally and organizationally. But we reinvented, stretched, changed and tried new things. Some ideas flopped, others filled a momentary gap and others are here to stay. We discovered some new ways to communicate to, care for, and cultivate disciples amid the complexity.

What will we look back and say about this season? I hope we say how many things were born and how many risks we took. Business owner friends remind me of the changes they made after the last economic crash. They didn’t shift because they wanted to, but because they had to. For this church, this is our moment.

Now is the time to experiment our way forward. Try new things with permission for them to fail. Make small bets with an open mind. The limits you’re facing right now may be the best opportunity you’ve had in a long time.

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