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  • Writer's pictureRyan Panzer

Book Review: "The Innovative Church" by Scott Cormode

We need innovation in the church. Everyone knows it. Increasingly, everyone says it.

But what does "innovation" actually mean in the church? Is it just solving old problems with new methods? Is it solving new problems with processes from the worlds of business and technology? Or might it be something else?

Scott Cormode addresses these questions in more his highly practical, accessible guide to innovation, "The Innovative Church: How Leaders and their Congregations Can Adapt in an Ever-Changing World."

Check out the video review from our YouTube channel, or read below for more on this book!

"Christian innovation cannot be exactly like secular innovation, yet Christians can learn from secular innovators."

I would describe Cormode's work as a must-read for churches who know they need to change. It features practical models that align with innovation best practices of the corporate world, yet are skillfully adapted for church contexts. For example, Cormode pays specific attention to "Human-Centered Design," a process similar to Design Thinking. In his descriptions of the process, Cormode instructs the church leader on how to brainstorm, prune, prototype, and test with an emphasis on the Spirit's work in a context.

I was particularly drawn to the book's emphasis on practices and narrative. The objective of Christian innovation is not the pursuit of relevance, nor is it an attempt to attract young people. In order to reach "the smartphone generation," we don't need to invent something from scratch. With innovation, we're not trying to create new things, launch new programs, or start a new marketing campaign.

Instead, we're trying to reintroduce a timeless identity, to reshare an ancient narrative. With innovation, we reimagine the traditions of the faith for a contemporary context. Christian innovation is fundamentally connected to the historical practices of the faith: prayer, lament, hospitality, generosity, and others. For Cormode, the Christian innovator skilfully initiates the processes of discernment and human-centered design in the context of traditional practices. The result of this process is a set of new approaches to ancient practices that "make spiritual sense" of the "longings and losses" in our world.

Cormode's work is theologically grounded in the action of God. It is ultimately God who acts, God who creates. As innovators, we are here to water, to nurture, to give thanks for the ways in which God is always speaking a renewing word of life into this world. As leaders, it is not our task to come up with brilliant ideas. It is our calling to discern what God is up to, to listen to the longings and losses of our community, and to empathize. Joined together with the ceaseless creative work of the triune God, our innovative work may yet resonate with an ailing and divided world.


@ryanpanzer is the author of "Grace and Gigabytes"

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