To be effective, innovation requires focus. Generally, the discussion of innovation has focused on developing business and technology advances. Let us consider what innovation means when we apply it to spreading the gospel to the corners of the world.

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A good place to start is to use Lausanne’s integral mission as a focus. The Cape Town Commitment says:

“Integral mission means discerning, proclaiming, and living out, the biblical truth that the gospel is God’s good news, through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for individual persons, and for society, and for creation. All three are broken and suffering because of sin; all three are included in the redeeming love and mission of God; all three must be part of the comprehensive mission of God’s people.”[1]

The follower of Jesus has three interconnected obligations regarding the biblical gospel: to discern, proclaim, and live out.

From this definition of integral mission we can say that the follower of Jesus has three interconnected obligations regarding the biblical gospel: to discern, proclaim, and live out. The believer does these in three integrated contexts of mission: individual lives, society, and creation.

This is still a broad area of application for innovation, but it will serve well for this article.

Innovation: what does it mean?

There is a lot written about innovation. A quick search for books on Flipkart and Amazon shows over 76,000. In fact, a survey of academic literature came up with 41 different definitions of innovation.[2] So, if innovation seems a bit overwhelming, it is. Larry Keeley says it so well in his book about innovation and the discipline of building breakthroughs: ‘Through overuse, misuse, hype, and enthusiasm, the word innovation has essentially lost its meaning. We often confuse the outcome and process, and we describe everything in breathless terms.’[3]

As with all things, we need to pick a direction and move forward. So, let me explain how I see innovation best fitting with integral mission. Most things written on innovation come from business and technology. The newer area of social innovation is also exploding. Integral mission shares some aspects of these industries but with emphasis on personal and societal transformation:

  • Business and technology’s simple definition of innovation supplies part of the answer: ‘the creation of a viable new offering.’[4]
  • The rest of the definition can be found in one offered for social innovation: ‘the creation and implementation of new solutions to social problems.’[5]

From these we can construct one definition that fits our mission: Innovation for integral mission is the creation of sustainable new solutions to the problems faced in discerning, proclaiming, and living out God’s good news for individual persons, societies, and creation.

Mission innovation is the creation of sustainable new solutions to the problems facing the integral mission of the church.

Or, to keep it short: Mission innovation is the creation of sustainable new solutions to the problems facing the integral mission of the church.

Keep in mind that these behaviors and contexts are all intertwined. As The Cape Town Commitment says, our ‘proclamation [evangelism] has social consequences as we call people to love and repentance in all areas of life. And our social involvement has evangelistic consequences as we bear witness to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ.’[6]

The word ‘sustainable’ in this definition may cause some confusion. It indicates the difference between an intuitive idea and an innovation. Sometimes you just know something is right or you have a great idea without the need for analysis or planning.[7] That is wonderful. What makes that insight an innovation is when it becomes able to maintain itself over time.

If someone sitting in a very poor part of São Paulo births an idea on how to get reputable and reliable dentists to serve the people, that is wonderful, but until dentists are actually serving the people on a regular basis, it remains an intuitive idea and not an innovation.

Learning from innovation industries

With the definition in hand let us look at some features of the social innovation and business/technology innovation industries. The goal is to learn from them and apply what is helpful to our ministries.

writing-at-desk

Areas of innovation

In an article in the Swedish, Journal of Systems and Software, the authors say there are four general areas for innovation: products, processes, markets, and organizations.[8] The Brazilian journal, Revista de Administração Mackenzie, recently published a special edition dedicated to exploring social innovation. They broadly define social innovation to include similar areas: new products and services, and new social, organizational, and institutional arrangements.[9] An almost endless list could be made of the kinds of innovations that are happening. However, it is no surprise that there is innovation in mission since hints at innovation can be seen in the biblical record since Genesis.[10]

Here is a short list of missions innovations. They are in four categories: products, services, processes, and organizations. See the endnotes for more information about them.

icon-products Products:

  • Simply the Story materials.[11]
  • BibleBox, a device which enables the sharing of digital wifi Bible and discipleship resources on its own wifi network.[12]

icon-services Services:

  • Jesus.net’s service.[13]
  • Disciple Making Movements training.[14]
  • Environmental restoration ministries A Rocha’s Asian elephant conservation in India.[15]

icon-processes Processes:

  • Accelerated Bible translation — Wycliffe Associates developed ‘a process that facilitates Bible translation just as quickly for oral languages as it does for written ones’.[16]
  • Software and Community-Empowered Bible Translation.[17]
  • Jesus.net’s process to help people move from internet contact to local church participation.[18]

icon-organization Organizations:

  • Improving organizational performance by including more women in leadership in organizations.[19]
  • Betel’s ministry to bring long-term freedom and restoration to lives broken by addictions.[20]
  • Scatter Global, a twist on Market Place Ministries. ‘Go forth and take your job with you.’ A community of believers that helps professionals go to the most unreached marketplaces of the world.[21]
  • Fresh Expressions, ‘a new form of church for a fast-changing world that serves those outside the existing church, listens to people and enters their culture, makes discipleship a priority and intentionally forms Christian community.’ Mostly in the UK, it is also in other European countries and the Americas.[22]
  • Eden Vigil, an environmental missions project of Christar. ‘Environmental missionaries are those sent cross-culturally to labor with Christ in caring for the environment and making disciples among all peoples.’[23]
  • Social Justice organizations like the International Justice Mission.[24]

Challenges in innovation

It takes prayer, planning, and hard work to turn an intuitive idea into an integral mission innovation or startup.

The odds are against you

Sadly, not all attempts at innovation succeed. In Larry Osborn’s book, Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret, he says that most innovations and new ventures fail. In fact, Neil Patel writes in Forbes that 90 percent of startups fail in the first year.[25] Although this may not be completely true of ministry and mission startups, the reality highlights our need to pray well. It takes prayer, planning, and hard work to turn an intuitive idea into an integral mission innovation or startup.

Social transformation is uncertain

Will your holistic ministry in the social sector bring gospel transformation to society? The results are not clear. An examination of over 1,000 diverse social innovations around the world concluded that ‘the relationship between social innovation and social change remains a largely under-explored area.’[26] However, other researchers have found that groups of people with ‘changed, alternative social practices and lifestyles, are the basis and relevant drivers of transformative social change.’[27] This gives hope. It is exactly what believing in Jesus creates. Social transformation will improve through continued holiness and prayer, together with measuring the changes in a society that result from ministries focused on integral mission.

Integral Mission’s obligation of discernment

At the beginning of this article we saw that one obligation of integral mission was to discern the biblical truth that the Gospel is God’s good news. There are many facets to the Gospel. These include being made in God’s image, sin, shame, love, reconciliation, humility, understanding, the reality of a Jewish Jesus during the Roman occupation of Israel, and much more.

What is good news for one culture might never enter into the heart or mind of another culture. One culture might bask in the wonder of being created in God’s image while another feels shame about individual sins. How do we innovate with these things? How do we discern this so that we can create materials for evangelism? Do we innovate services or ways of living out the gospel?

Deeper thinking, deeper spirituality, and more profound love are required. Those who think deeply about these things are not always the ones who turn insight into innovation. Those who innovate do not always spend weeks and months in deep thought about these things. We need to work together for the sake of the gospel. Thinkers should encourage doers, and doers encourage thinkers.

reading-bible

The Lean Startup methodology can help you

You can help your innovation succeed by using the Lean Startup methodology.[28] One example of this is the social innovation Give Her Life (GHL)—a startup organization that seeks to prevent gendercide, when a family kills or aborts a daughter because of a cultural and economic preference for sons.[29] This practice is widespread through East and South Asia.

Although numerous actors in the social sector have been working to prevent sex selection for several decades, the practice has proved to be extremely complex and nearly immune to interventions. India has been a hot spot for gendercide; so Give Her Life originally focused on developing small-scale services there. However, they encountered substantial ecosystem challenges, including a political climate that is currently very hostile to civil society[30].

This resulted in an organizational pivot. GHL refocused on the East and South Asian population surrounding their home office in Los Angeles, and discovered that gendercide is equally prevalent in these populations. This pivot took advantage of a healthier ecosystem for change and allowed GHL to maximize their unique contribution. Given the complexity of the problem and the lack of proven intervention methods, it has been critical to focus on short-cycle learning and responding with adept pivots that the Lean Startup methodology describes.

The call of the gospel requires more divergent, more creative, more innovative, and deeper thinking, planning, and action.

Conclusion

Innovation for integral mission is the creation of sustainable new solutions to the problems faced in discerning, proclaiming, and living out God’s good news for individual persons, societies, and creation. The call of the gospel requires more divergent, more creative, more innovative, and deeper thinking, planning, and action in order to spread the gospel to the corners of the world.

Other places to look for help:

For addressing complex social problems:

  • Zaid Hassan, The Social Labs Revolution: A New Approach to Solving Our Most Complex Challenges (San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2014).
  • David Peter Stroh, Systems Thinking For Social Change: A Practical Guide to Solving Complex Problems, Avoiding Unintended Consequences, and Achieving Lasting Results (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015).

For Social/Spiritual Entrepreneurship:

  • David Bornstein, How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, updated edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).
  • Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim, The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century Church (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2012).

Innovation:

  • Larry Keeley, et al, Ten Types of Innovation: The Discipline of Building Breakthroughs (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2013).
  • Tom Kelley and Jonathan Littman, The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO’s Strategies for Beating the Devil’s Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization (New York: Currency/Doubleday, 2005).

Endnotes

  1.  The Cape Town Commitment, Lausanne Movement (2011), I.7.A, https://www.lausanne.org/content/ctc/ctcommitment.
  2. Henry Edison, et al, ‘Towards Innovation Measurement in the Software Industry,’ Journal of Systems and Software 86 (May 2013) 5: 1394. doi:10.1016/j.jss.2013.01.013.
  3. Larry Keeley, et al, Ten Types of Innovation: The Discipline of Building Breakthroughs (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2013), 4.
  4. Ibid., 5
  5. Paul Tracey and Neil Stott, ‘Social Innovation: A Window on Alternative Ways of Organizing and Innovating,’ Innovation 19 (December 2016) 1: 51. doi:10.1080/14479338.2016.1268924.
  6. The Cape Town Commitment, Lausanne Movement (2011), I.10.B, https://www.lausanne.org/content/ctc/ctcommitment.
  7. Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (New York: Back Bay Books, 2007) is a great book discussing the intuitive idea or creative leap.
  8. Edison, et al, ‘Towards Innovation Measurement,’ 1394-95.
  9. Social innovation is broadly defined as the emergence of new social, organizational and institutional arrangements or new products and services designed to address aspirations, to meet needs, or to bring about a solution to a social challenge.’ Claudia Bitencourt, et al, ‘Introduction to Special Edition on Social Innovation: Researching, Defining and Theorizing Social Innovation,’ RAM, Revista de Administração Mackenzie, 17 (2016) 6: 14.
  10. Innovation and social innovation have been happening since the beginning of the societies described in the book of Genesis. For products, Genesis 4:21-22 tells of Jubal who was ‘the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes’ and Tubal-Cain who ‘forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron.’ The innovation of new building techniques in Genesis 11 using ‘brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar’ was applied poorly in the building of the Tower of Babel but they were new techniques. When Joseph, a follower of God, was given success by God he started ‘social services’ for the government of Egypt to save it and his family from famine. For organizations, we have to jump to 1 Chronicles 4:21 (NRSV) which says that some of the descendants of Shelah, son of Judah, were ‘families of the guild of linen workers’ and others were potters. Social innovations came from God in the book of Leviticus. Here God outlines how social norms should be formed for the caring of the poor, the maintaining of land ownership, and how the year of jubilee was to function. These laws were in many ways different from those of the peoples living around them. There are also examples in the New Testament of people giving of themselves and caring for the needy like the Apostles in Acts 6, Dorcas in Acts 9, and the Apostle Paul’s collection for the poor mentioned in Acts 24 and Romans 15.
  11. Simply the Story, accessed May 13, 2017, http://simplythestory.org/oralbiblestories/ .
  12. BibleBox, accessed October 31, 2015, http://biblebox.org/.
  13. Jesus.Net, n.d., https://jesus.net/.
  14. Cityteam IDisciple. n.d., https://idisciple.cityteam.org/.
  15. ‘Asian Elephant Conservation,’ A Rocha, accessed May 12, 2017, http://www.arocha.in/projects/asian-elephants/.
  16. ‘Press Release,’ Wycliffe Associates,’ n.d. https://www.wycliffeassociates.org/who-we-are/for-the-press/press-release/665.
  17. ‘A New Era in Bible Translation: Sovee Smart Engine & Community-Empowered Translation’, Mission Frontiers, (September-October 2015), accessed March 22, 2017, http://www.missionfrontiers.org/issue/article/a-new-era-in-bible-translation.
  18. ‘Jesus.Net Ministry Process-Defined,’ Jesus.Net, n.d., https://jesus.net/jesus-net-ministry-process-defined/.
  19. One area of potential social innovation that has been gaining some attention in the last few years is the participation of women in mission and mission leadership. Leanne M. Dzubinski, ‘Innovation in Mission: Women Workers in the Harvest Force,’ Evangelical Missions Quarterly 46 (2010) 2: 150-56. Including more women in leadership is an organizational innovation already gaining attention in business because of the improved organizational performance. Some mission agencies are beginning to take note of this and include women in their leadership teams as well. When we look at the least-reached people around the globe, many are women with little access to education or technology, living in isolated rural areas with little access to the gospel. Shawna Warner, et al, ‘Justice Meets Justification: Women’s Need for Holistic Ministry in World Mission,’ Missiology 45 (2016) 1: 67-87.
  20. ‘Betel Life,’ Betel International, n.d., http://betel.org/our-program/betel-life/.
  21. Scatter Global, accessed May 13, 2017, https://www.scatterglobal.com/.
  22. ‘Growing Church,’ Fresh Expressions, accessed May 13, 2017, http://www.freshexpressions.org.uk/.
  23. ‘Eden Vigil Home,’ Eden Vigil, n.d., http://www.edenvigil.org/.
  24. ‘International Justice Mission,’ International Justice Mission, n.d., http://www.ijm.org.
  25. Neil Patel, ‘90% Of Startups Fail: Here’s What You Need To Know About The 10%,’ Forbes. n.d., http://www.forbes.com/sites/neilpatel/2015/01/16/90-of-startups-will-fail-heres-what-you-need-to-know-about-the-10/.
  26. Jürgen Howaldt, et al, ‘Social Innovation: Towards a New Innovation Paradigm,’ RAM, Revista de Administração Mackenzie, 17 (2016) 6: 28, doi:10.1590/1678-69712016/administracao.v17n6p20-44.
  27. Ibid., 38.
  28. Eric Ries, The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, 1st ed. (New York: Crown Business, 2011).
  29. Give Her Life’s website is http://www.giveherlife.org/.
  30. A general article about NGOs in India getting shut down:  http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/fcra-licences-of-20000-ngos-cancelled/articleshow/56203438.cms Some of the big NGOs that have been shut down and have been in the news are Compassion International and the Public Health Foundation of India, which is the largest public health NGO in India, largely funded by the Gates Foundation
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Paul Dzubinski is Director of the RDW Launch Lab, the innovation lab of Frontier Ventures. He has been serving diaspora peoples for many years and has done church planting in Europe. He currently resides in Los Angeles with his wife.

  • To move from Matthew 28:18 & 19 to the full gospel intent of Matthew 28:20, and to overcome remaining barriers to Matthew 24:14 certainly requires far greater innovation in mission. The work of the Greatest Century of Mission (dr. Peter Hammond) is in need of innovative follow-up and follow-through. Too much is being repeated or is falling apart, falling through, falling away and falling into decay while massive mission movements glory in comfortable boardroom or conference theory, – leaving a sprinkling of real-time missionaries to try and achieve the impossible by repetitive missionary process, listless congregations and working in sometimes over-reached areas. We seem to have some difficulty in effective, Gospel focused, international church and missionary cooperation in some hard-to-reach areas and hard-to-sustain regions such as central Africa, the eastern DR Congo and the Congo River region. When our Messiah from Nazareth returns after so many years of church and mission opportunity, our Christian missions report before the Throne needs to be a reliable report, worthy of praise. The Good News of the Kingdom still goes out in a very small proportion compared to those in the pews and boardrooms, while many congregations and new church plants fail to salt, light and Kingdom-yeast towards inspiration, good purpose and lasting fruit into all the surrounding community. Thank you for this resource and for the ongoing work at Lausanne.

  • DerekSeipp

    Would love to add my voice to your list. Innovation is essential if we are to finish the task.
    https://www.amazon.com/Innovation-World-Mission-Framework-Transformational-ebook/dp/B01M1RZAF8

    • paul dzubinski

      Derek, I really enjoyed your book. I thought that your focus on future planning was great. I noticed too late that I had accidentally left out your book in the list innovation book list. It should have been there. Thank you so much for including a link to it on Amazon. I can also be found on sale here from the publisher: https://missionbooks.org/products/detail/innovation-in-world-mission