Planning to copy what’s worked elsewhere? Step back a little. Might God have something even better in mind? God is into innovation. So here’s how to develop a fresh idea.




How can you discover a practical way to love people round you?

Pray that God will stretch your imagination.

Don’t just copy what others have done. God is into innovation – watch the video! So be ready for God to show you something fresh.

Be prepared to innovate!

Innovation changes ‘the rules of the game’ for doing something – either radically or incrementally.

Your practical love could change the rules of the game for what happens round you – in a small way or more dramatically.

Whether small or radical, innovation involves six overlapping processes.

  1. Dissatisfaction

Holy or prophetic discontent is vital.

You would not start anything new unless you were dissatisfied with what exists. The status quo is not working properly, or it could be so much better.

That was Caroline’s experience. She was a school teacher in north-west London. Around her were a growing number of people from ethnic minority backgrounds.

She felt frustrated because her local church had so little contact with this changing population. Her discontent fuelled her determination to do something about it.

The old must be revealed as inadequate before the new is born.

  1. Exploration

Caroline began to explore how her church might make connections with its new neighbours.

She started with what she’d got.

  • Who was she? A primary school teacher.
  • What did she know? That many of her children’s mothers could not speak English well. She also knew how to teach. Could she use her teaching skills to help these women learn better English?
  • Who did Caroline know? People in the church who might be willing to help her.

She kept thinking of different possibilities until she hit on the idea of a language cafe – invite the women to an English afternoon tea, sit them round tables, and encourage them to discuss a topic in English.

Caroline didn’t waste time coming up with ideas beyond her resources. Nor did she try something outside her expertise. She built on what she knew.

Then she tried the idea on others, listened to their responses, and launched an experiment.

  1. Sense-making

Caroline told stories to make sense of what she was doing.

Eventually, she told three stories:

  • To her church: “For over a hundred years we’ve supported overseas mission. Overseas is now on our doorstep. What are we going to do about it?”
  • To the mothers: “Welcome to this part of London. You are invited to an English afternoon tea, where you can learn English.”
  • To herself: “In Jesus, God went out to people. We’re trying something similar.”

Think about this: People follow stories rather than leaders.

So be intentional about your stories!

Listen carefully to the groups you’re in touch with, discover what they are into and craft different, but consistent, stories that connect with their priorities.

  1. Amplification

When a story grabs people’s imagination, it spreads and motivates people to get involved. It amplifies.

Perhaps one of Caroline’s mothers said, “Have you heard there’s a free afternoon tea on Thursday and they’re going to help us learn English? Would you like to come?”

It was a good story and people came.

So develop a compelling story. Try it out on people. See how they react. And change it to meet their reservations. Keep doing this until your story gets an enthusiastic response.

Don’t forget “persons of peace” (Luke 10.6)!

They know lots of people and will retell your story to them.

Find someone with plenty of contacts, tell a story that engages them, and your story will spread like wildfire.

  1. Edge of chaos

Edge of chaos is the boundary between order and chaos.

Too much order, and you get stuck in a rut. Too much change, and your community becomes chaotic; people can’t cope.

Don’t let your new Christian community become too orderly. If it does, it may become stale and miss out on new opportunities.

Caroline’s could have settled into an unchanging weekly routine – welcome people, serve tea, encourage guests to discuss a topic in English, clear up afterwards.

But Caroline wanted more. She kept herself on the edge of chaos.

Through a surprise conversation, she and her team decided to set up a prayer board.

The women pinned prayer requests to the board and discussed them. This raised the cafe’s spiritual temperature and helped pave the way for a separate Alpha course for the cafe’s guests.

The cafe moved forward because Caroline kept seeking more.

  1. Transformation

Innovation changes those involved.

  • Some of Caroline’s mothers attended the Alpha course and continued to meet for Bible study.
  • Her volunteer helpers became more confident.
  • So did Caroline. Before starting the cafe, she saw herself as someone in the pews with gifts. Afterwards, she saw herself as having the ability to lead something new.
  • Her local church gained confidence in mission. This helped it to start a Messy Church and a debt counselling centre.

Innovation need not threaten tradition. It can enable a tradition to express itself in new ways.

  1. The innovator’s mindset

Dissatisfaction, exploration, sense-making, amplification, edge of chaos and transformation all overlap and apply to any type of innovation, large or small.

They comprise “the innovator’s mindset”, which you may prayerfully need to love people around you. It has these elements:

  • Feels dissatisfied with the status quo
  • Improvises
  • Sees “failure” as learning
  • Creates new stories
  • Seeks feedback from people round about
  • Embraces edge of chaos

This is very different to “the manager’s mindset”, which:

  • Facilitates the status quo
  • Sets objectives
  • Avoids mistakes
  • Works within the organisation’s story
  • Seeks permission from people higher up
  • Values certainty
  • Guides what exists

The bottom line? You need both, depending on the circumstances.


Mike Moynagh uses the first Messy Church to illustrate the processes of innovation.

Tim Lomax describes how he helped his local church become innovative.



Think prayerfully about the statement in the animation, “The kingdom of God is innovation on a cosmic scale.”

  • What excites you about it?
  • What challenges you?
  • What reservations do you have?

How might your answers influence your search for a way to love people round you?

Discuss one or more of the following

  1. What makes you dissatisfied about your context?
  2. What stands out for you about the process of exploration? What might your core team do differently as a result?
  3. How do you react to the statement, “People follow stories rather than leaders” (taken from the book Leading by Story by Vaughan S. Roberts and David Simms, SCM Press, 2017)?
  • What part does story-telling play in bringing about something new?
  • What stories are you starting to tell about your initiative?
  • What criteria would you use to decide whether they are good stories?
  • How might you improve your stories?
  1. In what situations are the innovators’ and managers’ mindsets most appropriate?
  • To which mindset do you and others in your core team most naturally gravitate?
  • What are your priority tasks in the coming months, and which of the two mindsets will you most need to fulfill them?
  • How can you make sure the two mindsets work together in doing these tasks?
  1. What question arising from this unit might you post on the fresh expressions-stories app (download it from Apple or from Google Play)?

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