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When Can I Innovate?

By Guest Contributor June 18, 2014

By Phil Bell

This is Part 2 of Phil’s post from last week, “It Takes Time.”

In my previous post, I talked about how easy it is to focus on the long road ahead instead of appreciating how far we have come in our ministries. We must understand and embrace this simple truth:

It takes time!

Today I want to add another dimension to that thought. When you’re hired to lead a youth ministry, how long should you wait until you start making changes? It depends on two things: the church culture and your relationships in the ministry.

1. Don’t make changes until you understand the culture.

Now, I am not talking about youth culture. I am talking about the culture of the church in which you are presently serving. It takes time to know and understand how the church runs, the people of influence, the history of successes, and the history of failures. Just like any kind of culture, it’s important to understand the ideas and values of people at our churches. And that may take awhile.

It’s tempting to come into a church with a ministry mindset and plan without considering the culture of the church. Missing this principle can break the health and success of a youth ministry. It is imperative that we acknowledge and understand the culture of the church and people we serve, instead of coming in with a plan and going straight to work.

Initially, it is helpful to build on something that exists and have a few visual successes that will build excitement and investment from students, parents, and leaders. This is a time to learn. Use this period to study the culture. You’ll build trust by holding off on any major changes. Form relationships and construct a vault of cultural understanding. Take a humble approach by admitting that you can learn from them before you impose any innovations.

Taking the time to understand a church’s culture can help us to:

1. Predict the challenges your changes will create so you can address them before you make them.

2. Select key people to carry your new vision.

3. Understand how slow or fast to move on certain innovations.

4. Keep your job, as crazy as it sounds. I have heard too many stories of leaders who took great ministry plans into their new churches but never succeeded because they did not listen to the culture first. For the majority of these leaders, it didn’t go well.

2. Don’t make changes until you’ve built relationships.

No ministry can function without one key ingredient: relationships. So when you’re new to a ministry and asking, How long should I wait before making innovations?, look at the relationships you’ve developed (or haven’t). Have you invested time and energy into building relationships with your church’s leadership and staff? Your volunteers? Parents? Student leadership? Other students, mainstays or new to the ministry? Unless you have invested time in relationships at each of these levels, you probably aren’t ready to make major changes. Relationships aren’t instantaneous. Like ministry in general, relationships need time to incubate and develop. But once they’ve grown roots, they’ll be a healthy foundation from which to build the changes you want to make.

The bottom line: It takes time to understand the culture of the church and build relationships. Don’t innovate until you’ve done these two things.

About the Author

Guest Contributor

The LeaderTreks Blog is proud to share the hard-earned wisdom of student ministry leaders from many different backgrounds and professions. From time to time, we will feature guest blog posts from writers other than our regular contributors. We include these posts to provide additional perspectives and insight that we’re sure will help develop you and your ministry…  Read More