Work and PlayDid you know that Gmail, Google Maps, Twitter, Slack, and Groupon were created as side projects by Google employees? Google allows 20% of their employees’ time (one full day every week) to be dedicated to side projects—anything that feeds the creativity, innovation, and fun new ideas that their individual employees might have. No approval by the higher ups is necessary to start working on a project on company time. (Note: Google has also faced an employee revolt in recent months over their alleged cooperation with federal agencies to crack down on immigration. Just because they may have something to teach us doesn’t mean we don’t have something to teach them!).

But, their creative work environment got me thinking. Our churches typically have a number of committees—Mission and Evangelism, Stewardship and Budget, Worship and Music, Justice and Peace, Education and Fellowship, and Building and Grounds. But I have never seen an actual Research and Development Committee in the church. Of course, if doesn’t mean that innovation isn’t happening within the present ecclesiastical structures of our churches, but it does reveal that innovation is not so important that it gets its own special committee!

bubblesRecently our presbytery has adopted an increased emphasis on creativity and “trying new things” in something I am delightfully calling our Innovation Playground. We are encouraging a culture of innovation by shifting our presbytery away from the role of gatekeepers and more toward being permission-givers. It doesn’t mean anything and everything goes, but it does mean that we want our congregations and our leaders to think more about what might be possible than about what might be too far-fetched and outside the bounds of acceptability.

In a quick search of this topic I discovered an article that stated that for-profit companies assume that R & D has to be part of their business plan if they are to remain competitive in the market. That same article stated that non-profits and churches rarely placed the same emphasis on R & D. Phil Cooke, a Christian consultant and TV producer said it well when he stated:

If the marketplace feels innovation is important for something as trivial as laundry detergent, shouldn’t we experiment when so much more is at stake?”

I can imagine the arguments against innovation. “If we already have the perfect product, isn’t it more about marketing our product better than it is about changing our product?” If “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13: 8) then why would we need a Research and Development committee? Would we not be better served by a Public Relations Committee.

But I would suggest that while “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” the structure that has been privileged with bringing Jesus Christ to the world must change. Jesus Christ is the same; the form of church can’t be.


Ancient lute

We no longer speak in Greek or Latin or German or even in King James’ English. We went from depending on priests to read God’s Word for us to being able to read it for ourselves. At one time, we worshiped God with “lute and lyre” and now we worship God with organ and guitar. Our musical offerings have shifted from Gregorian chants to hymns to contemporary praise music to Taize. We have gone from paying our pastors with pigs, pies and parsonages to pledges in the plate and now to PayPal.

In other words, without innovation, Jesus Christ would be the same and so would the church. Without innovation, the gospel of Jesus Christ would remain locked in our 2,000 year-old buildings and in our ancient tradition as the world’s best kept secret. Without innovation, a remnant people would still have Jesus Christ and the world wouldn’t.

  • Where is research and development placed in your congregation?
  • Where is innovation honored and nurtured?
  • Do you make room in your congregation for your most creative, out-of-the-box, far-fetched, radical idea people?
  • Do you have an Innovation Playground where your members are allowed to just go out play, dream and imagine?

Google, one of the world’s most successful technology companies, allows their employees to dedicate 20% of their time to side projects.

I am sure Google doesn’t get everything right as recent media reports suggest. But on this issue, they just might have something to teach us.

Side projects, Innovation Playground, and R and D committees.

Is God inviting us to come out and play?

By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

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