Church Growth Myths: Innovate Or Die

Sit down and have a conversation with a cutting edge innovative church leader or church growth consultant and they will likely tell you how the church, just like businesses, need to constantly innovate, change and adapt to changing market conditions or they'll die. They might even make a snide comment about the importance of churches not being stuck in the 1950's or how churches can't do church the way they did when grandpa came home from WWII or they'll become irrelevant and die. But, talk to someone whose actually been to business school, like I have, and they'll readily tell you that this idea of 'innovate or die' is only true for certain types of businesses and is FAR from being universally true. In fact, the world of successful corporations is filled with companies that rarely change and rarely tinker with their business model. When these companies do make changes they are done in such a way as to stay true to how they've always done things. These are some of the world's most successful companies precisely because of their consistency and utter lack of innovation. Here are just few examples of thriving non-innovative corporations:

In-N-Out Burger

I grew up in southern California and every time I visit my old stomping grounds I make a trip to In-N-Out Burger. The menu is exactly the same today as it was when I was 15 years old, 20 years old, 33 years old, and 40 years old. In fact, if In-N-Out decided to change things up I seriously doubt that I'd continue to eat there when I visit So. Cal.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines is truly one of the most successful airlines in the world and they've achieved this success through a simple business model. They only fly 737's, they have 'open seating' and they don't utilize the traditional hub city model for their routes. This tenacity in sticking with their business model is what allows them to be a low cost airlines and maintain their profitability. If Southwest were to adopt the "innovate or die" mentality to their business it would destroy their brand and profits.


Nordstrom is not a department store that caters to everyone. Instead, they've been tenacious in going after only one segment of the retail market and that segment is high price, high quality with a heavy emphasis on great customer service. If Nordstrom decided to go after the same market segment as Walmart they'd destroy their brand and their customer loyalty in a very short amount of time. The people who shop at Nordstrom expect great customer service, high quality high end products and they're willing and able to pay for them. Nordstrom hasn't changed the way it does business since coming on the scene 1901 and that is exactly why they're still in business today.

I can provide hundreds of more examples like these from the Fortune 1000. "Innovate or Die" is not true for an extremely large segment of the corporate world. Instead, these corporations are more akin to institutions and they're guiding principle is "steady as she goes". Even Apple, the innovative leader of personal technologies, is successful because of their tenacious fidelity to their core principles. If Apple ever deviates from those principles they will cease to be Apple and risk losing their leadership in the personal technology market.

Voodoo Church Consulting

Those church consultants who claim to be implementing the lessons that have been learned in the world of successful corporations, especially when it comes to the slogan "innovate or die" don't know what they're talking about! Over and again we've seen examples from the business world of companies that have thrived as a result of their refusal to change and insistence on tenaciously sticking to the core competencies and principles that make them distinct in the market.

Similarly, the church is an institution that must tenaciously pursue its mission and reject chasing after innovations that would distract her from what she's been called to do. In other words, the Church was given a mission 2,000 years ago and the mission hasn't changed and the same core activities and core competencies that were needed 2,000 years ago to fulfill the mission are needed today.

When we look at the scriptures we learn that churches are called to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus' name (Luke 24:46–47), make disciples of all nations...baptizing and teaching all that Christ has commanded (Matt 28:19–20), preach the word in season and out of season (2 Tim 4:1–4), contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3), feed Christ's sheep (John 21:15–17), teach sound doctrine and rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:9). These are the things that the church must excel in and accomplish with excellence and they're not optional. Yet, these are the very things that those churches who've adapted their methodologies and messages in order to meet the felt needs of the ever changing market have abandoned. Which then leads me to ask, "How can a church claim to be a church if it isn't doing the things that God has called her to do? Isn't that like an In-Out-Burger that refuses to sell Double-Doubles or a Norstrom's store that sells cheap low quality merchandise"?