You Can Be Innovative Without Being Original

I’ve been to lots of conferences. I’ve read a bunch of articles. I’ve heard many speakers. And lately, there has been a recurring theme that rubs me the wrong way. It goes something like this…

“It grieves my spirit to see churches copying the culture. We shouldn’t be copying culture, we should be creating culture…”

“We have the Creator of the Universe residing within us, so let’s stop copying art and begin creating art…”

“Many churches should be ashamed that they spend more time surfing the internet to find out what some other church did, rather than using their God-given artistic gifts to be innovative and come up with something new…”

These statements often come from the pastor of some mombo-huge church. He has staff, money and volunteer resources at his disposal, and yet in the crowd are church leaders, most of them in small churches with shoe-string budgets and no staff. And they are being told they should feel guilty for using something that’s been done before. “Quit copying. Be original!”

Or the statements are made by an artistic genius…someone who God has uniquely gifted to be a creator of art, most often a person who is paid full-time to live and breathe and research and dream and present the art they create. “Quit being lazy and create new!”

Let me offer an opposing view: Lighten up! If recycling what someone else has already created will work in your setting, then by all means—become an expert in recycling! Go green dude!

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think there is anything wrong with creating art. I think more thoughtful lyrics should be put to song; more captivating moments should be captured on video; and more creativity should be applied to drama, dance, stage sets and more. Churches should be coming up with artistic elements that are so new and innovative they can’t even be categorized.

But I have met church leaders who refuse to use something that has been used somewhere else. They want to be the first to do something, try something, or preach something.

You can be innovative without being original. Sometimes the most innovative idea for your church or your community is something that was borrowed from somewhere else. That is okay, because being original is overrated.

At Granger, we get lots of attention for being innovative, and we even host the annual Innovate Conference. However, here is a secret: Very little of what we do is original. Once or twice a year, we have a good idea that hasn’t been done. (At least that is what we think when we do it, but often we find out later that another church did the same thing a few years prior!)

Since when is innovation the goal? Why have we made original the ultimate achievement? Shouldn’t our goal be effectiveness? Shouldn’t we measure success by whether something worked or not…whether it moved people toward Jesus? Is our goal making disciples or being original? Do we care more about artistic purity or life impact?

It is 2009, and there are amazing resources available to you. Most our ideas come from taking someone else’s idea and making it work for us. We Grangerize it. That is, we make it work for our culture, and that is okay with us. We truly do not care whether what we do is original or not—we just care if it works. If it is effective, who cares whether we got the idea from a church in Tupelo or off of YouTube? If we can use the idea to impact our community, why does it matter if it is an already-been-used idea from or Willow Creek?

Artists—keep making great art! Video professionals—keep creating visual wonders that inspire and motivate me. Musicians—don’t stop writing lyrics and songs that draw me close to God.
But for everyone else—don’t apologize for being a recycling expert. Find the best of the best and use it to make a difference in your community!

This article is from a column I write for Collide Magazine which appeared in the January 2009 issue.

Tim Stevens39 Comments