Renovate Before You Innovate
By: Bill Tenny-Brittian
(from the book by Sergio Zyman – the man behind the failed New Coke campaign)

“Obsession with innovation is a current business fad,” says Zyman. But it’s not just a business fad – in recent years many church leaders have fallen prey to the mythical magic pill solution. Something works for Saddleback and everyone’s on the band wagon. Willow Creek is making a fortune from their staff writers, I mean, pastoral staff. Barna recently suggested that many emerging churches are little more than a wardrobe change: 

“Essentially what they’ve done is they’ve replaced chandeliers with candles; they’ve replaced the pews with couches or other forms of chairs. Essentially they haven’t really gone very far in terms of redefining what the community of faith looks like… Maybe they’ve gone back to acoustic music; maybe they’ve introduced some of the creeds, but by-and-large they’re still playing the same game that other local churches are playing. It’s more a matter of style than an issue of heart that really characterizes them.” (“George Barna’s Revolution: Real or Imagined?” Rev! 9:3 (Jan/Feb 2006), 20).

Innovative? To be sure. Paradigm shifting? Not so much. 

Zyman’s book suggests that renovation is more important than innovation – which flies in the face of much we’ve heard about church growth/health/etc. Isn’t renovation just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic? Not according to the author. Renovation begins with identifying your congregation’s core competencies and its core essence.

Core competencies are based on four factors: Knowledge (what you know/learned), Experience (what you’ve been through); Resources (what you have); and People (what you do and how you do it). Identify your core competencies ruthlessly. What is it you and your congregation really do well – or really could do well, given these four factors?

Your core essence is “somewhat more abstract. It’s who you really are as a company… It’s the relationship customers and noncustomers alike have with your brand.” Sounds a lot to me like it’s your congregation’s DNA with a dash of community-relationships thrown in.

Zyman concludes that if you will identify your core competency, your core essence, and then leverage these in conjunction with your assets and infrastructure, “you’ll be able to grow your business successfully.” In other words, it’s not about candles, creeds, or even rock-n-roll (to my disappointment). Focus on the leveraging the core – focus on the One Thing – and stained glass windows with hymnals may not be an issue.