The following is a personal story that sheds light on innovation.
Way back in 1982 (I know, ancient history) a member of my church staff decided to bring a dozen Apple 2e’s into the Sunday School and start writing curriculum for Bible studies. I was impressed by how quickly the kids took to the new contraption. It wasn’t long and it was clear this staff person was on to something because the kids were actually enjoying learning scripture.
But I didn’t know how to turn on a computer and that made me feel uneasy. So I took one of them home. It was then I learned I had to have a software program to run the thing. Back then, because of the lack of memory, you had to insert what was called a floppy disk into the computer and load the program. Finally, I found a program called Professional Write and started to play around on what I soon called “the green eyed monster.” The screens on the Apple 2e were green with a yellow curser.
I had always wanted to write a book so I thought this would be the perfect time. I could kill two birds with one stone … write a book and learn how to use a computer. And I wouldn’t have to worry about corrections and rewrites. So I started. Two years later I finished what would become known as The Church Growth Handbook.
Now I needed to find a publisher. So in 1984, I sent the manuscript to Abingdon Press under the title “The Ever Widening Circle.” They sent back a letter saying there was no room for any more books on church growth. There were already too many! Can you imagine hearing that in the mid 80s? But in 1987 the religious editor took an interest in the book and after two years of begging, finally got the book published in 1990 and the rest is history. It became one of their best sellers.
But we had a fight over the title. I wanted The Ever Widening Circle because the book wasn’t about church growth and they wanted The Church Growth Handbook. Of course they won.
The following year they published my second book with the boring title How to Reach Baby Boomers and it didn’t as well as the first book. I didn’t like that title either. In 1993, I submitted another book under the title Dancing with Dinosaurs and told them if they changed the title I would take the book to another publisher. They didn’t change the title and the book became one of their all time best sellers and still sells well today.
As a result of that staff member bringing that green eyed monster into the Sunday School I’ve been able to share twenty-one books with you.
Now what does any of this have to do with innovation? A bunch. Here are the talking points.
Curiosity is the prelude to innovation
If I hadn’t been curious about how the green-eyed monster worked, I probably wouldn’t have written my first book. I also might not have become a resource to the wider church – all because of something as innocent as curiosity. Innovation begins with curiosity.
Persistence is essential to innovation
Innovation seldom happens overnight. It’s not enough to be curious; you also have to take initiative and be persistent in your pursuit of it. It took three years of begging to get my first book published. It took five years to be able to dictate the title and not have to submit a proposal. Don’t give up on your dreams.
Innovation is Missed Because Most People are Impervious to the Obvious
In the mid 80s the publisher thought the book market was flooded with too many books on how to grow a church. Looking back on that letter shows why most institutions miss out on innovation – they can’t see the obvious. (Does this give you any clues as to why most churches today are declining?) By the 1980s it was clear Christianity was in decline and something needed to be done. Since the date of that letter many thousands of books on church leadership and church growth have been written.
The Primary Lesson
Most innovations are stumbled onto rather than planned. You never know when the key to your future might fall in your lap if you can just see it. I bet one is lying in your lap right now. Can you see it?
FYI. here is a newspaper article about the publication of The Church Growth Handbook with a picture of me in 1990. A handsome chap if i do say so myself! And i had hair!!