Churches Inspire Innovation to Reach Today's Culture

Innovate 2007 kicked off Thursday to help inspire hundreds of church pastors and staff to plow new grounds in ministry.

"What does it mean to be innovative in your environment?" posed Mark Beeson, senior pastor of host church Granger Community in Indiana, ahead of the two-day conference. "Innovation isn't imitation. It isn't comfortable; it's authentic."

The annual event draws church leaders from all styles of faith, including the traditional, the contemporary and the emergent, trying to pick up practical as well as creative and successful ideas for church growth and leading ministry.

Leading a Thursday morning session, Guy Kawasaki, a former Apple Inc. guru turned marketplace "evangelist" and venture capitalist, told attendees not to be afraid of polarizing people.

"Some people will love what you do and some will hate it," he said, according to Tim Stevens, executive pastor at Granger Community Church. "It would be worse if no one cared about what you do."

"If you don't upset a few people, you aren't doing your job," he added.

Innovation comes at a price for many church leaders with critics arguing that creative churches are being more relevant to the culture rather than to Scripture.

Keith Eitel, dean of the School of Evangelism and Missions at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently cautioned that while churches are "rushing to relevance," it must be "within biblical boundaries."

"I fear that we may rush to relevance in such a way, with our heart right for the relevance, that we lose the gospel message in the process," he said at the seminary's chapel service last week, according to Southwestern News, a publication of the school.

Of the churches in America, younger evangelical and independent ones are more likely to stay on the cutting edge of culture to reach out to an ever changing population more effectively.

With technology and media constantly changing and increasingly impacting younger generations, Granger lead pastor Beeson simply states, "We have to speak the language of the culture. It's that simple."

"If we were just walking on the beach, we wouldn't need innovation. But we are climbing a mountain together," he told Innovate 2007 attendees on Thursday. "It's unbelievable how far removed we (those of us who have been in the church for awhile) can get from real life."

Beeson stresses placing cultural context around Scripture as key to preaching to a 21st century generation. Granger Community, ranked as the second most innovative church in the nation by Outreach magazine, typically creates video clips themed on top box office movies such as "Spider-Man 3" and the latest popular TV series to introduce their latest sermon series.

During the two-day conference, Granger will host a film festival showcasing film clips that were created by churches as a message series trailer, a message illustration or event spotlights. The top original films will be chosen by professionals in the film and advertising industry.

Breakout sessions at the conference cover such topics as blogging, first impressions on newcomers, unique settings for a church such as a coffee shop or multi-sites, communicating to a 21st century crowd, and involving teens or "the church of now," among others.

"Innovate 2007 is not about creativity. It's about how to take action on creative inspiration to make a mark of greatness," states the promotional message.

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