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Shift Ministry Models

Mission, Money, and the Church: Conclusion

Move from incrementalism to innovation
by Faith+Lead | February 8, 2021


By Chris A. Meinzer 

In last week’s article, Chris Meinzer explored the complex relationship between money and mission in many congregations. This week he’ll look at how that complex relationship can influence congregational leadership. 

Incrementalism and innovation

Similar to theological schools, I suspect that strategic thinking at churches follows one of two distinct patterns: incrementalism or innovation. 

Incrementalism is characterized by tweaking, adjusting, or modifying in small, technical, and often insignificant ways. For example, churches that have budget challenges will cut their budgets in 1-2 percent increments annually, never getting to the point where they get out of deficit and always perpetuating the cycle of scarcity. Year after year, cut after cut, they never get to where they need to be. Eventually, they will have to cut staff, but they often continue to expect the same level of work to be done by a smaller number of human resources. This can create a difficult culture for those who are trying to keep up with too much work and sap the congregation and staff of its sense of vitality and contribution. If the mission isn’t reimagined to align with the available resources, decline can become the dominant story. Incrementalism can be the result of leadership that does not take adequate account of mission and money.

Innovation is characterized by bold, imaginative, and adaptive action that leads to substantive and mission-inspired change. With innovative strategic thinking, leadership seizes the opportunity to live out of the blessing of what God has already provided rather than wanting more. It believes that “we already have everything we need to follow God’s invitation to service.” Congregations with a culture of innovation, radically rethink the missional possibilities while also seeking to live into the institutional realities. By reimagining mission and money in light of the current realities and future possibilities, an innovative church avoids incrementalism and sets up the future of mission and money to become a strength of the institution.

What might this look like? Think about the amazing flexibility being demanded of congregations and their leaders during this pandemic. Did you ever imagine we would be worshipping online? Hosting online VBS? Or conducting Bible study via Zoom? Of course, there is plenty of space to say that we all want to be able to gather together again, but innovation takes into account the cultural and institutional realities that frame the call to serve and even lets those limitations inspire creative and holy experiments.

Your Turn

As you reflect on the relationship between money and mission in your context, consider these questions: 

  1. What seems to be your congregation’s default when the tension between mission and money intensifies? Do you act incrementally or innovatively? 
  2. As a leader, how might you intentionally change your own thinking in this area to benefit the mission of the church? Who else in your congregation seems to lean toward innovation and could be a conversation partner?

The God-inspired mission of our churches require bold and innovative leaders that are committed to aligning mission and resources. These leaders reject both scarcity and complacency, think innovatively and not incrementally, and reimagine the mission with courage in light of current resources. May this be true of your leadership for the sake of the Gospel.

Join us in the Faith+Lead learning lab to discuss these ideas and more.

About the Author
Chris A. Meinzer is chief operating officer at The Association of Theological Schools, where he has served for more than two decades. Meinzer also is active in the church as a teacher, interim pastor, and elder. He enjoys thinking about the intersection of mission and the people and models to best serve that mission.

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