Indiana Pastor: Original vs. Recycled Ideas

When it comes to churches using a bit of creativity in their worship services and outreach, Granger Community Church in Indiana may be one of the most well-known innovative churches in the country.

But are their ideas original?

One Granger pastor says, "Who gives a rip?"

"The question is not 'was it original?' The question is 'was it effective?'" Granger's executive pastor, Tim Stevens, said Thursday at the church's annual Innovate conference.

Speaking to hundreds of church leaders from across the country, Stevens believes there is a lot of pressure on smaller churches to be original. He also sees a lot of internal angst among pastors and ministry leaders about originality, much of which comes from pride.

"It's fun to be original," Stevens said. "When your team does something [original] ... you want to be able to celebrate the team.

"But I think there's a fine line that moves those statements from celebration of the team over to pride."

It's easy, the Granger pastor warned, to focus more on "one upping" the other church and having "bragging rights" over an idea rather than on being effective.

But pride, he said, doesn't help the church.

At Granger, the staff uses what Stevens calls "recycled" art. They take ideas from other churches, YouTube, or pop culture and tweak it or "Grangerize" it to make it work in their setting.

Recently, the more than 7,000-member church used ideas from Brand New Church – a multi-site church in Arkansas – and a commercial for video presentations that educated attendees on sex and promoted an upcoming sermon series, respectively.

"When it comes to finding elements for services we don't have to question 'is this original.' The question is always 'is this effective?' If it is, then who gives a rip whether the idea was original to our team or something that's been done 100 times before in other places," said Stevens.

He defined effectiveness as attracting people so they can "sample;" helping the samplers meet Christ; guiding those who have come to faith in Christ to grow; giving the walkers the tools to feed themselves; and helping the veterans stay outward focused on building relationships with those who are about to start their spiritual journey.

While he encourages recycling, Stevens made clear that he isn't anti-original. In fact, he celebrates individuals who use their talents and creativity for God.

The problem, however, is elevating originality over effectiveness.

It's a dangerous place to be when the focus shifts from the mission of the church to the artist or innovator, he cautioned.

Granger Community Church was named one of the top three most innovative churches in the country by Outreach magazine in 2008. While some define innovative as something new or an idea that's never been tried before, Stevens defines it as also "adapting a proven idea for your environment."

Granger is best known for leveraging the language of pop culture, including mainstream songs and movies, and presenting the Gospel in a way people today would understand.

In the midst of an economic downturn, innovation may be far from the minds of church leaders, but for Granger it's a non-negotiable regardless of budget or staff size.

As lead pastor Mark Beeson stated, "The church is one generation away from total extinction at any given moment in time. That is the sobering truth that will motivate veterans [to change] because they don't want the church to die."

The Sept. 24-25 Innovate conference has been made available to the public through live webcast.

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