A Path Towards Innovation

By Dietrich Kirk

Certainly, the decline and crisis of mainline youth ministry is multi-faceted, but it is CYMT’s contention that if the church is to reach young people, new innovative models for youth ministry must be developed that challenge the dominant formula. In order for these new models to be developed, we believe the following components are vital:

  1. Theologically equipped innovators who are educated in youth ministry as a practical theological discipline. Education in practical theology prepares innovators with the tools for faithful creativity by attending to cultural realities and the theological identity of the Church.  
  2. A framework for innovation guided by the consensus model of practical theology. Innovation requires a methodology and the theory-praxis loop of the consensus model of practical theology provides four tasks that can guide and ground innovative work. The four tasks of the consensus model of practical theology as described by Richard Osmer (description, interpretation, theological norms of practice, pragmatic rules of art) bear strong similarity to design innovation processes at use in other fields.
  3. Practical theological innovators who are serving hands-on in congregations and ministries in diverse contexts. Faithful innovation is most likely to happen “in the wild” by practitioners who are theologically informed and have the capability to employ a practical theological framework in context.   
  4. Innovators must be given permission to experiment and fail. One of the challenges youth ministers face in launching innovative programs is permission.  Another is the expectations of traditional metrics for measuring success. It is one thing for a congregation to say they’ll tolerate experimentation and failure, but it is another thing altogether for them to actually follow through. Good relationships with congregations must be maintained by an oversight body capable of running interference for the innovators in order to help prevent them from spending their time defending their experiments.
  5. Innovators must be afforded time to work through several iterations of their innovative models. Several years will be required for innovators to dream, test, deploy, and tweak new models of youth ministry in context as they work within a practical theological framework that calls for a theory-praxis loop.
  6. Innovators must be provided with risk capital and the resources necessary to creatively dream and implement new models. A supportive ministry environment is necessary to allow for experimentation, but research and development always require resources.  
  7. Innovative models need to be tested and adapted in several contexts. The ability of any innovative model to meet the demands of various contexts will be required if widespread adoption is desired. After success in the context of origin, innovative models need to be tested and adapted in different contexts in order to demonstrate viability beyond a single environment.
  8. Innovative ways to encourage adoption. Publishing books, articles, or resources will not be enough to encourage widespread adoption of new paradigms throughout the wider youth ministry world. Rather, it will be necessary to create innovative mechanisms by which congregations and youth leaders are spurred to adopt these new models.

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