Why foster innovation in churches?
The body of Christ: This metaphor of St. Paul corresponds with the fact that organisations, which find a constructive balance between the individual parts and the whole, are more successful and bear healthier fruits than others, which operate like separated limbs without connection or coordination. In my experience, this metaphor reveals one of the main reasons why churches in the German-speaking world are on a constant decline – despite of enormous resources, professional organisations and partially successful initiatives. To more and more people, churches just don`t matter anymore, and it`s not the bad world out there that is to blame. It`s the fact that the body is not behaving like a Body.
One example for the growing of the “body-consciousness” are parishes that try to find new ways for questions like: How can we rebuild our parish by helping religious consumers to love God, love others and become true disciples of Jesus Christ (REBUILT – Church of the Nativity, Baltimore)? How can we lead the change from a maintenance to a missionary church (Divine Renovation, Halifax)? How is it possible to approach and attract unchurched teenagers? How can women with leadership talents find room in the church? What can new ways of communicating with de-churched people look like? Whenever parishes turn their attention to questions like these they inevitably end up with looking at themselves and assessing their quality as a community, a “body”.
Another speciality of Pastoralinnovation are nationwide, supraregional church activities with high attention factor, internal motivation and theological depth. A common and well-thought action and/or campaign strengthens the motivation of all organisations and contributors involved. It finally generates widespread media response that everyone – from management to the basis – has been longing for. Even in unchurched settings, a discourse arises which may range from approval to criticism but is always an expression of successful media-based preaching in today`s world. The Austrian-wide ACTION FOR FAITH as part of the worldwide “year of faith” in 2013 proved that with a creative design, an attractive content and a supportive framework it is possible to develop a professional and successful Church campaign.
Pastoralinnovation also supports church organizations with topics like these:
- Pastoral initiatives to approach and fascinate certain target groups or sociological settings
- Projects to promote human resources development in the church: modern forms of vocation-pastoral, finding appropriate employees and motivate them, inspiring and empowering volunteers
- Church and media: Projects to develop and implement modern and affordable strategies of communication that are suitable for the church calling to spread the gospel to all people.
The term Pastoralinnovation merges the terms pastoral and innovation: According to the II. Vatican Council, pastoral refers to the entire acting of the church. This can happen territorially or categorically, by clerics or by laity, directly by the church or in secular settings, and that in manifold denominations. By Pastoralinnovation, initiatives find support through which people from different settings and cultures discover the Good News as a living source for their lives. Innovation by definition is more than just having new ideas or starting new projects. Rather, innovation means that new ideas are implemented successfully. Successful according to the bible means life promoting and life giving in the face of many death threats. Biblically said: It`s the “fruits” that count, not the trees.
Statistically speaking, only about 10% of good ideas reach the status of implementation, out of these another 90% never bear the desired fruits. So only one out of one hundred good ideas becomes an actual innovation. I want to offer my experience and my talents to improve this proportion by setting up a network of church innovators. That is what Pastoralinnovation is all about. Connecting with similar initiatives in Germany, the UK and the USA has brought enormous drive to that idea and I`m grateful for the sharing.
Consider the following question: How can we “prepare a landing spot” for the Holy Spirit in today`s world? I believe this is possible not only in places where high performers are active or under special circumstances, but in ordinary parishes, movements, orders, or facilities with averaged able people and all the joys, worries, and problems that characterise modern church practice.
What could innovative approaches of pastoral work look like that interest and enthral people for the Christian message who have different attitudes and are from unchurched settings and cultures? What could motivate people to serve and bring in their talents in order to deal with concrete social developments and problems on local and global levels in accordance to biblical options? Thanks to God, these questions currently gain dynamic. More and more church leaders realise that one cannot go on as hitherto because the general conditions are changing radically. Many also perceive that there is an enormous potential for innovation that is not used. Tradition or Church law must not be used as an excuse for denying reforms. It is necessary to seize opportunities and use them creatively to make the Good News a personal experience today.
Legally Pastoralinnovation is an executive consultancy according to the Austrian commercial law. Pastoralinnovation is active on an international level as well as interdenominationally.
The radical changes in society and churches demand brave thinking, new approaches, and innovative solutions. Pastoralinnovation supports the conception and strategic-innovative orientation of such projects.
The main topics are:
- Reorientation in processes of change
- focusing to achieve stronger impact with less effort
- Improvement of the internal motivation culture
- Development of new strategies for target groups
- Effective management of crises
Which fruits can be anticipated? Innovation helps to use available resources more efficiently. Employees are more motivated because they are more successful. They stop feeling as if they were on a downward slope and develop pride and joy for serving in their church. The image of the church in media and society improves because of increased trustworthiness and relevance. The church is perceived as a relevant partner in difficult processes of change and various conflicts of society.
Here are some examples:
- Strategic consultation during the sexual abuse crisis for the Austrian episcopal conference in 2010
- Concepts for the media department of the Austrian episcopal conference to offer media support for the “Year of Faith” in 2012
- ACTION FOR FAITH with creative design, conception of content, supporting framework, and professional cooperative performance –organized Austrian-wide in lent 2013
- Strategical and pastoral theological check of the program for the 50 year anniversary of the diocese of Innsbruck in 2013
- Strategical check for the parliamentary citizens’ initiative of AKTION LEBEN to acquire data and motives for abortions in Austria in 2014
Innovation-seminars are a perfect way for church leaders who like to learn from other leaders, are open to meet people of other cultural contexts and want to implement new impulses in their own environment at home.
Focus of each seminar is a mutual, participating process of learning – naturally, with ecumenical openness and cooperation with initiatives of the civil society. Personal encounter and open exchange have priority in this process. The sharing on an eye-to-eye level shall encourage appreciative relationships and creative exchange. Depending on the local possibilities, this is accomplished by active participation in everyday church life, reflexion with responsible staff members and by innovation-workshops. The concept of transfer of Pastoralinnovation supports the fruitful implementation of new impulses in the according fields of action at home. Each seminar is planned and organized in cooperation with local partners.
The following innovation seminars are available:
- Washington D.C. and Baltimore area in cooperation with Bill Dinges from CUA and the Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD. – the first seminars took place in February 2015 and November 2015
- Fresh expressions of church in the UK – the first seminar took place in September 2015
- Holy Trinity Brompton and other initiatives in London, UK.
- Bochum, Erfurt, Berlin and Munich in Germany
Which fruits can be expected?
- To be on the way together, expose oneself, share joy and sorrow, to get to know foreign countries from a non-touristic perspective – this allows one to experience “catholic” in the sense of “worldwide” at first hand.
- Linking personal delight in travelling with church engagement, transcending the own horizon, and getting to know new perspectives – this is what motivates and creates community.
- At home, parishes, church facilities or movements profit from fresh impulses and concrete impacts.
You have ideas but you do not know how to implement them successfully? You suffer under the same old problems? You want to overcome stagnation and win your colleagues for something new? Then you are welcome to check out whether an innovation-program could be helpful for you. Parishes and movements at the base can be innovators Small and medium sized enterprises are the spine of the economy. They generate most of the new jobs and are starving for innovation. A similar situation can be found in churches. Without parishes, movements, small communities or local initiatives, the best concepts on the top decision making level remain pure theory. No surprise that Jesus praised the small and Saint Paul stressed the importance of the most unimpressive parts of the body.
With innovation-programs, parishes and small organisations in general have an effective tool at hand to develop and implement feasible solutions for concrete problems. Many good ideas fail because the dangers of such a “process of birth” are underestimated. Failure is not only expensive but also leads to frustration. The goal of an innovation program is therefore success – more fruits in the biblical sense. The possibility for these shall be improved significantly through participation in such a program.
An innovation program can be designed individually for one parish or it can be organized for a group of 8 to 12 church organisations. In any case, the participants experience a motivating learning field and implement one concrete, pastoral project in a high qualified, theologically grounded and successful way. This is enthralling and motivates to develop further innovative projects. Top-quality as well as the necessary width and depth are secured by a spiritual atmosphere, top-speakers and effective methods. A motivating atmosphere links subject-specific inputs and experience-oriented methods through the active participation of participants. They are additionally winning new perspectives and helpful impulses for their professional and private challenges. A special model of transfer helps to integrate the participating organizations and wets one`s appetite. Which fruits can be anticipated? A sense of success at last – whether in youth work, with social projects or pastoral services. This encourages a sense of community and wets the appetite for more innovative projects. Employees and people in general experience church as true-to-life and helpful for their personal and social life. Last but not least, each participating organisation learns permanently how to be innovative as a church nowadays. This motivates to follow up with more and better projects!
Innovations do not fall into one`s lap. Clear decisions, motivating conditions, and efficient systematics are essential. Leaders play an important part. They can actively encourage a climate of innovation and thus motivate employees who are keen for innovation and by that successfully implement good ideas. For that’s what it is all about: Healthy and well tasting fruits for everybody.
This forum takes place every year shortly after Pentecost (“Pfingsten” in German). Leaders of church organisations and successful innovators are invited to meet one another, exchange their experiences and inspire each other with new ideas. At PfinXten, you can experience the spirit of Pastoralinnovation in a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere. Let yourself be inspired!
- Bring personal questions or a concrete professional problem – and take steps for a solution back home
- Get to know successful and inspiring innovators
- Learn together with like-minded people how one manages to get from spontaneous brainstorming to systematic innovating. Because creativity needs a system.
- Take someone with you who you see as hope for an innovative design in your organisation. And by that, motivate junior employees!Following Pentecost, PfinXten starts on Monday at 4pm and lasts until Wednesday 4pm. The location changes depending on the partner organisations and the special topics.
PfinXten took place for the first time from May 25 – 27, 2015, the second time from May 18 – 20, 2016 in cooperation with the Abbey St. Georgen am Längsee in Carinthia under the patronage of Bishop Alois Schwarz. The next dates of PfinXten are June 5-7, 2017 in Austria, the location still to be determined. Further PfinXten are planned for Germany and Switzerland.
“25 fulfilling years I`ve worked in the diocese Graz-Seckau – each one even more exciting than the next! Now, I am daring to follow a calling for a new initiative. By founding Pastoralinnovation, I am available for all church organisations. Networking and sharing is many times a crucial factor when it comes to be courageous and attempt new ways of evangelization.
Pastoralinnovation is intended to become a platform for organizations and leaders in different areas of church activities. Coordinating between various participants in a neutral, motivating and goal oriented way is the role I am able to play now since I am not bound by a permanent employment anymore. Communication and media, church human resources development, as well as target group orientation: I have managed to acquire skills in all these areas relevant for success that one normally has to buy externally. I am combining these skills with widespread internal church experience, power for innovation, and theological depth. I want to use this combination for a lively and true-to-life church, where necessary also with professional partners. I am available with my experience, creativity, and capacity for enthusiasm not only supraregionally but also in ecumenical openness. I am looking forward to your interest, enquiries and projects to prepare a landing spot for the Holy Spirit together.”
Georg Plank has been married to the theologian Antoinette since 1987. Together they have three children. They are living in Graz and are active members in the catholic parish Graz-Liebenau St. Paul.