DarrenYoungrecently sat down with Kevin Peck, Lead Pastor at The Austin StoneCommunityChurch in Texas, to talk about how leaders need to approach innovation and risk in the midst of so much uncertainty and disruption.
Darren: Kevin, you recently spoke a leadership phrase to me that has become my most repeated leadership principle this last season. It’s something that you preached to your staff regarding how to innovate and take risks through a very challenging and uncertain year.
Kevin: Well, we used to say that leadership in the church is hard because you have so much to accomplish, but all the while, Sunday comes with alarming regularity. And then one day last Spring, it didn’t. It didn’t come with regularity, because we weren’t allowed to meet live. And I could feel the room shift. Even in an environment in which we normally have really innovative leaders, robust conversations, incredibly engaged and courageous staff, everyone looked at me and said, ‘Well, what do we do? How do we go about this? What's the plan?’ And all of a sudden the appetite for risk plummeted. Because no one knew what to do.
And so we made this commitment where I said, ‘Hey listen guys, I know we’re used to excellence, and we’re used to (when everything is predictable) being able to crush everything that comes at us. But things have changed. At this point we are not going to get it right 100%, or even 90% of the time. We're now playing baseball.
See, in baseball if you hit .333, you’re an incredible hitter. No one expects a baseball player to hit more than 1 out of 3 at bats. In fact hitting .333 will get you into the baseball Hall of Fame. So, I said to our team, our goal now is to become Baseball Hall of Famers. We’re not trying to hit 100%, we’re trying to get one out of three things right. And if we do, that will get us into the Baseball Hall of Fame!
And that was the moment where you could see our team regain their courage. We began to think differently about success. We realized that we’re not going to get it right all the time, but we’ve got a great opportunity to take some chances, try some things, and be okay with getting it wrong. So we lowered our risk aversion, and let ourselves off the hook when we struck out. I told them that if we can make 1 of 3 good decisions, that will be something we can look back on and say, ‘Lord, we did the best we could. And I think we had some success.’
Darren: That’s such an encouragement for every leader right now. What are a couple things that came from that for The Austin Stone?
Kevin: There were two innovations that were most significant:
Online education. We were able to get 3,000 people to go through online education within the first six months. Before Covid, that number was zero. So to go from zero to 3,000 was bananas to us.
Decentralization. We said to our team, ‘we know that you're not an expert on every topic, but we want you to go be a problem solver.’ We had so many things that we needed to figure out, and so we took our whole staff and reordered them around our primary strategies. We told everybody, ‘you might have been in kid's ministry, but we don't have a kid's ministry right now. We don't need 12 people on kids staff. We need two or three of you doing kids curriculum online, and we’ll take the other nine of you and focus you elsewhere.’ And so we actually took the passions of some of the staff and started assigning them to new problem solving teams; it wasn’t because it was in alignment with their gift or their history or anything else, but we said to them, ‘you love Jesus, you have our culture, you have our DNA, you have our doctrine - so go solve problems for us!’
And so we had teams where one of the team members had been an executive pastor, another a new campus pastor, another person who had been part of our resource ministry, and they got together and produced this amazing new thing, and it was just so sweet to see people jump in. And sometimes it worked and sometimes we swung and missed.
Darren: How do you make sure that this culture of adapting, experimenting and being willing to fail continues long after Covid ... where the Baseball Hall of Fame is still the goal?
Kevin: One of the things that was helpful for us is that the teams we formed, we have kept them and moved them into more proactive problem solving roles. We've looked at the church and recognized that there were areas that we needed to innovate in and now how can we continue to have ongoing innovation in those spaces. And so these teams will continue to meet (less regularly than they did during COVID) to think about innovation in the areas of:
Church organism - how do we continue to become better at discipling people?
Church organization - What do we need to do to be healthy?
Church movement - How do we better engage the Church, our city and our culture.
So much came at us this last year and we felt like we were reacting to all three of those areas. So how can we keep thinking ahead so that we're more prepared for the next moment of reaction or maybe even prevent the need to react in the future.
The larger a church gets, the more complex it becomes. It doesn't get harder (because all church is hard whether you have 10 people or 1000 people), but it does get more complex. And because of the complexity we need to regularly pull back all these things in the church.
Would you like to be in a room with leaders and mentors like Kevin Peck to learn, collaborate and tackle your biggest leadership pain points? Inquire today about Executive Leadership Solutions' Innovation Labs and Leader Groups.