“We’ve Never Done It That Way Before” — Creative Risk in Churches

Dec 9, 13 • Culture, Featured1, LeadershipNo Comments

Why not?

In some churches, there are pews that you don’t sit in, because Mrs. Hutcheson has been sitting there every Sunday for the past 47 years. Sure, she was gracious when those visitors didn’t know any better, but everybody else knows that you don’t sit in the second left pew on the aisle. It’s not that she’s ever said anything about it being her pew, but you ask her to move.

In other churches, there is an insistence on certain instruments being included and others excluded. When the foreign instrument is brought in, musical hackles are raised in inbox-crushing resentment.

It’s an old saw, that “we’ve never done it that way before” sort of reluctance, and we justify it because there’s nothing so important as to order of our sacred worship, or that the children’s sermon always ends with the Lord’s prayer.

This study shows that it’s not just religious groups that are sticklers for precedence, but humanity in general doesn’t like creativity. Linked to by Slate.com, many organizations don’t like creativity. Why?


Uncertainty comes from being out of control. When confronted with a creative idea, it is usually because it is new and untried. If it’s oft-used and proven, it’s probably not creative. Therefore, there is reduced control over the outcome, and to many ‘less control’ is a terrible phrase.

Church is going to have to change; attendance records prove it. We are going to need creative ideas, and creative ideas come from creative people. Creative people come with all sorts of traits that are outside of ‘tried and true.’

From the Slate article:

This is a common and often infuriating experience for a creative person. Even in supposedly creative environments, in the creative departments of advertising agencies and editorial meetings at magazines, I’ve watched people with the most interesting—the most “out of the box”—ideas be ignored or ridiculed in favor of those who repeat an established solution.

Do we wonder why the intelligentsia (artists, intellectuals, other creatives) are abandoning the church? If your ideas are rejected often enough, pretty soon you’ll shut up–or leave.

If you’re of the opinion that you are an open-minded person, stop for a moment: You might not be. You might have replaced all your pews with couches and introduced didgeridoo-based Taize prayers, but the study above finds that people’s love affair with certainty limits the ability to even recognize creativity.

That’s not good–or is it?

God himself shook up his own Abrahamic covenant with Jesus. God, the god of creation and the inventor of creativity, superseded his own first plan with a creative new plan that Jesus died for all. That’s creative. And God is good, so creativity is good.

So shake up Mrs. Hutcheson from her pew for the greater good. Bring in a banjo (the kids love them these days!). Weather the automatic pushback all creativity receives at first, and see if your creativity inspires a member’s creativity–and then implement it.

It might be a disaster.

But it might be incredible.


David Moore (48 Posts)

David is the coordinator for the Lowell W. Berry Center for Lifelong Learning at Fuller Theological Seminary and editor of The Burner Blog.

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It’s been five years since The Burner first ignited.

But now it’s time for The Burner to diminish.

Don’t cry for us, blogosphere-a; the truth is we’ll never leave you.

Fuller has started a blog on Patheos, and The Burner will be migrating to a column published on Fridays. The treasure trove of old Burner posts will still be available here on The (Back)Burner, simmering away for your education and edification.

I’ve loved running this blog and have fantastic memories. Now it’s time for a new chapter in Fuller online publishing, and the transition will begin February 1st.

Thanks to all who’ve read, commented and supported.


David Moore, editor