Innovation in Missions is Vital to the Future of Ministry

Though the gospel is unchanged and will always be relevant, as the world around us continues to change at a rapid pace, ministries must adapt to keep up.

Ministry approaches that worked a decade ago might not work today and fruitful strategies today might not see the same results next year. 

Liam Savage, the director of innovation at OneHope and author of Green Sky Innovation, has dedicated his life to working through those problems, to helping ministry practitioners and leaders learn how to innovate well.

Recently Liam joined The Indigitous Podcast to talk about why innovation in missions is vital to the future of ministry. While innovation is important in ministry, sometimes it can seem counterintuitive.

“Organizations are designed for efficiency and to get better at doing things well. They’re designed to do a specific thing. Innovation means you have to stop doing one thing and start doing something else.”

Liam Savage

Why we need innovation in missions

While it’s easier and safer to continue doing ministry the way your team or organization already does it well, it’s important to innovate. For an example of why, Liam points to the business world. 

The Fortune 500 list ranks the most successful businesses in the United States every year. Only ten percent of the companies that were listed in the first list in 1955 remain on it. Many of the companies have gone out of business, merged, or have been bought by another company. “The companies that had everything going for them — the most successful, profitable businesses — become obsolete in one lifetime,” Liam says. “I think as the Church, sometimes we forget that we’re subject to those same forces of change that affect business.”

Green Sky Innovation

Before Liam started writing his book, he taught a 16-week Master’s-level course, called the Innovation Launchpad, that helps train people in ministry how to do innovation. The course is broken up into two halves. The first half focuses on taking a project from zero to one, turning an idea into something tangible that can be used. The second half focuses on organization skills and leadership practices necessary for innovation. While over 300 people have graduated from the course over the last three years, Liam heard from a lot of people that they didn’t have time to take a 16-week class. As a response, he wrote and published Green Sky Innovation to offer a lot of the content and ideas in a way that’s easier to digest with a smaller time commitment.

The book goes through seven different perspectives that can help take a ministry to the next level: 

Kingdom Builder

Focused on partnership and collaboration. “When we operate in unity and diversity, good things happen.”


Focused on systems and root causes. “Sometimes in ministry, we can solve symptoms but not actually address the core problem that’s causing it.”


Focused on the assumptions we make about what we’re doing. “How do we look at things through new eyes?” 


Focused on how to communicate effectively.


Focused on how to activate people around a table.

Culture Maker

Focused on building a culture that brings the best out of people.


Focused on testing ideas before getting too far down the road.

Culture Maker

Focused on building a culture that brings the best out of people.

The book and Liam’s approach is a holistic one that combines different perspectives and skills to reach solutions.

“If you’re coming to a problem or an opportunity in your ministry, each perspective will give you a different set of tools for how to find ways to move forward,”

Liam Savage

The importance of asking questions

Part of the Philsopher’s Perspective deals with asking questions. As children, we question everything, often annoying our parents with all of our queries. But as we grow older, most of us stop being so inquisitive and just accept things as they are. This can lead to stagnation in ministry, where you do things as you’ve always done them because no one is questioning why things are done that way.

“So much of our life is directed to gaining expertise. … You think about school and job experience, it’s all based upon learning and mastering a certain set of skills… It’s hard because the more expertise you have, the less likely you are to ask questions, because you think you know the answer.”

Liam Savage

But with the world changing more rapidly than ever, you may be an expert in something now, but soon there will be advancements that will change everything. Bringing that childlike wonder to your ministry and questioning all of your assumptions, techniques, and strategies, can lead to more innovative strategies that can bear greater fruit. “A key thing to regaining that childlike wonder is a healthy dose of humility to recognize that we don’t know everything and continue to be open to change. Even the areas where we’re most expert are probably the areas where we need to be most careful to continue learning,” Liam says.

Learning from failure

In Green Sky Innovation, Liam writes about the development of two different apps, one that has been successful and one that failed. The successful app, the Bible App for Kids, is available in over 60 languages and has been downloaded more than 100 million times. But before that, Liam created a very similar app called Incredible Islands, which was never widely adopted and is no longer being supported. 

“One of the keys to success was our philosophy of product verses a service,” Liam says. A product is worked on once and then is finished. But with a service, you’re never really done. The work, the support, is ongoing. “With the Bible App for Kids, we treated it as a service.”

Liam’s team launched the Bible App for Kids with a small set of stories and an intention to grow the number of stories over time. It launched in one language with the intention of translating it. In the beginning, the app didn’t have a lot of game elements, but those were gradually added. “We staffed and had capacity and partnership in place to support all of the things it would need to develop — even parent resources, Sunday School resources. Our intention was to serve families as they engaged with Scripture and youth for a long time,” Liam says.

That mentality of treating the Bible App for Kids as an ongoing service is one of the reasons it’s been so successful. Another important factor was that, with the Bible App for Kids, Liam’s team collaborated with key partners, such as the YouVersion team. Incredible Islands, on the other hand, was worked on by Liam alone with some contractors but with no partner collaboration. 

Ministry as a journey

One innovation in ministry is actually not new at all: treating ministry as a relational journey. Throughout the gospel, there are stories of Jesus journeying with people. He dines with them, gets to know them. He spends time with people while He’s in town and knows each person’s story. 

One mistake we can make in ministry is treating it as a one-off event: telling a stranger about Jesus once and then never talking to them again. Ministry, however, works best in relationship.

In Green Sky Innovation, Liam makes the case for the importance of an ongoing relational ministry. “As we journey with people through their lives, we will get to celebrate their peaks and comfort them in their valleys. Most importantly, we can be alert to possibilities for them to encounter Jesus personally.”

Thinking of ministry as a relational journey means looking beyond numbers and quick wins. It’s not about how many people you can bring to a decision for Christ, though it’s always great when that happens. But relationships take time. It might take months or even years before you see the fruit of your investment in a certain relationship. Maybe you won’t see the fruit at all, but the Holy Spirit will move in ways you could never imagine.

“Have a focus on relationship. Love like Jesus loved. Be mindful of their life and their values and what they care about. Care about them first. Through that care, they will naturally feel more loved and feel more open. You’ll find opportunities in that relationship where you can extend Christ-like love, grace, and forgiveness, and be a comfort to them in a way that most people are not.”

Liam Savage

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