Innovation Is Born Out of Constraint
Innovation Is Born Out of Constraint

By Chuck Dennie

Why does Twitter have a 140-character limit? An article titled “Best Practices” at states, “Creativity loves constraints and simplicity is at our core. Tweets are limited to 140 characters so they can be consumed easily anywhere, even via mobile text messages.”

Twitter users most likely will tell you that being limited to 140 characters has forced them to be more focused, creative, and clear about what they’re trying to communicate.

The multisite church is a beautiful example of innovating in response to constraint and limitations. We can now reach more people in more areas in our communities with less staff and resources because someone was forced to innovate when they didn’t have the resources to build a bigger building.

Everyday Leadership Constraints

Church leaders are faced with constraints every day. It happens when someone has a great new ministry idea but doesn’t have the staff to lead it, or when someone has an idea that will reach more people but doesn’t have the resources to pull it off.

I have heard church leaders say things like, “That’s a great idea, but we could never afford to pull it off” or “I wish we had more staff to reach more people.” After a small-church pastor is inspired at a conference, it isn’t unusual for the leader to come home and realize the resources aren’t available to execute the ministry idea. Or are they? This “no can do” thinking needs to change if our churches are to grow and succeed in today’s times.

We live in a world where things continue to get better. Consider high-definition television (HDTV). The other day I was watching a golf tournament when the broadcasters flashed back to 20 years ago—I was astonished by the difference in quality between HDTV and SDTV (standard-definition television). Things—like TV—get better but they don’t always have to cost more money.

Daily Opportunities to Innovate

I believe church leaders have daily opportunities to make decisions that innovate around ideas for which funding is lacking. For example, at The Crossing we wanted to update our lighting package. We looked into buying intelligent lights, but the cost would be about $1 million just to get started at our 10 campuses. We’re like many churches; we operate in small, rural towns and don’t have that kind of budget. So our team of leaders studied the problem to determine how we could create a great worship experience without spending a million dollars. We ultimately found a great lighting company that would lease the lights to us for $6,000 a month.

You may be thinking, You’re still paying $72,000 a year for those lights and you’ll never own them. That’s true . . . but that’s actually great news! Lighting, like all technology, becomes outdated quickly, certainly within a few years. By leasing, we can get brand-new lights every year. This allows us to stay on the front edge of what’s happening in the lighting world while spending only a fraction of our budget. In truth, we’re saving God’s resources for other needs.

Does that sound like a familiar story? Too many times I walk into churches and see an accumulation of wasted materials and resources, especially in the worship department. Old keyboards, speakers, drums, and guitars that aren’t used anymore, and all because at some point we were lazy and didn’t take care of the resources we were entrusted with. Here’s an idea: go to eBay and sell the things that are sitting in your back hallways, and then take those resources and invest them in new ideas to minister to people.

When I was a campus pastor at Life.Church, quite often a team member would approach me to request increased budget for items they needed for ministry. This would prompt me to start asking questions: “What have you done with the resources that you’ve already been entrusted with? Are there other items that aren’t being used that could be put back into other ministries in the church? Are there items you could sell to replenish the budget so we can do more with less?”

We quite often encounter financial constraints in ministry. I believe that great leaders see these moments as opportunities to innovate. Here’s my question for you: Are you the type of leader who sees a financial challenge as a mountain that is too big to climb, or do you see such a challenge as an opportunity to elevate strategies that will honor God and inspire people? Innovation is born out of constraints. In what ways should you innovate to improve your leadership?

Chuck Dennie is an award-winning musician, producer, and director. He was a founding member of By the Tree and worship leader and campus pastor for Life.Church. He serves as creative director with The Crossing, Quincy, Illinois, and lives in Franklin, Tennessee. Chuck can be contacted at

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