3 Things About Innovation

On the one year anniversary of an idea.

Being surrounded by secularism doesn’t lead to the death of religion but to innovation.
~ Rodney Stark

In June we as a church launched our first ever Cinema Site – a church worship experience that is fully video (including both preaching and music) in a movie theatre outside of Vancouver: two services. In September we then launched our second Cinema Site in Calgary – a city and province we had no people in – which is now a church of over 200.

This format of church planting and gathering as a local church in order to spread the message of Jesus across Canada is certainly a new way of doing things. Most church leaders I talk to, even those running multisite churches of thousands of people around North America, tell me that this is an idea that they never had thought of, nor thought would work, and are interested in now doing it themselves. Just a couple of weekends ago, while in Toronto, I spent time detailing the mechanics of it all to one of the top staff of the largest church in America – Life Church.tv – who was very interested in the idea and how they could leverage it, so much so that he wants our team to fly to Oklahoma to meet with their staff to explain all the Ins and Outs, which is cool and humbling to think about.

How fun! Innovation serving the mission of the church! Which is kind of what happens in any industry when you are forced to think outside the box. Here are three things I learned about innovating new ideas from the experience of creating and executing the Cinema Site format, from concept to launch.

1 – Don’t just let new or different ideas pass you by.

Here is where it all started. On a rainy Saturday afternoon in November 2016 my kids had begged to go and see the Trolls movie. I usually love kids movies and am into it the whole time. In God’s providence Trolls was terrible. So, I started daydreaming. I looked around the movie theatre in Langley, BC, and wondered why we couldn’t use movie theatres to host Village Church locations in the future. The answers were readily available in my mind:

+ Quality music and really immersive teaching is almost impossible in these venues. Because the way theatres are built (sound proof, etc.,) it is hard to have live music sound very good. And thus an immersive worship experience is hard to create. So, well you have the huge benefits of seats and screens and foyers, etc., the quality suffers.

Then it hit me: what if we projected it all into the theatre? Not only the sermon/teaching portion of the service as others have done,  but the worship/music portion of the service as well? The whole experience top to bottom as a video experience, with a proper mix, could be incredible. Immediately though my contrarian voice piped up: “People won’t do it. They won’t worship and enter into singing if the people are on a screen and not live in person and in the room.” Many other people would follow with this same sentiment when I shared the concept with them.

To which another voice, likely not mine, said “Yes they will. Why wouldn’t they? This will be a new way.”

Immediately my mind started racing: if this works, if we can make this great, then this could be a way we could plant locations anywhere across Canada with lower cost, more quickly, and with streamlined quality and content. Big cities. Small communities. Wherever.

What if?

2 – You need a team.
And then I did what I normally do when I have an idea, whether it’s a dumb one or a good one. I texted two of our pastors. Basically: “Call me crazy but what if we launch a church in Colossus movie theatre – both worship and sermon on video. I think it could be great!” Instead of saying it’s crazy, they both jumped on board, and said ‘Interesting! Let’s meet.’ That week I walked into their offices and we started drawing on white boards and dreaming together.

“No cuts in the video as to never break the fourth wall.”

“One week to mix the music (which proved to be impossible but Pastor Eric’s solution was brilliant; I’ll have to tell you about it some time).”

“Full screen shot of full stage to create the effect that you are simply at one of our live locations.” “Yes, like when I lived in New York,” Eric said “we couldn’t afford to go to the live orchestra so they would project it into a movie theatre, and it would be just one solid shot, showing the entire stage including all the lights, and curtain, etc., We could do it like that!”

And the idea started to take shape.

From there it was our amazing Production Team that worked tirelessly, led by Eric Damewood, Isaac Wiebe, and our Exec. Pastor, John Broadhead, to go from concept to execution, all in 7 months. The amount of hours to figure this out, problems to solve, and trial days in the movie theatre are more than can be counted. And of course there was always the chance that we couldn’t really make it work technologically. But God led us and the right people around the vision to keep pushing and see what it could be and that’s what has become Cinema Site.

This, like any idea, isn’t about one person. It’s not the classic Lone Ranger, entrepreneur, visionary, type story. That’s a myth. It takes a village. We know that now. A team of people to think, innovate and execute ideas.

Use the people around you.

3 – Trust different.
Not every different idea will work. Lord knows we have tried stuff that has failed. That should happen. But sometimes we lean away from new and different ideas too early. Even as the concept took shape people said it won’t work.

“People won’t watch singers on a screen.”

“People won’t attend a church in a movie theatre.”

But, they were wrong.
This past weekend of the 5,000 people that attended our church, almost 700 of them attended the Cinema Site format.

And that’s the thing. Sometimes we can’t see a new way because our brains don’t let us imagine new things. But trust it even when others can’t imagine it as a thing. See it through and God will often use it and bless it. Not every time. But sometimes; the counter-intuitive feeling you have kicking inside of you may actually be the way forward.

God likes to surprise us like that. Taking the foolish ideas of the world and actually using them to reach people (1 Cor. 1:18-24).

It makes him look good.