SPD Innovation
Helping you pilot ministry initiatives

Introduction to Innovation

A short course on Design Thinking in the ministry space.

Innovation is an idea relegated to the world of business and technology. So why would we need to learn about it in ministry? As leaders, we should use any tool at our disposal in the work of the kingdom. Just as the reformers and early adventists made use of the printing press, and we all currently use technology today, we should examine the best leadership and organisational tools and repurpose them for God’s work. Design Thinking is one of these tools. This course borrows terminology and concepts from business, but a human-centric innovation model is perfectly adaptable to ministry activities, such as designing church services, leading teams and developing discipleship initiatives.

The content should take about 2 hours to go through. Take your time. Absorb and apply what you are learning to your situation. We believe that God wants to see new things happening in your ministry and we pray that this course would unlock the hidden creative potential in your team.

“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

Isaiah 43:19

Audio Version

You can listen to the main course content in under 20 minutes. This option is the no frills, down to business way of getting the course content. We would suggest listening to the course only if you have an existing understanding of business principles and how they integrate into ministry leadership. For most, working through the content on this page and the videos will be more helpful.

Let’s get started!

The word innovation is loaded with flare – a sticky flamboyance shrouded in ambiguity. We imagine a cutting-edge, new invention – the novelty – poised to solve all of our problems and propel us forward, opening the door to endless possibilities. The question is, how do you get innovation? Is it the eureka moment? The apple falling from the tree? Or perhaps is there a way to create the right environment where innovative and creative ideas can be generated and nurtured? For over half a century, innovators, designers, architects, engineers, marketers, consultants from all over the world have experimented with and validated repeatable processes that facilitate innovation. You may have heard of some of these models: LEAN, AGILE, Waterfall, Six Sigma, Design Thinking and many more. This course will follow the Design Thinking model as is it human-centric and adaptable to many ministry activities.

There are many forms of innovation: product innovation, tech innovation, process innovation, social innovation and cultural Innovation.

When it comes to creating something new, don’t think of simply a product you can hold in your hand. You may be designing a new experience or a training module for young leaders.

This is a new way of working as a team. Initially, it appears resource intensive, however the chance of achieving a successful result is much greater. Traditional team dynamics function like a conveyer belt production line where one person passes the project onto the next, then the next, until the project is complete. This model works well for simple, repeatable tasks. However if your work requires creativity or problem solving, you need an innovation model.

Creating the Conditions

Solving complex problems requires a collaborative approach where a multi-disciplinary team work together on each stage of the project. Creative collaboration doesn’t always happen organically. You have to create an environment of trust and respect where people feel safe to express how they really feel about various ideas. It requires intentional leadership and guidance for collaboration to thrive. Often this is referred to as ‘culture’. The good news is that you can shape the beliefs and behaviours in your team resulting in a culture of innovation.

In his book The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle talks about to a process which psychologists call status management. Team members spend precious energy “…figuring out where they fit into the larger picture: Who is in charge? Is it okay to criticise someone’s idea? What are the rules here? Their interactions appear smooth, but their underlying behaviour is riddled with inefficiency, hesitation, and subtle competition. Instead of focusing on the task, they are navigating their uncertainty about one another.”

In the right culture, a synergy is achieved where a team of highly skilled professionals may be outperformed by a team with modestly skilled individuals who collaborate effectively. The individual skills are less important than the interaction between team members. This concept is vividly illustrated by the Navy Seal Log PT exercises when team members perform a variety of manoeuvres with telegraph poles. Without near perfect synchronicity and team work, these exercises would be impossible to perform.

“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Philippians 2:3-4

Some Practical Steps

There are many things you can do to foster an environment of trust and respect within your team: listen carefully to your team members, create team rules, establish relationship-building rituals, call out unhelpful or subversive behaviour, make sure that each member has a voice, celebrate diversity, celebrate taking initiative and unsolicited contribution, and repeatedly promote the values of learning, curiosity, and vulnerability. 

Design Thinking

Design Thinking isn’t one person’s invention. It’s a way of working that started in the 1950s and 1960s, strongly promoted by David Kelly, founder of IDEO and the Stanford d.school. It includes key ingredients like empathy, collaborative ideation and rapid prototyping. It’s a way of working that lends itself to developing experience and programs like those we currently use in ministry.

The Double Diamond Process

Design Thinking is sometimes referred to as the double diamond process due to the repeated stages of divergence (creating options) and convergence (selecting from options). This cycle can be repeated multiple times to achieve greater clarity or resolution when defining and prototyping.

Watch this video: Workshops are a great way to facilitate design thinking. Recently, the Australia Union Conference Sabbath School advisory workshoped the first two stages of the double diamond process. In this short video, you will see the team take part in the following exercises:

1. Lightning talks
2. Empathy role-play interviews
3. Brainstorming and ideation
4. Sailboat exercise
5. Creating a “How might we” statement

Stage 1: Empathy

Right from the beginning, we want to really understand the person we are designing for. What are their experiences and needs? Research is a part of this process and helps to provide an intellectual and informative backdrop, but engaging in empathy activities puts you in the mindset of your end user. Listening and stepping into their shoes is the perfect place to start.

We see this principle at work in the ministry of Christ. In order to save humanity, God became one of us and in so doing made salvation possible for anyone. In order to help someone in whatever they are encountering – whether they are struggling to grow spiritually or are intimidated by a church building – we need to start with empathy.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Hebrews 4:15

It is also important to approach this stage with humility and respect. Empathy activities can help us to identify our own assumptions and preconceptions. It’s important to be aware of our biases and try to set these aside so that we can contribute constructively.

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

Matthew 7:3

Stage 2: Define

Now that we are informed and have a clear understanding of our end user’s experience, we can attempt to define the challenge. First we need to identify needs and insights. There are several ways you can articulate a clear problem or opportunity. You can create a ‘Point of View’ statement, or a ‘How might we’ statement.

The 10,000 Toes Campaign Story

Watch this video: Pamela Townend shares how the 10,000 Toes Campaign began, highlighting some key components of the process:

1. The team were all personally motivated by and connected to the problem space.
2. They focused on “the one thing” that would impact people in the region.
3. They researched to validate their assumptions and connected with locals on the ground.
4. They adopted an attitude of playfulness and optimism.

Exploring solutions in a problem space can be one of the most fulfilling rewarding things a team can do. The sense of purpose and meaning is contagious and invigorating.

Stage 3: Ideate

Now that we are informed and have a clear understanding of our end user’s experience, we can attempt to define the challenge. First we need to identify needs and insights. There are several ways you can articulate a clear problem or opportunity. You can create a ‘Point of View’ statement, or a ‘How might we’ statement.

Designers Create Options

One of the distinguishing characteristics of how designers work is that they create options. An architect, graphic artist or industrial designer will generate options. The process of ideation can be seen as repeated cycles of generating options and selecting from those options, diverging and converging, each time focusing and getting closer to a clearly formulated solution.

Watch this video: Tony Knight and Amanda Bews from the Australian Union Conference talk about the creation of The Hunter Chronicles adventure novels and Bible study workbooks. Some of the elements discussed are key to successful ideation:

1. Encourage wild ideas
2. Build off of existing successful ideas
3. Creativity is collaborative
4. Iterating and refining is part of the process
5. Testing and measuring is a crucial sounding board

Stage 4: Prototype

This stage is where we start to see solutions come to life in a tangible form. The idea of prototyping is to create a low-resolution concept that we can place in the hands of our users and receive feedback.

Rapid prototyping reduces risk. Making changes to your concept early on is cheap and easy. The further along in the development process, the more expensive it will be to make changes. So testing your idea early through iterative prototypes will save you resources down the track.

Stage 5: Test

It is so important to measure your results. As the saying goes, “You can’t change what you can’t measure.” As you test your solution, implement some useful feedback mechanisms to reveal strengths and weaknesses and drive further improvements.


The innovation process is not something that is set in stone. You can adapt the process to suit your team and situation. Just make sure to include the key ingredients – start with listening and empathy, tap into the collective wisdom of your team with creative collaboration, and take your solutions to market early with rapid prototyping.

Project Example

Below is an example of what design thinking might look like applied to a project.

Stage 1:

Research: Each team member will prepare a 7 minute presentation about one aspect of the problem space

Stage 2:

Workshop 1: 1 day workshop sharing research with each other, doing empathy activities, and creating a ‘How might we’ statement.

Stage 3:

Workshop 2: 3 days ideating and prototyping.

Stage 4:

Testing: Further development and testing of high fidelity prototype in real world setting. Review after running the prototype.

Remember: “As activity increases and men become successful in doing any work for God, there is danger of trusting to human plans and methods. There is a tendency to pray less, and to have less faith. Like the disciples, we are in danger of losing sight of our dependence on God, and seeking to make a saviour of our activity. We need to look constantly to Jesus, realising that it is His power which does the work. While we are to labour earnestly for the salvation of the lost, we must also take time for meditation, for prayer, and for the study of the word of God. Only the work accomplished with much prayer, and sanctified by the merit of Christ, will in the end prove to have been efficient for good.”

Desire of Ages, Page 362

Well done!

If you would like to see innovation happen in your field of ministry, we would love to support you with training, coaching, workshop facilitation, and funding. Please contact us at maddyvoinea@adventist.org.au. Don’t forget to sign up to our SPD Innovation Mailing List below for updates.

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