Ice Cream You Scream...

This may sound like the beginning of a bad joke: What do you get when you combine:

  • A nuclear engineer
  • A rap artist
  • An FBI agent
  • An AOL / Time Warner executive
  • A professional stand-up comedian

    How about a church leadership team? As an experience architect, I've been exploring ways that innovative leadership is imprinted on customer experience. New Life Christian Church is a great case study. It's one of those unique places where the customer experience definitely reflects the drive and innovation of its leaders... and there's something to be learned for all.

    Whether you're watching one of the church produced videos, like Baby Got Book; sucking down a free bomb pop from the church's green and orange ice cream truck; or attending one of a myriad of action-filled community events, it's easy to see that there's something different about New Life...

    The church's three "mobile campuses" are set up each week at local schools by groups of wacky and enthusiastic volunteers. Church pastors "tour" each campus with their own worship bands which play everything from modern worship to Dave Matthews tunes. Sermons are relatively short, thought provoking, and supported with entertaining videos, multimedia and improvisational props that add meaning.

    The church congregation is a casual mix of urban hipsters and families, who mill about sipping coffee and munching home baked goodies. For children, New Life's innovative Kidzone, and teen programs leverage cool music, videos, and interactive learning. For adults, the church offers a myriad of unconventional classes and support groups that help individuals with issues like Divorce, Recovery and English as a Second Language.

    In the off-hours, New Life's passion for community is reflected in the more than 50 local small groups that meet on a weekly basis. The church also sponsors five national ministries, including a church marketing institute and church planting ministry, which help other churches grow, reach new audiences and apply innovation. New Life has invested in property for a new facility. It also revealed plans to create churches in the future that serve as community centers which offer childcare, workout facilities, sporting fields, and meeting rooms.

    I spoke with Todd Wilson "Executive Guy" at New Life, to ask him about innovation. Wilson acknowledges that his leadership team strives to create a culture driven by people who are energized by innovation. "We're not a business," Wilson says, "One thing lies at the core of our innovation: our passion for finding new ways to connect people with God." According to Wilson, the leadership also strives to plug people in to each other. "We all need community and human connection." says Wilson, "Businesses like Starbucks and eBay have figured this out and the church isn't any different. We need to be active and visible in the community, and that's what we strive for."

    New Lifers whole heartedly agree. Collectively, they feel a sense that they're a part of something bigger. Church involvement is extremely high and the church's congregation is growing. "With three campuses, hundreds of volunteers, five national ministries and a host of community outreaches, we have so much going on it's hard to manage." Says Wilson, "It's a blessing and sometimes it's a burden, but I think this is a hallmark of any truly innovative enterprise."

    Wilson and his team manage innovative ideas working hard to filter them against a central goal and set of objectives. "In a staff like ours, innovative ideas and opportunity come easily." he says, "It's the execution that is harder. We are stewards of these ideas -- as well as of the people on our staff and the people who attend New Life. Like any other innovative organization, we're now struggling to find ways to prioritize and execute the most high-value ideas with discipline, organization and integrity."

    What will they think of next? There"s more good stuff, according to Wilson. "We're overwhelmed and excited about the incredible opportunities available to us -- but the most important thing for us will be achieving our main goal: focusing on serving God by serving people well -- without this, innovation is useless."

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    I’m Leigh Durst, a 20 year veteran in business, operations, customer strategy, ecommerce, digital & social media and marketing. Simply put, I’m a strategist that helps companies (start-up to blue chip) achieve business shift, create more compelling online and offline experiences. I also write, speak and teach about experience design and next-generation business. I’m a futurist, visionary, strategist, doer and connector with a passion for people and helping others. When I’m not on the road, you’ll find me in the San Francisco bay area, working, beaching it and hanging out with my family and dog.


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