Innovation in the Midst of Constraints with Jon Hirst

In Episode 14 of the Ministry at Scale podcast, we talked with Jon Hirst, Director of Program Innovation at SIL International. Jon taught us how his organization goes about promoting innovation in the midst of constraints, knowing when to tweak a process, and trends ministries should be aware of in 2021.

Fail fast, fail forward

We asked Jon what his team’s process is for innovation, especially around creating new global programs – like a children’s literacy program, for example. He told us that it takes a 5 step process: ideation, design, prototyping, scaling and releasing.

As a part of the process, it’s important to know when to make tweaks or even scrap an idea. Jon explained that first and foremost you need to have empathy for your audience. If you’ve ideated several times, and your target audience still isn’t interested, then your idea might not be meeting a need for that audience.

Part of letting go of an idea requires holding it loosely in your heart and asking God to steward the idea for you. If He decides it doesn’t work, there is no pressure. Another part of letting go is being able to admit that an idea simply didn’t work because it was executed poorly. All in all, being in tune with your mindset is the key to a solid ideation process.

Innovation versus constraints

Jon also brought up the tension between rhetoric and action when it comes to a willingness to fail fast and fail forward: we’ve built up the concept of accepting failure, but in practice we are resource-constrained. It’s difficult to encourage innovation when each failure eats away at an already tiny budget.

Referencing an article by Greg Satell about the extremes of innovation and constraints, Jon provides advice to small ministries.

Theoretically, if you had an unlimited budget, there would be no creativity – constraints promote innovation. On the other hand, if you are defined by your constraints, you will end up saying no to the things you should say yes to. Jon told us that the key to innovating in a small organization is somewhere in the middle: trusting God and your organization to move a good idea forward.

Additional Resources

On every episode of our podcast, we ask our guests to recommend a book, or other resources, to our audience.

Jon suggests reading Didn’t See It Coming by Carey Nieuwhof, a book about unexpected moments in life that could derail everything and how to look at your own life to prepare for the unexpected.

For more information about Jon Hirst, SIL International, and Jon’s work in innovation, visit or