OSV Innovation Talks aim to spark creativity in ministry and evangelization

4 mins read

Millions around the world have watched, listened to or heard about TED Talks — mini-seminars where experts share insights on a variety of topics, such as education, business, science, psychology and technology.

Inspired by their success, the OSV Institute has partnered with ODB Films to kick off a Catholic version of the popular video lecture series: OSV Innovation Talks.

“The thought was that we at the OSV Institute want to become a catalyst for greater innovation, and we thought one of those ways was to start a dialogue and conversation through a TED Talk experience,” said Jason Shanks, president of OSV Institute.

Shanks himself delivered an OSV Talk entitled “The Inefficient Innovator,” where he discusses the urgent need for unscaled innovation in Catholic ministry. Shanks’ talk, recorded weeks ago in Dallas, is the first of several talks that will be uploaded to YouTube and shared on the website osvtalks.com. Other OSV Talks will feature religious priests and sisters, diocesan clergy, as well as lay ministers and evangelists from parishes and apostolates.

Shanks discussed the idea and philosophy behind OSV Talks in a recent interview, which has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Our Sunday Visitor: Is this a Catholic version of TED Talks?

Jason Shanks: That’s exactly what it is. OSV Talks started as part of a larger ecosystem related to innovation within ministry and evangelization in the Church. The thought was that we at the OSV Institute want to become a catalyst for greater innovation, and we thought one of those ways was to start a dialogue and conversation through a TED Talk experience.

Our Sunday Visitor: How many of these talks have been held?

Shanks: We did our first seven talks in Dallas. We had planned to do another seven in May at the Sheen Center in New York, but that has been delayed because of the (coronavirus). Things are still up in the air with the New York event. The third event is going to be in Orange County, California. We are going to do another 14 to 15 talks in the fall, so this year we will have a total of about 21 of these talks. Next year, we are potentially going to St. Louis and New Orleans.

Our Sunday Visitor: What is the format of OSV Talks?

Shanks: OSV Talks is more than just a video recording of a talk. It’s also an event. We’re starting to have discussions about partnering with dioceses if they want to bring 300 to 500 people in Catholic ministry to the event. In the future, beyond the talks themselves, we’re probably going to be interviewing the speakers. We’re even talking about doing a watch party with each talk and doing Facebook Live to allow people to ask (the speakers) questions. It’s all free, and people can go to osvtalks.com to get notifications sent to them when the next talk will come out.

Our Sunday Visitor: What kind of backgrounds do the speakers have?

Shanks: We definitely wanted to make sure that there’s diversity in thought and diversity in experience among the presenters. We probably have about half who are in ministries directly within parishes or dioceses. The other half are coming from apostolates like Word on Fire, the Catholic Leadership Institute and Catholic Creatives. The core audience here is people directly in ministry, so we wanted to make sure we had a wealth of speakers who are innovative in their thinking and innovative in their approaches to spur thinking, ideas and conversation at the ministry level of parishes and dioceses.

Our Sunday Visitor: What kind of topics do the speakers talk about?

Shanks: Jared Zimmerer, the institute director from Word on Fire, is probably the talk we’re going to release next. He is speaking on Bruce Lee as a master evangelist, and it’s fascinating to hear him use Bruce Lee as an example of evangelization. Sister Josephine Garrett from the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth gives a great talk where one of her lines is about focusing on the innovator within.

Our Sunday Visitor: What kind of need for innovation do you see in Catholic ministry?

Shanks: The formal name for these talks is OSV Innovation Talks. We’re really trying to emphasize that word “innovation.” For us, it comes from John Paul II’s statement regarding the New Evangelization: “New in ardor, new in expression, new in method.” The truth is that we’re really seeing a lack of new ideas related to outreach and method. The innovation is not to say that we’re looking for innovation in doctrine or innovation in liturgical practice. We’re really looking for innovation in method under the umbrella of the New Evangelization.

We at the OSV Institute have given about $85 million in grants away over the last 100-plus years. Just recently, looking at the grant applications, we’re really seeing that the ideas that are coming forward just aren’t cutting it and aren’t going deep enough in their innovative approaches. So this is an opportunity to say we need to be thinking about new ideas, that we need to be willing as a Church to fail, to be more creative and to find approaches that are working.

Our Sunday Visitor: How is OSV Talks related to the OSV Innovation Challenge?

Shanks: We started the Innovation Challenge to be able to go out and ask from an entrepreneurial standpoint, “Who’s got some new ideas?” We launched the Innovation Challenge with three $100,000 prizes. We had 400 initial applications. Over the course of many months, we’ve narrowed it down to the top 12. I’ve been very inspired, not only by the top 12, but by the whole community, their ideas, their passion and their willingness to collaborate and work together to build the kingdom of Christ.

What’s also emerging out of this is a sort of innovator tribe, an innovator community. The range of ideas of the 12 finalists are great. We have people who have new ideas for social networking among Catholics. We have ideas for Hispanic podcasting, social justice movies, new ways of ministry to the lesbian-bisexual-transgender community, and new ideas for parents and families that I think are going to be super appropriate for what’s going on right now in this church-at-home age that we’re living through.

Our Sunday Visitor: Were there any common threads that emerged in the OSV Innovation Challenge applications?

Shanks: We definitely saw trends and needs that people were identifying within the Church. We had about 15 ideas that were all around Catholic coffee houses, Catholic art studios and Catholic co-working spaces. As I started looking at what they were getting at, what the underlying need was that they were trying to address, I thought it was one of community. Clearly people are not getting community at the parish level anymore, and the culture is really divergent in many ways from their values. They’re really hungry to be with each other and to do work with each other. So through them, we’re starting to understand the needs of the Church even better, and I think the Innovation Challenge is going to spur some ideas.

Brian Fraga is a contributing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.

Brian Fraga

Brian Fraga writes from Massachusetts.