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The Imagination-Irrelevance Connection

Of the four elements that our Elemental Group assesses for organizational health and effectiveness is one that we find most overlooked: Imagination.

Imagination is a leader’s—and an organization’s—ability to consider different and better outcomes. Or dare I say it?—simply to dream of a preferred future…and then strategize to achieve it.

It’s all wrapped around the organization’s capacity for change.

In our work with churches, we find most leadership teams rarely take the time to think about the future, about what it might look like and what it could be. And, of course, this lack of attention to imagining a different future typically trickles down into the entire organization.

Even churches as young as twenty-years-old can feel the Imagination element fading. What was once a fuel in their early stages—the “we’re-going-to-do-things-differently” drive—begins to lose steam as new challenges arrive at each phase of growth. Now imagine a church age of fifty, seventy-five, or as in the case of one church we worked with, a two-hundred-and-fifty year old organization. Change becomes the enemy of stability, tradition, and beloved methodologies.

But there’s a bigger problem tied to it.

In a recent Hartford Institute report funded by the Lilly Foundation, the stats were troubling. Along with research from Barna and others in 2023, more than half (51%) of the pastors had thought about quitting compared to 37% two years ago. And among those, younger pastors were more likely to consider leaving the ministry.

There were four primary factors driving pastors to consider quitting. They were churches with:

1. financial challenges;

2. a resistance to change;

3. a negative view of the future;

4. higher levels of conflict.

Two of those four are specifically related to the Imagination element: a resistance to change and a negative view of the future.

When organizations fail to carve out time and resources to dream of a preferred future and/or have a history of inoculating themselves against any real change beyond sanctuary colors, the end of organizational effectiveness is a mere decade away.

Your irrelevance is just around the corner.

Not to mention the inevitability of pastoral/leadership churn.

In the workbook that accompanies our Elemental Leaders book, we consider a number of questions:

“Does your church take time to think about the future, what it might be and could be? Are individuals at every level of the organization, including volunteers, encouraged to imagine ways to better fulfill the church’s mission in their own service areas? Do imaginative people in your church feel affirmed and supported, or do they feel stifled and unappreciated? Do you limit the privilege of dreaming to a small group of leaders or solicit good ideas from every source?” ELEMENTAL CHURCHES INVENTORY FIELD GUIDE

What’s your organization’s Imagination factor?

Dave Workman | The Elemental Group


Did you know The Elemental Group also works extensively with faith-based non-profits? Everything from fundability assessments to strategic planning to business development to grant-writing. Take a look at our “menu of services” for both churches and non-profits at our website—an impressive scope of work along with clear, accessible pricing. Now that’s different!


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