Boosting the Church’s Creativity Index

It usually goes something like this: People are in a committee or team meeting. Someone proposes a new idea. The group embraces the concept and starts talking excitedly about how to implement it. Then, suddenly, someone begins to raise the dreaded questions: Where will we find the money and the time? What will our older members think? Will people leave if we do this?  Is this effort to do something new going to fail, like last time?

Just like that, the haunting voices of the Naysayers have entered the room. People swiftly pivot away from enthusiastic discussions of possibility and shift into a more energy-sucking activity: anticipating and measuring the impact of the Naysayers’ potential opposition. Before you know it, the team surrenders to anxiety and pulls the New Thing from consideration, fearing the trouble that the idea might create.

I’m sure you’ve had conversations like this. I’ve had them more times than I can easily count.

But here’s the conversation I bet you’ve never had—and the questions I bet you’ve rarely heard—in church planning committees: What might happen if the New Thing does not move forward? What about the young people? The creative people? The people who feel really passionate about the new ministry? What will they do? Will they leave? Will they be disappointed by the church? How will this impact their faith and ministry?

Much to my dismay, I’ve learned that the young and the creative types are probably not going to be the ones to wage a full-scale battle in your church. Instead, they are more likely to retreat, leave quietly, and find other places (usually not churches) that enable their passions and creativity to come to life.

In his 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class, Richard Florida—an urban planning professor, sociologist, author, and speaker—wrote the about (you guessed it) the “Creative Class,” which is comprised of people working in certain “knowledge industries.” According to Florida, writers, musicians, engineers, software developers, and others (i.e., “Creatives”) are the people who most often drive growth in urban areas.

If members of the Creative Class drive growth in cities, they also may have the potential to spur growth in churches—but only if faith communities take Creatives’ needs seriously. Mainline Protestant churches and other communities of faith have been declining for decades, and many members of the Creative Class have left our buildings. What can the Church do about that?

Members of the Creative Class … may have the potential to spur growth in churches—but only if faith communities take Creatives’ needs seriously.

First, we need to learn about the Creative Class, so that we can appreciate its culture and respond to some of its trends, which have the power to significantly impact the way that we think about and experience community. Let’s start by recognizing that members of the Creative Class tend not to form their identities solely through the communities to which they belong. Thus, many Creatives do not define themselves through membership in civic organizations, social clubs, and/or faith communities. Instead, they cultivate their identities through their creative endeavors and the experiences they have. In short, they are able to ascribe deep spiritual meaning to creative choices, and they find spiritual connection through their everyday personal and professional connections. Finally, they are most likely to engage in groups that allow them to quickly join and easily take part in organizational structure and governance.

In his book, Florida highlighted the voice and perspective of Creatives, writing, “Identity is formed around individual creativity rather than by the groups of which we are part. In this new world, it is no longer the organization we work for, churches, neighborhoods, or even family ties that define us. Instead we do this ourselves, defining our identity along the very dimensions of our creativity.” 

And how might this creative life be nurtured? According to Florida, many members of the Creative Class seek less-structured work schedules, more recreational activities to recharge their creative energy, and access to diverse and vibrant arts communities. Thus, many cities with a flourishing Creative Class have witnessed the emergence of lively music, arts, and food scenes—often in smaller neighborhoods or revitalized downtown areas.

But in order to develop these flourishing enclaves, many urban areas first had to adapt to the cultural shifts wrought by the rise of the Creative Class. Cities that historically had depended upon corporate headquarters and large professional sports venues for economic development needed to re-imagine their landscapes and urban planning goals. Even as they tried to attract businesses to the area, they also invested in bike paths and promoted more tolerant, diverse communities.

I would argue that our churches, like the cities that Richard Florida described, also must adapt to the rise of the Creative Class. If urban areas could no longer depend upon traditional corporate headquarters and sports arenas to attract Creatives, why do churches expect to grow by continuing to offer only traditional Sunday morning worship, Sunday School, youth groups, and annual mission trips?

[W]hy do churches expect to grow by continuing to offer only traditional Sunday morning worship, Sunday School, youth groups, and annual mission trips?

In his research, Florida developed a “Creativity Index” to evaluate a city’s capacity to attract creative people. This index measures the city’s ability to nurture and support what Florida tags as “the three Ts”: Talent, Technology, and Tolerance. I think we can adapt those concepts for the church by asking ourselves some important questions about our faith communities. Perhaps your church will consider holding a community conversation about the following questions:

  • Talent — In our church, what percentage of people consider themselves creative? How many people are looking for a place to share their passions, energy and gifts? Are we allowing new and long-term members alike to share their creative gifts for ministry? How are we helping them connect these gifts with faith practices and theology? Do we invite people to see their work and recreational activities as infused with spiritual meaning?
     
  • Technology — What is our typical response when someone proposes a new idea for a community-based ministry, an artistic change to worship, or an upgrade to the physical church building? What venues and communications channels allow people to easily share new ideas that could further our ministries in the community? And do we allow people ample time for rest and renewal before expecting them to come back and take on their next creative challenge?
     
  • Tolerance — How do we react upon the arrival of new people who are different from our “typical” church members? Are we welcoming to young people, those who identify as LGBTQ, and people who are outside the racial norm or socio-economic class of our congregation? Do we have a place for single people, married couples without children, single parents, and people with a variety of family structures? Do we look askance at creative types who are covered with piercings and tattoos (especially if they prefer to help serve the homeless on a Thursday night or attend a Monday barroom theology discussion rather than attend Sunday worship)?

Imagine what such a conversation in your congregation might yield. The next time your faith community contemplates a new ministry idea, try pushing the Naysayers’ voices to the side as you contemplate the impact the New Thing may have on your church’s “Creativity Index.”

In doing so, you will engage a process of discernment that is based not only in modern thinking about urban growth and organizational development, but also in ancient Biblical wisdom and the theology of a creative God, who asks, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19)

Images:

Cover – Deanna Wardin, “Inner Foot Lettering Tattoo,” November 11, 2011. Via Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Inside – New York City Department of Transportation, “Roots/Routes,” April 30, 2011. Via Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 / Cropped.

Nicole Havelka

Rev. Nicole Havelka currently serves as the Minister for Resourcing, Networking and Creativity for the Ohio Conference of the United Church of Christ. She has a long history of serving both local churches and the wider church where youth ministry and faith formation intersect with creativity and innovation. Nicole firmly believes that the church is not dying; it is being reborn. That belief has been embodied in her work through the many digital and in-person spaces in which she has gathered local and wider church leaders. During her spare time, Nicole – who is a certified yoga instructor – spends as much time on her mat as possible. As an extension of that practice, she swims, runs, and bikes to prepare for triathlons. She also loves to cook for friends, travel, and watch as many Oscar-nominated movies as possible. Connect with Nicole by visiting her Facebook page and following her on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. Her personal blog can be found at www.defythetrend.com.

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