Out-Thinking Creativity: Lessons for the Local Church

If adaptability is the new buzzword for church today, then the engine of that adaptability is creativity.

Since the early 1990s, psychologists, scientists, and social scientists have done a lot of work to try and unlock the mystery known as creativity. This work should be considered in light of a positive psychology approach, which can be seen in opposition to taking a more diagnostic problem-based stance.

In case this sounds a little unfamiliar, let me place it in the context of church talk. Psychologists and others are now focusing more on the good things in church rather than how to fix issues or challenges. Church thinking offers a host of strategies to build on these sorts of things: Appreciative Inquiry, the New Beginnings approach, and others.

What would it look like to incorporate the idea of creativity to church using some of the new science that is so readily attainable? One of the most accessible of these is a study from 2015 called Educate to Innovate—Factors That Influence Innovation: Based on Input from Innovators and Stakeholders (2015). This study is available for free download from the National Academies Press, which offers a goldmine of great data, reports, and ideas just waiting to be interpreted from a faith perspective.

Consider this quote from the study:

In summary, universities should brand themselves as a place for innovation, help create new enterprises, facilitate the transfer of knowledge and technology beyond the university, and make a determined effort to make intellectual property protection less onerous. (p. 7)

Simply replace the word “university” with “church” and the call becomes clear. I found this study to be particularly interesting because it paired creativity with the notion of entrepreneurship and innovation. The study also described how the authors attempted to differentiate between these two concepts:

There was general agreement on a first-order distinction between innovation and entrepreneurship: Innovation creates societal value (through an existing or new product, process, or service), and entrepreneurship involves realizing the market value of an opportunity, not necessarily an innovation, by making it commercially or socially viable.

No need to replace words here—this is business speak for mission, vision, and values within the church. Although the dialect is different, I can easily hear how framing a congregation’s next mission debate in terms of entrepreneurship and innovation might lead to the discovery of more opportunity.

Additionally, the report highlighted several key factors that lead to greater creativity and innovation:

  • Dissatisfaction with the status quo
  • Intense curiosity
  • The ability to identify serendipitous moments
  • Willingness to take risks and to fail
  • Passion
  • Knowledge of their field
  • The ability to identify good problems/ideas
  • The ability to work at the interfaces of disciplines
  • The ability to sell an idea


Innovate History: American history, white guys, and rap music? Cue Hamilton. Listen to the soundtrack and learn more here: www.hamiltonbroadway.com. [Image: Public Domain] 

The book Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind takes this sort of research and turns it into a very readable and informative work on the science of creativity. Take a look at the book’s table of contents and you will have a notion of some of the themes discovered in the research such as imaginative play, passion, daydreaming, solitude, intuition, openness to experience, mindfulness, sensitivity, turning adversity into advantage, and thinking differently. It’s a similar list to what the Educate to Innovate researchers discovered.


The point is this: Creativity is not so much some mystical thing but, rather, a collection of attitudes and behaviors which drive success. The church has the potential to become a place where these habits can be gained, learned, and used effectively. Some questions for reflection:

  • For pastors: Where do you see the spark of creativity and innovation in your own ministry? Where might you be called to be an entrepreneur? Most UCC churches have under 100 members, meaning your calling might be to develop something new.
  • For churches: Is the church willing to be innovative? I think this is one of those times when our denomination’s smaller churches have the ability to really shine because they have the potential to be nimble.
  • For the wider church: How do we collectively make room for innovation and entrepreneurial efforts given the constraints of our polity and practice? The more I read about creativity, the more I think some work needs to be done to allow room for adaptation and change to take place.

Here’s the rub: Local congregational church polity privileges the status quo.  We need to find ways to foster the work of innovators and entrepreneurs if the established church is to thrive in the future. We could be talking about sustainability; but I, for one, would prefer to change the discussion to one of creativity.

Below are some ideas, suggestions, and links for bringing some of this learning into worship, bible study, and sermon prep.

  • Worship idea: Turn the Children’s Moment into a Young at Heart Moment and brainstorm about one of these markers. Maybe talk about exciting failures, new things to try, or creative family Easter traditions.
  • Prayer idea: Make confession interesting this week. Have folks confess the messy areas in their lives. (Creativity and mess go hand in hand.)
  • Bible Study: Watch this Intro to Creativity at Bible Study. Listen to this podcast. Consider how this thinking plays well with the story of Genesis, particularly the notion of what passes for knowledge.
  • Sermon idea: Consider creativity in light of the Easter message. What was new? What was old? How did the early church offer some needed innovation? Would you call John the Baptist an entrepreneur?

How do you spur creativity in your church, your ministry, or the wider world? Any good practices, resources, or ideas to share?

Leave them below…

Jeremiah RoodRev. Jeremiah Rood lives in Massachusetts with his wife, Amanda, and two small black cats. He has experience working in local congregations but most recently has turned his attention to building an active online ministry at www.revjeremiahrood.com and www.localchurchrevival.com. His time is now split between writing a book exploring these issues and working with folks struggling with a variety of different developmental and life challenges.


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