Church Leadership Strategies, Whole Systems, Large Group

Share this:


Appreciative Inquiry, Asset Mapping, Future Search, Open Space Technology, Scenario Planning, World Cafe

Part of two guides to Ministry Resources


Introduction, Definition

Whole-Systems Design is a “convene, collaborate, and co-create” approach to church leadership. It operates from the philosophy that through high involvement of affected participants, whole systems, or entire congregations or communities, can experience significant, desirable change. This approach is also associated with Leadership and the New Science and one of its main tenets, the principle of self-organization. This principle says healthy living organisms self-organize and self-regulate, thus group facilitation should simply create the environment where this occurs most effectively. Applied to congregations, whole churches (whole systems approaches have been used effectively with groups numbering in the thousands) may convene to address crucial issues, discern mission, and shape meaningful futures.

These methods place the church leader in a more non-directive posture, as one who creates the context and climate for discussion so that a congregation may discern its own direction. In this scenario, the leader does not give answers, advocate, persuade, or defend a particular direction. Instead, the leader is the convener who focuses on how the congregation gathers for conversation and the context in which the gatherings take place. It is designed to create community discernment and ownership. Some will be comfortable with this, while others may prefer more directive models, some of which are featured in the resource guide on Strategies for Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal.

go to top

Ministry Resources

One may need professional assistance to use these techniques, but the resources below will provide necessary background to the concepts.

Visionary Reflections on the Value of Conversations

Whole Systems Concepts

Ministry Resources on Whole Systems:

Standard Guides:

Church leaders who become convinced that large group/whole systems design will work for them should first consult Creating Our Future Together described above. It is an excellent primer, yet the unique orientation and skill set for this method may require more specialized reading/training. Most of the books in this field are written with business settings in mind, but can be mined for use in congregations. Below are a few examples.

go to top

Ministry Resources – Whole Systems Approaches features six large group/whole systems approaches:

For Planning for the Future:

For Discussion and Exploration of Congregational Issues:

Future Search

Standard Guide:

Appreciative Inquiry

With Appreciative Inquiry (AI), the congregation is led to focus less on unmet needs, unsolved problems, or areas of improvement, but instead upon strengthening and building congregational assets. AI assumes every organization/congregation has something that works right, things that make it vital, effective, and successful. AI facilitates the discovery and exploration of this positive core and connects congregational visions, plans, and structures to it in ways that heighten energy and inspire action for change.

Appreciative Inquiry – Church-Related Resources:

go to top

Appreciative Inquiry – Standard Guides

go to top


  • Luther K. Snow, The Power of Asset-Mapping: How Your Congregation Can Act Upon Its Gifts — Describes a practice to help congregations focus on gifts rather than needs or deficiencies. It is designed as an expression of stewardship, faithfully building on current assets. He reflects his learnings from the National Demonstration Project on Congregational Asset Mapping for the 11,000 congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

Scenario Planning

Open-Space Technology

World Café

go to top

Related Ministry Resources

See Other Resources on Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal:

Ministry Resources on Related Areas

See Resources on Over 100 Areas of Christian Ministry:

go to top