As a consultant, one of the challenges is dividing between the emotional elements of church life and the organizational elements. It is so hard to identify the tangible pieces from the intangible ‘feeling’ elements. In the church world, the ‘feeling’ elements, or intangible variables, can seem as though they are the majority of the driving forces that determine ministry success. Part of that is because ministry begins with a relationship with Christ and ends with more people coming into relationships with Christ. Relationships are touchy-feely, not data driven with statistics. So, as a consultant, how should one weave through the tangible and intangible elements when using a tool such as a causal loop diagram.
What is important is identifying the necessary elements and their distinction (Anderson & Johnson, 1997). If they are intangibles, the question needs to be asked, “does this actually impact the process?” For instance, a church trying to connect guests may have a causal loop diagram representing the process, but somewhere in the process there needs to account for relational connection, which is hard to quantify in a tangible way. However, relational connections can tangibly impact another intangible like buy-in to the church community, leading to a tangible such as personal invites to friends, relatives, and coworkers. Without relational connections and buy-in, both intangibles that are hard to quantify, a causal loop diagram on guest assimilation would be incomplete and probably would not make sense.
Any organization has this challenge, but some are more prominent than others. Non-profits tend to be more emotion oriented than a for profit organization, meaning that understanding their processes in a causal loop diagram is more challenging. Consultants need to clarify for leaders what is truly important, and what is not through causal loop diagrams and other systems tools.
Anderson, V., & Johnson, L. (1997). Systems thinking basics: from concepts to causal loops. Cambridge, Mass: Pegasus Communications.