In an article in the Harvard Business Review several years ago, leadership guru Peter Drucker wrote:
Innovation rarely springs from a flash of inspiration. It arises from a cold-eyed analysis of seven kinds of opportunities: unexpected occurrences, incongruities, process needs, industry and market changes, demographic changes, changes in perception, and new knowledge.
Our nature is to resist change. Once equilibrium is established, we work to keep things in balance. Then something comes along to upset that balance. What is our response? The natural response is to try to return to equilibrium but to do so may mean casting off something or taking a new stance.
Many churches and denominational entities find themselves in a time of disequilibrium. We point quickly to the financial crisis as the source of this event, but other forces were already at work—demographic changes, changes in mission philosophy, and changes in our culture. Too often we have tried to ignore those changes, but it is hard to ignore economic contingencies.
The question now is (using Len Sweet’s image), “Do we allow ourselves to be washed away by the tsunami or do we learn how to surf the wave?” I think it is a good time to learn to surf, taking advantage of the power of the wave to find new directions and new alliances.
This is not the first time that the church has been faced with unexpected change. The class differentiation of 18th and 19th century England was addressed by the spiritual reformation movement led by the Wesleys. The isolation of the American frontier produced the circuit rider, the farmer-preacher, and the camp meeting. The growth of the American higher education system and the separation of many young adults from families, home churches, and beloved communities led to the organization of the YMCA, the YWCA, the Student Volunteer Movement, and denominational campus ministries. The post World War II economic and population boom produced innovative and growing churches and denominations.
All of these were innovations in their time but, as someone has pointed out, “Yesterday’s solutions are today’s problems.” It’s time for fresh thinking, creative approaches to ministry, and wise use of resources. The economy is only the latest force to push the church toward change but it appears the most difficult to ignore!