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Healthy Congregations Know When to Adapt – Part 1

Given the high-change environment in which we find ourselves, adapting is a primary focus for healthy, forward-leaning congregations.

Those who learn quickly, pivot their practices and embody the Kingdom of God in life-giving ways will flourish.

So can we predict which congregations will adapt, making the shift to vitalized 21st century faith communities?

Not with any certainty, but transformation can happen in any congregation and often takes place in surprising ways. Yet, there are a number of impediments or blockages when churches consider adapting.

Here are nine types of churches where these hindrances are manifested:

1. Those who were very “successful” with the 20th century way of being church.

These find it very difficult to believe they are in need of change since they were so successful with a particular way of being church in their recent history.

2. Those whose 20th century approach is still viable enough.

For example, there are only a few in the handbell choir, but it is enough to somewhat justify its existence. This allows members to believe their church paradigm is still fruitful.

3. Those who are the largest church in the area from each denomination.

They continued to receive Christians from smaller churches since they can still maintain familiar 20th century Christian church culture.

4. Those in a few isolated small towns where cultural shift is less prevalent.

In these locations, tradition still motivates enough people to be church-as-we-have-known-it.

5. Megachurches, which are the last innovation of the 20th century attractional church model.

While they are seeing fraying around the edges at this point in the 21st century, they are still attracting enough 20th century paradigm-seeking pilgrims to resist innovation.

6. Those who are populated by people who are deeply committed to 20th century culture at large remaining the same (due to power, prestige, money and so on).

In these churches, their perceived losses when it comes to adaptive change discourages them from experimenting with change.

7. Those who are part of denominations that require great funding to support their structure and personnel (for obvious reasons).

8. Those who love form (traditions, worship style, theological nuance, beloved structures) over function (effectiveness around developing disciples who join God’s mission).

9. Those who believe returning to the good old days – the way we were church when we were “successful” – is adaptive change.

Now, my goal in writing this is not to insult readers. All of us are struggling with the massive change required of us while moving into the Postmodern Era.

I love the way-we-have-been-church and grieve its passing, but I also believe the gospel is so good that it’s worth giving up my cherished practices in order to connect this good news with our world as we currently find it.

Yes, sometimes I go there kicking and screaming and throwing a Christian fit, yet go there we must.

Perhaps by sensitizing ourselves to these adaptation roadblocks, naming and identifying them, we will more quickly and less painfully move beyond them to faithful and robust Christian expression.

The 21st century is waiting, ready for the very good news, presence, love and power of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates. A version of this article first appeared on Pinnacle’s blog and is used with permission. His writings can also be found on his personal blog.

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series on churches and adaptive change. Part two will appear tomorrow.