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Healthy Congregations Know When to Adapt – Part 2

The Modern to Postmodern shift is continuing to have an impact on local churches.

While discussing its implications recently with a group of church leaders, someone said, “Every pastor is a renewal, redevelopment or transformational pastor at this point in history, whether that pastor or his/her congregation knows it or not.”

Every church is engaging in the adaptive process, given the large-scale changes happening all around us. Some are keenly aware, shifting intentionally, while others are simply reactive, shifting haphazardly.

I am cheering for all churches to shift how they do church, allowing themselves to express the good news of the gospel in indigenous, organic and relevant ways, some are more readily positioned for adaptation than others.

So what actually contributes to adaptive change, positioning churches for proactive shifting toward fresh expressions of themselves?

Here are seven types of churches positioned for adaptive change:

1. Those who practice curiosity by embracing a learner’s attitude and approach to what they discover in their community and culture.

Often these churches introduce and then reinforce curiosity into their congregation by declaring a season of learning. The covenant to be in a discernment time for a particular time, blessing the opportunity to be curious about God and God’s ways in their community and congregation.

2. Those who affirm and reward experimentation over perfection in church activities and programming.

These churches develop a culture wherein those who step out in faith to engage holy experiments are affirmed and encouraged rather than evaluated negatively. They will discover how to be church with relevance in their settings.

3. Those who are captivated by a vision for a world that reflects God’s kingdom rather than this world’s way of being.

These churches believe living in the way of Jesus Christ is this world’s best hope for transformation. Their urgency is high, wanting to subversively turn culture upside down with the life-giving way of life described by Jesus in his parables, teaching and modeling.

4. Those where things happen that can only be explained as God’s movement.

Historical language for this is “spiritual awakening.” These churches become so Holy Spirit-sensitive that things occur that are beyond human activity. When this happens, they are very willing to release outdated ways of being church, moving into new expressions of church.

5. Those who experience circumstantial crises.

Embezzlement of church funds, the sanctuary burning, floods ruining the building and so on are crises rising up out of our existence in this broken world that can serve to awaken a church from slumber, if approached wisely.

After worshipping in the fellowship hall for six months, experiencing rich and meaningful worship, who wants to return to boring humdrum worship now that the sanctuary is completed?

6. Those who are on the other side of conflict, but not too far.

When the conflict is over, yet still fresh enough that we feel the pinch, there is a window of change opportunity. Wise leaders will seize these moments to re-examine how we are church, maximizing the desire to avoid repeating history.

7. Those who are immersed in particularly consuming missional engagement in their communities.

Sometimes a church stumbles into missional engagement opportunities that are highly invigorating to them as a faith community. The resulting energy boost can serve to initiate change in additional ways in this church, contributing to adaptive shifting.

This list of churches positioned well for adaptive change is not exhaustive. We do hope it can be useful.

Perhaps your lay leadership team, church staff or entire congregation could look over these church descriptions together, asking:

  • Where do we see ourselves in this description?
  • How ready are we to embrace adaptive change?
  • Do we even think that’s necessary? Why or why not?
  • What’s God’s calling for us given these insights?

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 second of a two-part series on churches and adaptive change. Part one is available here.