Adaptive Change vs. Technical Change

Churches constantly face a changing culture.  As the culture changes so does the church.  The church changes its form of communication, its ways of evangelism, its ways of living out the gospel, and its structures.  Notice what it does not change – teachings, sacraments, beliefs, etc.

The church not only faces a changing culture it also faces a changing environment.  Many churches were once built in a subdivision or a specific part of town and for the most part these churches reflected the location in which it was located.  However, over the years the neighborhood changes and thus the church must learn to change with the neighborhood.

Take for example The Friendship Church of Christ.[1]  The Friendship Church was born and established in a predominately white, middle class section of town.  Over a span of forty years or so the neighborhood changed to a low-income, Spanish speaking neighborhood.  As the neighborhood changed sadly the church remained a white, middle class congregation. 

Two seminary students a part of the congregation decided that they would start a Saturday morning activity and class for the low-income families.  Fliers were distributed, doors were knocked upon and invitations were given for all the children surrounding the existing church to join in an activity and Bible class for two hours every other Saturday.  This ministry flourished and grew to include a Wednesday evening activity and class for the children.

However, this influx of low-income, Spanish speaking children disrupted the ethos of the existing the church.  The existing church was comfortable with its own well-behaved children and with its traditional style of Wednesday evening.  As Wednesday evenings became disrupted several families quit attending on Wednesday nights. 

What this church is facing is the opportunity for an adaptive change.  An adaptive change is possible when the church is in constant interaction with its environment and neighborhood and is able to adapt to changing circumstances.  Thus, the Friendship Church is in a position to adapt to a changing environment, a low-income, Spanish speaking environment.  The adaptation is not easy, does not have quick-fix answers, will disrupt the current structure(s), and will most likely include frustration and conflict.  But, in order for the Friendship church to be a witness, the adaptive change must take place.

There is another method of change that can take place, however; a technical change.  The technical change will mean that the current practices, thoughts and mindsets will continue to be present.  In a technical change the environment or culture will not play into long-term change, nor will it be part of forming and shaping the church.  A technical change will mean that current structures and organization will continue to be present.

The problem with the technical change is that it does not allow for the culture, neighborhood, or environment to form and shape the church’s ministry.  A technical change means that the church will continue to use an outdated structure and thus its ability to reach its environment will be drastically hindered.

For example, if the Friendship Church continues to use a white, middle-class approach to reaching the low-income Spanish speaking neighborhood its ability to proclaim the gospel will be dysfunctional at best.

As I think of our situation here in Newmarket, Ontario we are dangerously on the brink of discovering and wanting to implement technical change.  I am seeing a clearer picture that we will continue to be a middle to high end congregation, remain worshiping with a 1960s mindset, and of course talk about and implement 1970s methods of evangelism.  There is great danger that we will not let our culture, our neighborhood, or the environment form and shape the church’s ministry.

God help us as we fight against the urge to remain the same and expect the neighborhood to come to us and adopt our church culture.  God help us and grant us the ability, desire and courage to let the culture, neighborhood and environment shape our ministry so that we can be live out the gospel of Jesus Christ.

[1] Name has been changed.

Published in: on November 20, 2007 at 12:10 am  Leave a Comment  

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