Facing our Adaptive Challenge

We face all kinds of challenges in our churches today.  The obvious ones have to do with issues of declining membership and finances.  That’s certainly what we’re struggling with at my church!

But go a level deeper and you can see that people just don’t respond to our methods of outreach and evangelism the way they used to.  Go a level deeper than that and you realize that our churches today are in a state of spiritual homelessness, disclocation, and exile (I wrote about that in another post).

Photo by ingridtaylar (Creative Commons)Photo by ingridtaylar (Creative Commons)Churches today face major adaptive challenges.  Let me explain what that means.

What's an Adaptive Challenge?

An adaptive challenge is a problem that emerges during a time of discontinuous changeIt’s a problem for which we don’t yet know the solution.  Normally, when we have a problem, we try to find an expert who knows how to solve that problem.

But when it comes to adaptive challenges, there are no experts yet with the knowledge to solve the problem.  Heifetz and Linsky, in their book Leadership on the Line, state that these kinds of problems are “adaptive challenges because they require experiments, discoveries, and adjustments.”

Put simply, adaptive challenges require transformation (like the popcorn in the picture--in case you were wondering what that's all about).  They require the ability and willingness to adjust or modify ourselves to changing conditions.  The church in North America is facing huge adaptive challenges resulting from the decline of Christianity as a primary influence in society.

The Challenge for Churches

The challenge for churches is to discover how to do ministry in a culture in which Christianity is no longer at the center. 

And it’s an adaptive challenge.  We don’t know solution.  Some people think they know the solution.  But the fact is, most solutions offered by experts are really just guesses.  Or, at best, they are programs that happened to work in their own churches.

But to really find solutions to our adaptive challenges, we just need to try stuff out in our churches in order to discover how God is calling us to minister in this new context.

Do you find that this is true in your church?  What stories can you share about the adaptive challenges your church is facing?

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