Today’s congregations, no matter what denomination, size or theological bent, are experiencing change at a rapid pace. Many are bleeding members and money, while others are struggling with vision and relevance. They compete for people who still feel a call or need to be a part of a religious community. Thousands close their doors each year.
One characteristic that enables a congregation to thrive in this environment is the ability to bounce. Resiliency is the ability to overcome obstacles and manage change in healthy ways. A resilient congregation has the capacity to adapt to changes or transform itself into a new way of being.
In their book Resilience Thinking, Brian Walker and David Salt discuss this ability to either adapt or transform. They suggest that adaptation means that a system can get through thresholds to get back to a desired place. Systems can also transform themselves into something completely different.
To be a bouncy church a congregation needs to be willing to go through the groan zone, the place of discomfort, chaos and confusion that leads to clarity and convergence. Trying to avoid this zone leads to floundering and apathy. Trying to go around it may lead to temporary gains, but not long-term success.
Resilient congregations make a conscious decision to adapt to the changing world around them, and some also choose to transform themselves to better minister to the surrounding communities and follow what they discern to be God’s will for them. Congregations that cannot bounce choose to either ignore what is happening around them, or make half-hearted adaptations for which they have no real commitment.
How do you know if your church can bounce?
Resilience requires diversity, modularity, communicational intelligence, openness to change, trust, innovation, imagination, accountability and humility. It also requires healthy leaders who are self-differentiated and visionary.
Transformation requires all of these plus financial, human and social capital, readiness and commitment to change, and realistic options for the future.
Your congregation may be resilient if …
- You are poised to cross the threshold, including engaging the groan zone.
- The majority are committed to change, and you are willing to lose the resisters.
- You welcome diverse ideas, opinions and cultural perspectives.
- You can let go of traditions and habits that are no longer relevant or useful.
- There are strong and healthy relationships between leadership and membership.
- You can handle the truth.
- You sincerely want to go where God is leading.