Learning about change

in Christian organisations

Churches in Europe operate in a much more secular context than Africa, Asia or Latin America. Just today one of the group members mentioned a Pentecostal church in Sweden that had asked him how to address their prevailing sense of stagnation. They felt increasingly disconnected with their society and stuck in old routines. How do we facilitate change in such secular contexts? Is it a spiritual or a structural change that is needed? Is it about reconnecting with an original vision? What do you think is different about OD with churches in highly secular societies?

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I have conducted a Phd study of why some churches grow in England, Denmark and Sweden (this case was not a part of the official thesis). The abstract can be found below and seems to suggest that OD is very important in a European context, though the recent focus on OD (Willow Creek, Natural Church growth etc) can also be counterproductive if one omits the important dimension of spirituality (which These sources don't omit)

Abstract: Ecclesial identification beyond transactional individualism?

This thesis presents a case study of late modern people who attend two late modern churches that grow, counter to the trend in Western Europe. It seeks to answer two research questions: (1) why do people identify with such churches – in relation to their overall life strategy? – and (2) does this process of identification lead to transformational commitments towards common ethical goods? These questions are approached through a qualitative research strategy that employs semi-structured interviews as its primary method. The study begins from a practical theological horizon, but also draws on social scientific theory, including sociology, cultural theory, leadership theory and psychology. ‘Life strategies’ are defined as ’modes of life’, understood as the way people stage and manage their own biography and adapt to the dialectics of local and global systems.

The study identifies ten main identification themes among ecclesial participants. The churches seems to offer (1) an action-inspiring Theo-dramatic vision, (2) existentially relevant and practical Bible teaching, (3) and forms of organisational performance (4) and professional aesthetics that function as reasons for identification. The respondents also describe (5) a sense of home and family based on experiences of relational qualities, (6) leaders, who appear as caring role models and trustworthy pathfinders, and (7) spiritual practices in which God is engaged and experienced as a caring father and dynamic Lord. The study furthermore identifies three ways in which these organisational foci function as resources for individual life strategies. These churches function as relevant centres of self-construction, (8) because they function as a ‘home’, which offers both a degree of freedom and a degree of belonging, (9) because they provide resources for a biographical ‘growth plot’, and finally (10) because they offer arenas for self-transcendent actions and contributions.

Both churches offer relatively holistic sets of ecclesial and social commitments towards common moral goods. This study confirms that transformational commitments take place among participants, although the degree to which common moral goods integrate personal life strategies, varies. It suggests that the late modern context seems to condition a transition from a ‘bounded’ ecclesial commitment-structure based on insider - outsider categories, to a more flexible structure defined in relation to the organisation’s visionary centre. This type of Free church structure allows forms of personal flexibility, where self-transcendent commitments are made in combination with more transactional, even consumerist forms of identification. The study offers a typology of transformational ecclesial life strategies that includes: (1) the ecclesial communalist, (2) the Theo-dramatic entrepreneur, (3) the Spirit-led Servant, (4) the existential truth-seeker, and (5) the meta-thinking life artist. In the post-script, reflections are offered on the possible implications of this study for further practical theological studies and for the development of leadership theory that includes spirituality in a more substantial way.
That's really interesting Karl-Inge, especially the bit about a focus on OD being counterproductive if one omits the important dimension of spirituality! I think that is what is at the heart of what this group is trying to grapple with and learn about. How do be both 100% professional and also 100% spiritual...
Rick

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