A slide presentation…
Our last three articles have focused the nature and impact of the Religion Singularity…
namely an increasingly turbulent and unpredictable environment.
This we we shift toward what it takes to survive and thrive in that environment.
To survive and thrive in an unpredictable environment, our organization must develop agility. Agility means the power to move quickly and nimbly around obstacles and toward opportunities. But agility also means the capability to make vital decisions swiftly and effectively, deftly pivoting between paths containing varying degrees of danger and opportunity.
To put it bluntly, it is impossible to be simultaneously fat and agile. The more mass we gain, the more inertia comes with it. More inertia means we will have a lot more trouble changing direction, which by definition decreases agility. This means that if we want our organization to acquire the capability for agility, we must also help it become lean. For us to becoming lean we must shed all forms of excess “weight” by eliminating all forms of waste.
[bctt tweet=”To put it bluntly, it’s impossible to be simultaneously fat and agile.
—Ken Howard” username=”faithxproject”]
If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that our faith-based communities and organizations contain many forms of waste. Traditionalism, dogmatism, clericalism, and any other “-ism” – in which a created form is worshipped nearly as much as the Creator – are ways in which we enable waste. Another way we enable waste is our failure to exercise good stewardship of our congregation members’ time, talents, and treasure. If we truly desire to be become lean, we must help our faith-based communities and organizations jettison every unproductive organizational process and structure. Meanwhile, in the place of those things we have discarded as waste, we must leverage the unique gifts, skills, and callings of every person in our congregations and organizations to the fullest, knowing that getting lean reduces our inertia, which results in greater agility. Finally, if we are to get lean in a strategic fashion, we must have a clear and transcendent vision, so that we might distinguish between those aspects of organizational structure and process that support the vision – and must be kept – and those that do not – and must be eliminated.
In order to minimize competition and maximize collaboration between our faith-based communities and organizations and other faith-based communities and organizations serving our communities, we must be able to make common cause with those that have similar visions and are heading in similar directions. In set theory this is known as centered-set community, in which membership is determine by shared vision and goals, and it is the opposite of bounded-set community, in which membership is defined based on boundary conditions: all the ways in which our distinguish our organizations from others. Faith-based communities and organizations in turbulent environments must share the attitude of Jesus that “whoever is not against us is for us.”
(Mark 9:40, Luke 9:50)
To effectively test hypotheses we are making,
we must know how to develop evaluative measures
that provide us with the data necessary
to help us understand how well our chosen strategies are working,
and whether and how we need to adjust course.
If the Religion Singularity is true… If denominations and churches are growing/fracturing at a considerably higher rate than the worldwide population of Christians, driving a massive downturn in the size of those institutions… What is the future of religion? What is the future of faith?
Author Phyllis Tickle, called by some “the chronicler of the emerging church,” once suggested that the institutional church – in all its various forms – had perhaps an 18 month window in which to adjust themselves to the emerging paradigm of Church. Quite a bold prediction, don’t you think? I thought so at the time (I was inclined to be more gracious…24 months at least). And maybe she thought so, too, since this is what she said immediately after:
In general, short-range predictions are fairly dangerous things. Like loose boards on an aging country porch, they tend to fly up and hit one in the face. I try to avoid them for that very reason. On the other hand, sometimes something is not only compellingly obvious in and of itself, but so too is the need for its telling. Whether I am accurate in my observations or not remains to be seen … very soon, in this case … but the possibility of error does not eliminate the obligation to speak the truth as one sees it, any more than it defuses the urgency.
I’m feeling in a similar emotional space myself, since I now believe that Phyllis’ 18 months window was itself optimistic, and my analysis of the Religion Singularity is that there are two windows. One of those windows remains open and the other actually closed at least two decades ago. I seems to me that the window for denominations is closed and they will collapse sooner than we expect, certainly by the end of the century. But for those faith-based communities willing to do the hard, transformational work necessary to become more lean, agile, and experimental, a narrow window of opportunity remains open.
And what of those faith communities that would rather die than change?
I think that they will achieve their preference.
So the question is not wether to become a lean, agile, and experimental congregation…but how?
And that is a question for next week’s blog post.
Organizing and sharing the data about the Religion Singularity continues to be an eye-opening experience for me. It has been enlightening to observe the responses of different groups of people. I’ve observed a couple interesting trends, especially among church people.
A continuing revelation has been how much more receptive to the data secular leaders are than church leaders. Business people, especially entrepreneurs, tend to see the trends and recognize the implications before I finish explaining them. Church leaders, on the other hand, are much more resistant. Some have trouble seeing the implications implied by the data, those who do become very defensive, and it’s hard to get them to see past the danger to the opportunity. And the more ensconced they are in the institutional church and the higher in the hierarchy they are, the more resistant they tend to be.
It’s not that they don’t recognize church decline. Everyone knows that churches are facing tough times. It’s the unwillingness to acknowledge that church demographic trends point to the end of the church as we know it. It’s thinking we can still tweak our way out of trouble or somehow revitalize the current model of church. Because if the Religion Singularity analysis is correct, it’s like thinking that the Titanic can dodge the iceberg.
And I continue to be astonished that no one in the church noticed the implications of this data before I did. After all, I’m no genius and it wasn’t rocket surgery. The demographic data I used have been around for decades and is updated every year. All it required was a spreadsheet and simple subtraction. It’s just that nobody had ever done the math. Perhaps I might have missed the implications, too, had I not stumbled into an science museum exhibit about Ray Kurzweil’s book on the Technological Singularity while I was pondering it.
In any event, I’ve been pondering the source of this resistance. And today, as I was riding my bike to the coffee shop where I do my writing, it came to me. It’s because of grief – a prospective grief at the coming death of the institutional church. And before they can see the potential resurrection of the church in a new form, they have to go through familiar stages of grief laid out by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and finally Acceptance.
It became even clearer to me when I saw the following graph, a slightly tweaked, seven-stage version Kübler-Ross’s work, and it left me feeling a lot more sympathetic to the resistance I’ve been experiencing, and a lot more patient with the people offering that resistance. Most of us ordained leaders have a love/hate relationship with the church, but the frustration and anger we feel at the church from time to time is actually born of the love we have for what we know it could be.
It’s no wonder we find ourselves resistant to see its impending death, even if we believe there will be a resurrection on the other side.
We’ve got a lot of grief work to do before we can be at peace with the work God is asking us to do.
And we at The FaithX Project can provide a little help through the process.
This post is the first in a five-part series on the Religion Singularity.
Religion Singularity is a term I first coined in a paper entitled “Singularity: The Death of Religion and the Resurrection of Faith,” presented earlier this year at the 2016 Conference on Religion and Society in Washington, DC.
If the term “Singularity” sounds to you kind off astrophysics-y to you, bringing up visions of black holes and wormholes, good. It’s supposed to. Because if you are a leader of a faith community, how you prepare your congregation for the Religion Singularity will determine whether crossing its event horizon will consign your faith community to oblivion or deliver it into a entirely new universe.
In a nutshell, the Religion Singularity can be boiled down to three trend lines:
I’ll pause for a moment while you do the math…
Got it? See the problem?
Sometime during the last century we crossed an event horizon, and now we are caught in the gravitational well of the Religion Singularity. If trends hold – and there’s no reason to think they won’t since they’ve been moving along at the current pace for decades – we are going to see catastrophic drops in the sizes of both denominations and worship centers.
Worst case scenario: by 2100 we are looking at an average denomination of just under 18,000 and an average worship center size of under 70.
Denominations? Unsustainable. Dead within the next 100 years. Hard to see a way around it. The Religion Singularity will be a black hole for denominations.
Worship Centers? Unsustainable in their current, church-centric form. But… if they can find ways to become more lean, vision-driven, creative, and experimental, they may find a way to turn the Religion Singularity into a wormhole that will deliver them into a new way of being Church.
So if you are a leader of a congregation, you have a choice…
What’s it going to be?