This is the second post in five-part series.
Click here for Part 1.
The impact on denominations: Death by black hole – oblivion – fragmenting and shrinking at such a rate that they are unlikely to be sustainable by any means.
The impact on worship center – a choice: Black hole or wormhole – fragmenting and shrinking at an even higher rate, they can do nothing and face the same oblivion as denominations, or they can transform themselves into experimental faith communities and take a wormhole ride into a different way of being.
The Religion Singularity and Its Impact
Impact – Declining Denominations & Worship Centers
What Can Denominations and Worship Centers Do To Prepare?
There is nothing denominations can do to save themselves. If they try to save their lives, they will not only lose their own lives, but in trying to generate the resources to save themselves they risk dooming to death their associated worship centers by robbing them of the resources and the freedom they need to transform themselves. The most generative act denominations can do is to prepare for their own deaths by shifting resources and creative autonomy to their worship centers, so that the best of their DNA will survive in their descendants.
Worship centers can transform themselves into experimental faith communities. Compared to denominations, worship centers, by their nature, may be more flexible in the face of the changes they both face. Because the bulk of their ministries and programs are carried out by unpaid volunteers within a flatter organizational structure, worship centers are by nature much less dependent on a large base of supporting members than are denominational structures, which tend to be more hierarchical with a much greater percentage of paid staff. Consequently, it will likely be easier for individual worship centers, even as they grow smaller, to become more flexible, adaptive, and creative in the face of these changes (though it is by no means certain how many of them will).
So here’s the question. What are the qualities worship centers must acquire to ride the Religion Singularity wormhole successfully?
Agility. To survive and thrive in an unpredictable environment, an organization must possess agility: the power to move quickly and nimbly around obstacles and toward opportunities. But it also means the capability to make vital decisions swiftly and effectively, deftly discriminating between paths containing varying degrees of danger and opportunity.
Vision. All the agility in the world will literally get you nowhere if you don’t know where you are going, which in a chaotic environment is literally impossible. Yet even when you can’t know precisely the place you want to end up, you can still know what you want to be like when you get there, and you can evaluate the possible paths before you based on whether they move you closer to or farther from that vision. This is why a transcendent vision is essential for faith-based communities and organizations operating in an uncertain environment.
Lean. To put it bluntly, “fat and agile” is an oxymoron. More mass means more inertia. More inertia means less agility. Becoming lean means shedding excess mass by eliminating all forms of waste. Traditionalism, dogmatism, clericalism, and any other “-ism” in which a created form is worshipped nearly as much as the Creator, all enable waste. Bad stewardship of congregation members’ time, talents, and treasure also increases waste. Becoming lean means reducing inertia by jettisoning every unproductive organizational process and structure, and leverage all of the capabilities of congregation members to the fullest. And as with agility itself, being lean also requires a clear and transcendent vision, in order to distinguish between those aspects of organizational structure and process that support the vision – and so must be kept – and those that do not – and must be eliminated.
Contextual Attentiveness. In order to identify and steer clear of obstacles and move toward opportunities, faith-based communities and organizations must be actively and continuously monitoring their environments.
Common Cause Community. In order to minimize competition and maximize collaboration between themselves and other organizations, faith-based communities and organizations must be able to make common cause with organizations 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. It is the opposite of boundaried-set community, in which membership is defined based on boundary characteristic: all the ways in which the organization is different from all other organizations. 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)
Rapid Hypothesis Testing. To thrive in such an environment, faith-based communities and organizations must be able to rapidly make and test strategic hypotheses, quickly discarding strategies that fail the test and continuing with strategies pass it, repeating this process as often as needed.
Actionable Metrics. To effectively test hypotheses, an organization must know how to develop evaluative measures that provides it with the necessary feedback to know how well its chosen strategies is working, and how to adjust course.
Which brings us full circle, back to Agility. To survive and thrive in escalating uncertainty and accelerating change, faith-based communities and organizations must be able to do all of these things quickly, adroitly, and as often as needed.
Coming Soon: From Qualities to Practices
Click here to read the full paper: “Singularity: The Death of Religion and the Resurrection of Faith” (on Academia.edu).