coverIn Introducing the Missional Church Roxburgh and Boren describe the early stages in shifting a church culture as “experimenting into change.” They warn first of risk aversion. What shapes a risk averse culture?

1. some of the theologies of conversion push toward perfectionism
2. a culture of professionalism pushes us toward a need for control
3. church systems are shaped by the need for performative leadership.

The authors argue that we usually select board positions because of demonstrated ability in managing the existing paradigm of church life. These people care deeply for the congregation, and they know how things have been done, but have little sense of alternatives. Furthermore, “performative” leaders (leaders oriented primarily around maintenance) are invested in success as measured by traditional church (and business) values. They do not want to risk shame by leading the church into unknown places. (183-84) Similarly, Kevin Kelly of WIRED Magazine writes,

“Organizations, like living beings, are hardwired to optimize what they know and not to throw success away. A company expends energy to move its butt uphill, or to evolve its product so that it is sitting on top, where it is maximally adapted to the consumer environment. Companies find devolving (a) unthinkable and (b) impossible. There is simply no room in most enterprises for the concept of letting go — let alone the skill to let go — of something that is working, and trudge downhill toward chaos.

“In the future, this forced march will become routine. The biological nature of this era means that the sudden disintegration of established domains will be as certain as the sudden appearance of the new. Therefore, there can be no expertise in innovation unless there is also expertise in demolishing the ensconced. In the [network economy], the ability to relinquish a product or occupation or industry at its peak will be priceless. Let go at the top.” (See also “Fitness Landscapes“).

Given the entropy of organizations, how do we empower change? In the final chapter, Roxburgh and Boren describe the need to “experiment into change.” They write that,

“The innovation of mission-shaped life in a church has to involve a broad cross section of the church if it is to actually enter the congregation’s DNA… The process of experimenting is a way of moving pass these episodic activities to transform the DNA toward continuing missional life. Experiments assist a congregation in learning its way into a new approach to being church together.

“The power of experiments is that they don’t require the whole church to do something all at once. Most people in a healthy church (70 to 75 percent) are .. relatively ok with the church at the moment. There are things they would change.. but they don’t want to cause conflict. This broad middle will continue to default to its professional leaders and opt for the status quo.. They will vote for, or even join, the mission project in the community.. but these actions don’t change the culture of a church or form an ongoing mission-shaped life…

“At the same time, a relatively healthy local church will have a small percentage of people who are eager and energized to experiment. These are the early adopters.. and usually comprise 10 to 15 percent of the church. These early adopters turn [the challenge that comes from the board] into an experiment..[and] once others in the church observe some [success] they start believing that they too can participate. In this way a growing number of people slowly start to learn new habits and skills of being Gods missionary people in their neighborhoods.” (185)

See also “fitness landscapes.”