I was participating in a conversation recently about evangelism. A question was being raised about how we can get indolent churches to wake up and start noticing the world outside their walls.

There were a few of us contributing to the conversation who were jaded, and a bit cynical, about whether changing the direction of a church is even possible. “Never say never,” we’ve been warned. Okay, there are a few churches that change.

But I was intrigued by an Alban Institute article today, to the effect that changing a congregation’s basic nature is often strongly resisted by congregational insiders. Arthur Paul Boers writes the following.

While we may grasp the benefits of dealing with difficult behavior in firm and responsible ways and while many leaders may also be persuaded of these benefits (at least in theory), do not expect such changed approaches to come easily. Systems tend toward “homeostasis”—that is, they like to return to things as they were before.

When people change their roles in a system, especially when they move toward more autonomy, independence, or differentiation, the rest of the group may try to persuade (or even force) the person to resume a previous role and stance. In fact, the more progress a leader makes toward healthy functioning, the stronger the reaction will be.

Perhaps the answer to creating change with respect to the relationship between churches and culture is not to try to change exisiting churches but to plant (or start) lots of new churches. Churches that do not have years of institutional baggage that have to be finessed.

Eventually new churches become old churches, but that wouldn’t be a bad thing if they were busy reproducing while they were young and before change becomes a threat.

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