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  • Writer's pictureAlice J Stewart

Responses to External Environments

Updated: Dec 30, 2019

Main Idea: Unpacking Concepts


I’m from Texas. I’ve lived all over the world, but I’ll always be from Texas.

Down in Texas, we have a pretty harsh environment. That environment has changed over time, but when it comes to being harsh, it’s mostly just gotten harsher.

There are some things we can change, and some things we have to adapt to, way down in Texas. And some things we have to avoid.

Texans can change the landscape and make it free of cactus and wild hogs. This is mostly successful, but a constant battle. Adaptation is required when it comes to scorpions and cedar allergies. And the bright folks avoid hurricanes and tornadoes.

When we look at mainline churches in an environmental context, what should we change or adapt to or avoid? It all depends on what bit of the environment we’re looking at. That can be different for all of us. Our external, as well as our internal environments, will be a bit different from each other.

Right now, however, let’s look at broad generalities and see if there’s anything we can learn. Let’s look at environments: economic, political, technological, demographic, religious, linguistic, and physical.

Our specific environments are different, but some trends are similar. In the economic environment, we may find that wages are stagnating for most of the population while the cost of living is getting higher, and middle-aged people more often than not do not have the pensions of previous generations.

Our political environment is stressful and divisive to many people.

Technological change accelerates. New technology fights it out for market share, which means we’re all learning new tools just to stay afloat in our technical environment.

Age and ethnic diversity shift around us over the years. Religious and linguistic diversity follows.

There are emerging trends such as secular but spiritually curious multi-ethnic distributed online communities who seem to speak a language unknown to the average small mainline church.

Our physical environment has been shifting over the years with changes in infrastructure (new or in need of repair), and climate change is beginning to have an impact.

Should our small churches try to change any of these things? Likely, we cannot, even if we all worked together. It is a bit of a relief to realize changing unchangeable things is not required of us, but it can include some grief.

Should we resist? Should we try to change something that is probably unchangeable? Well, there’s no harm in trying to educate and make changes. But this Texan also understands that there’s no sense hollering at a hurricane. You get out of its way.

The trick is to know when something’s a hurricane to avoid or the wet edge of a tropical storm where we get on with business. It’s hard to know. We shouldn’t be upset if we don’t know. But it’s good to know what questions to ask and what our options for responding are.

Adaptation, changing the environment, avoidance: these are our primary options. There is a fourth: do nothing.

My friends that is not an option. That was what the dinosaurs did, and look what it got them. Yes, I’ve heard that the church has always been a generation from dying out and that we’re still here. But that doesn’t mean we pray and do nothing.

A unique set of external environmental variables surrounds each small mainline church. A unique set of internal environmental factors fills each small mainline church. But we have three responses, and that’s easy enough to get our heads around.

When we look at our small mainline churches, let’s try on each response and see how it fits our environments.

How is your small mainline church responding today? How do you want it to?

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