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  • Writer's pictureAlice J Stewart

Surviving the Storm, Riding through Change

Updated: Dec 30, 2019

Main Idea: Unpacking Concepts


Our social institutions are changing. They're large, so when these institutions change, they create an environment of change.

Younger generations often mistrust large social institutions over the last 50+ years, but we're now better able to measure the impact of distrust in institutions.

Between institutional change, change in the social environment, and eroding confidence in both among a large percentage of the population, the only thing we can confidently predict soon is an increase of all of these things. We know things will never "go back" to the way they were (or the way we imagined), but we also know that our complex society needs institutions. The only problem right now is that they are in a season of rapid change. That won't last forever.

So what is a small mainline church to do? We are part of a larger institution. That institution is also in a season of rapid change. And they are adapting to a social environment in a period of flux.

The small church needs our larger denominational structures to adapt well and made the changes necessary so it can continue. What can we do that a) will help, and b) won't cause us to shut down entirely?

There are a lot of metaphors we can use to describe this. Here is one:

Imagine a huge ship. It's a bit old now, but still solid. The ship is our denomination.

Now imagine increasingly rough seas. The ocean is our environment.

Finally, imagine the ship surrounded by smaller boats. These are our churches.

The boats and the ship have a highly functional relationship. They work well in reasonably calm seas and can weather most storms. But the storm brewing now is more disruptive. It may also last a long time. Our ships need modest repairs, and the smaller boats are getting swamped by the waves.

What to do?

I don't think it's advisable to abandon the ship. The small boats can't survive long term. And the ship needs the boats.

But I also don't think the small boats should hug too close to the ship. A pitching ship can damage a small boat. Being swamped by the ocean is terrible, and getting sunk by a ship is equally horrible.

So how do we make the necessary alterations to the ship so it can make it through the storm while keeping the small boats safe?

Well, that's a gigantic question. Let's look at the smallest of the boats — the smallest churches. We don't want to lose them, but it is increasingly difficult to save them.

We need an island. Another large ship won't help. It's got the same problems. And there's no changing the ocean. But an island could provide shelter and resources long enough to make repairs and weather the storm.

An island in this metaphor might look like all kinds of things. It might be something as simple as a social enterprise for your small church that tides it over while engaging meaningfully in the community. Or your island might look like moving out of your church building and into a pub for a couple of years.

But your island is temporary. Your small boat belongs at sea with your ship. It just needs to live long enough to get back there. It just needs to weather the storm.

This metaphor may not be perfect. How do you see the situation metaphorically? What solutions might... hold water?

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