Creating the Future of the Church: A practical guide
to addressing whole-system change
Church Times Bookshop £9.90 (Use code
IN 1863, the great Baptist preacher C. H. Spurgeon delivered a
rousing sermon in which he described the Church as "the hope of the
world". And resonant biblical metaphors for the Church abound:
bride and body of Christ, royal priesthood, an edifice on a firm
Viewed through a different window, however, the Church is a
human institution like any other, made up of fallible human beings,
helped or hindered by good and bad practice at the level of
management and organisation. Keith Elford, an organisational
consultant and minister in secular employment, states that "while
the Church is more than an organisation it is not less than an
organisation," and, therefore, it has much to learn from good
practice in the corporate world.
His principal focus is on the Church of England. He describes
the Church as an institution in crisis, struggling to adapt to a
changing culture, in need of a fundamental and strategic rethinkat
both "whole-system" and local level.
Elford's proposals draw on the work of Professor Stafford Beer,
formerly of the Manchester Business School, who analysed how
organisations, like human bodies, adapt and thrive in changing
environments. The comparison with the Apostle Paul's metaphor of
the Church as body is inescapable.
Beer proposed a Viable Systems Model in which any organisation
must attend to three vital functions to be effective and
sustainable: managing the present; nurturing identity; and creating
He examines the Church in the light of this "trialogue", and
finds it wanting - giving significant energy to managing the
present, little to creating the future, and divided over its
identity. The rest of the book attempts to apply the framework to
current realities of the Church of England.
Sometimes the author's diagnosis is made with unhelpful
generalisations that risk not ringing true in any given locality.
He notes that most congregation members are aged "over 50 or even
over 60". That may be the median age of worshippers nationally, but
in my experience local congregations are far more polarised than
that. In rural Wales, I regularly heard the 60-somethings described
as "the youngsters"; in suburban west London, worshippers over 50
were a rare sighting. And the author's focus on whole-system change
means that the book's insights might be more relevant at diocesan
than local level.
But Elford's vision of the Church as a healthy and adaptable
body isa compelling and practical one - which, incidentally, has
striking similarities to the recent "missional" thinking of North
American authors such as Alan Roxburgh.
The Revd Mike Starkey is a tutorfor Church Army, and a