Last week we began a conversation about what it means to lead the church in a VUCA world, a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. This military term has become a trendy word in business and academic circles to describe the new reality of a world that is rapidly changing all around us. This VUCA world is having a tremendous impact on our churches and therefore, must have an impact on the way we lead as those entrusted with stewardship of the church.
So, let’s look at the first word that makes up the VUCA acronym. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines volatile as “likely to change in a very sudden or extreme way.” Volatile does not always mean dangerous, it simply means that the change comes quickly or at a much greater magnitude than was expected. The volatile nature of our world can be seen quite clearly in the technology industry. A company that once experienced long-term success can quickly find itself struggling to survive. A great example of this is Kodak.
According to The Economist, in 1976 Kodak accounted for 90% of film and 85% of camera sales in America. Until the 1990s it was regularly rated one of the world's five most valuable brands. With the rapid rise of digital photography Kodak has lost billions in recent years and, as The Economist says, “After 132 years it is poised, like an old photo, to fade away.” The sad part is that leadership at Kodak saw this digital world coming. What was their downfall? I don’t have time or space to detail their full story (read it here), but it boils down to apathy and and a lack of clear direction.
Is it possible that this has been our downfall in the church as well? We have known for years that the world around us is rapidly changing and with it the religious landscape. The magnitude of this shift slapped us in the face with the release of the 2014 Pew Report on America’s Changing Religious Landscape. This study revealed that the percentage of American adults (ages 18 and older) who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points since the 2007 report. Over the same period, the percentage of American adults who are religiously unaffiliated (describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular”) has climbed from 16.1% to 22.8%. These numbers reveal an ever increasing volatility for the church in America that has unfortunately been met with a certain level of apathy by most churches and its leaders. The need for vision is urgent.
I shared a principle last week from Bob Johansen, of the Institute For The Future, that states that volatility yields to vision. The need for vision in the church is nothing new. The ancient wisdom of King Solomon points to its necessity when he writes, “Where there is no vision, the people perish..” (Proverbs 28:18). So, the need for vision is not new, but the demand for it has been increased by the level of chaos that has been generated by our rapidly changing world. The church (and the world) is hungry for leaders who will stand up and say, “I know the world is confusing and many things are uncertain, but this is where we are going. Now let’s figure out together how we are going to get there.”
The good news is that we are not left to our own understanding in seeking to define the future of the church. Unlike the leaders of Kodak, our future does not depend on our ability to predict what’s next in this volatile world. I still believe that we serve a God who longs to give us the wisdom to see His desired future for our churches and our lives. If as leaders, we will diligently seek to hear his heart and then lead with the vision He has provided, then the church will do more than simply fade away.
What do you think? How are you responding to the volatility surrounding your church? Let me hear your thoughts.