CHANGE THEORY & Toward a Holistic, Postmodernal Theory of Change by @BobWhitesel

Excerpted from The Journal of the American Society for Church Growth (JASCG), Fall 2008, editor Gary McIntosh, DMin, PhD., La Mirada, CA: Biola University.

Toward a Holistic and Postmodernal Theory of Change: The Four-forces Model of Change As Reflected in Church Growth Movement Literature

by Bob Whitesel, D. Min.


Change that permits and even promotes efficacious evangelism would seem to be at the heart of the strategic intentions of the Church Growth Movement. However, in spite of its theoretical centrality, a review of Church Growth Movement literature reveals that change, while persistent in the literature, is far from central and/or holistically addressed. And though the complex interplay of multiple generative mechanisms that drive and channel change is acknowledged in Church Growth literature, due to a narrow focus in many Church Growth tomes, what organization theorist Mary Jo Hatch describes as a more holistic and efficacious “collage” approach to change (Hatch 1997:54) is missing.

The purpose of this present study is to form a background from Church Growth Movement literature against which might emerge a contemporary epistemology and model for theories of change and changing. And, since the cultural predilections of postmodernity heavily influence future strategizing, postmodern theoretical understandings will be sought.

As such, a holistic collage approach becomes requisite. Hatch’s analysis of postmodern organization theories leads her to believe they rely heavily upon a collage approach. She describes a collage as “an art form in which objects and pieces of objects (often including reproductions of other works of art…) are arranged together to form something new – an art object in its own right. When you use collage as a metaphor for organization theory you are recognized the value of holding multiple perspectives and using parts of theories to form a new work… they (postmodern leaders) use bits of old theories along with the knowledge and experience they have collected in their lifetimes to create a new theory worthy of use in particular circumstances” (ibid.).

41tso1esgl-_sy344_bo1204203200_            This author has elsewhere described his ethnographic study of 12 postmodernal ecclesial organizations, and how this leadership collage is evident in many, if not most, of their scenarios (Whitesel 2006:124-134). Therefore, for the present discussion it will be assumed that healthy and effective emerging postmodernal congregations are utilizing holistic and multifaceted approaches to managing change.

But this elicits the question, is this collage approach, born out of innovative reactions to indigenous cultures, reflected in church Growth literature? And if so, to what degree? If it is, then in Church Growth Movement literature there lies helpful and even strategic understandings that can help postmodernal theorists and/or ecclesial leaders manage change. If it is not found, then additional research and publication is required on this important topic. Such questions, that can elicit grounded theory research, are what this article seeks to uncover and evaluate

Four Forces Approach To Change

Theories of Change and Theories of Changing

We begin with a brief review of pertinent aspects of organization theory of change and changing. Within organization theory there is an innovative and influential perspective that change arises and is controlled by one or more generative mechanisms or forces. These mechanisms control the development and evolution of change processes, and as such require varying mechanisms and strategies for their management.

A brief discussion of organization theory’s delineations between theories of change and theories of changing (Bennis 1996) will assist the reader in comprehending the nuances of this author’s analysis. Theories of change, are those theoretical and practical constructs that explain how organizations change and factors that bring about that change. Theories of changing deal with how change can be manipulated and managed to elicit ultimate organizational performance.

The author’s current research is in grounded theory development that can elicit theories of change in postmodernal ecclesial organizations. As such, the exploration of the mechanics and generative mechanisms of change will dominate this discussion. In addition, since the purpose of this study is to encourage my graduate students at Indiana Wesleyan University to develop theories of changing (i.e. how change can be managed), I will also discuss (though because of space constraints to a lesser degree) how Church Growth Movement literature employs prescriptive mechanisms to elicit the management of changing.

A Collage of Four Forces

Organization change theorists Van de Ven and Poole have posited an influential model for change that considers the interplay of four types of change forces, with resultant yet varying prescriptive mechanisms for controlling and managing each (Van de Ven and Poole 1995). These four types or “forces” involve different generative mechanisms or motors, proceed through different process models and are managed by varying prescriptive strategies.

Though some change may involve just one of these typologies, many more change processes will involve two or more of these underlying forces (Van de Ven and Poole 1995:8). Therefore, the key for developing theories of ecclesial changing among future researchers and students, will be to understand and identify the interplay of these change forces, with a resultant indigenous collage from a grounded theory of change.

To begin our quest, an understanding of the four forces involved in this interplay will be required.

The Life Cycle Model

Theories of Change. This model views change as progressing through a lock-step process “that is prescribed and regulated by an institutional, natural, or logical program prefigured at the beginning of the cycle” (Van de Ven and Poole 1995:7). In the ecclesial realm this might be a church that was founded to reach a certain generational, social and/or ethic culture. The manner in which this organization develops has been embedded into the organization’s DNA at conception and/or renewal. Change is thus an outgrowth of the organizational life-cycle and its inauguration. Change will usually not be introduced from the outside as much as it will emerge from a developing cycle, that has been apriori programmed into the organization’s inception. In this view, a church is not GCRscannedcover.jpgin the empiricist metaphor tabula rasa, but rather prescribed and regulated by apriori forces that elicit certain responses.

Read more by downloading the article here: article-whitesel-gcrn-toward-a-holistic-and-postmodernal-theory-of-change-in-cg-literature-gcrn

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