FORESIGHT & Handout from my recent presentation at The Great Commission Research Network Annual Conference, Orlando, FL: “Our Gateway to Innovation is Not Imitation … but Foresight.”

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: below are the notes from my presentation, “Leadership Foresight: Our Gateway to Innovation is Not Imitation … But Foresight.” If you are interested in information on the Doctor of Ministry cohort on this topic beginning at Fuller Theological Seminary, see the flier below the notes.


by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 2/21/23

A paper/lecture delivered to The Great Commission Research Network Annual Conference, Orlando, Florida, March 6, 2023.

(words 4482)


Text Box: Foresight is “the ability to create and maintain a high-quality, coherent and functional forward view, and to use the insights arising in useful organizational ways” – Richard Slaughter (slide 1)Foresight thinking (also known as futuring or future thinking) is of increasing importance due to today’s rapid pace in technology, artificial intelligence, ChatGPT, etc.[1]  Leadership foresight is defined as “the ability to create and maintain a high-quality, coherent and functional forward view, and to use the insights arising in useful organizational ways.”[2] Regrettably, foresight is often overlooked in lieu of focusing on replicating what’s currently working. But what will work tomorrow, a year, five years and 10 years from now is of critical importance for denominational leaders, district superintendents, bishops, coaches as well as the average pastor. This paper will investigate how future thinking has contributed to the impact of effective evangelism, but how replication eventually slowed that impact. Suggestions will be given regarding how ecclesial leaders can recapture foresight.

Unexpected Detours on My Road with Effective Evangelism 

1980s: Reflecting on four decades of journeys within what we call Great Commission Research and Donald McGavran called “mission/(effective)evangelism,”[3] I’ve noticed each decade has been distinguished by a theme and sometimes a course correction. My travels began when I earned a DMin in Church Growth and Evangelism at Fuller in the 1980s. In this decade the term church growth, through provocative, was the darling of ecclesial America. Even mainline churches were reading its principles. Through my church coaching I came to be mentored by thought leaders such as Peter Wagner, Elmer Towns and Eddie Gibbs. 

Text Box: My greatest angst … arose when programs were adopted by churches without sufficient analysis of the community and its trajectory. Ill-advised and ill-suited programs often ended in failure, even though they had worked elsewhere.                 (slide 2)

1990s: The next decade saw a dizzying proliferation of programs, tools and tactics. There arose tools to proliferate small groups, plant churches, share your faith, indigenize worship, etc. It was during these years that I developed close friendships with my fellow coaches Charles “Chip” Arn, Kent Hunter, Gary McIntosh, Elmer Towns, Ed Stetzer and others. My greatest angst during this time arose when programs were adopted by churches without sufficient analysis of the community and its trajectory. Ill-advised and ill-suited programs often ended in failure, even though they had worked elsewhere. The result was that at the end of the decade there was an increasing suspicion about church growth tools. 

2000s: In my third decade a renewed emphasis upon multiculturalism led to an increasing backlash against effective evangelism. This was largely from misperceptions that McGavran‘s principles where culturally divisive. Not recognizing that McGavran was a missiologist, steeped in intercultural principles; casual readers would misinterpret his emphasis upon sharing the Good News across bridges of God that were culturally suited to the receiver. In “The Legacy of Donald McGavran” Jeff Walters summarized, “one of the great aspects of McGavran’s legacy is that people ought to be able to hear the gospel and respond to the gospel in their own cultural context, where they are comfortable—not having to cross big cultural barriers in order to hear the gospel.”[4]

This “great aspect of McGavran’s legacy” was a profound respect for dissonant adapters,[5] and a desire to improve their encounter with the Good News both via communication and celebration. McGavran’s idea in his book The Bridges of God, was not to argue that churches should be made up of only one homogeneous bridge. Both he and Wagner worked in mission agencies that reached out to multiple tribes or castes at the same time. But McGavran suggested that the more receptive a culture appears to be, should dictate priority and resources over less receptive cultures. Less receptive cultures should be “held lightly” in strategy, not being ignored; but when resources become available, logic suggests putting resources where there is a forecast of growth. This key element of McGavran was foresight.

McGavran’s strategic DNA emphasized future thinking, i.e., to see where and in which cultures people were coming to Christ and then to spend more resources there to follow the move the Holy Spirit. In The Bridges of God he stated, “The era has come when Christian Missions should hold lightly all mission station work[6], which cannot be proved to nurture growing churches, and should support the Christward movements within Peoples as long as they continue to grow at the rate of 50 percent per decade or more. This is today’s strategy.”[7]

But critics in North America focused upon what would happen if a local church focused entirely on a homogeneous people and ignored other cultures. To untangle this debate, it’s important to understand McGavran’s DNA of foresight. If you look at McGavran without foresight and simply focus on the present, you will create strategies and tactics that foster a homogeneous church. But if you look closer, you will see it is McGavran’s foresight that leads him to not ignore resistant cultures, but that we “hold lightly” in strategy until the Holy Spirit begins to move among them. 

Here is a simple example how lack of foresight can impact effective evangelism.[8] A Lutheran Church which at one time reached Scandinavian immigrants on the north side of Chicago eventually died because it didn’t reach a new influx of Hispanic people. Hispanic congregations have since rented the church, but cross-cultural partnerships never developed. This is because the Scandinavian congregation saw themselves as discipling a homogeneous Scandinavian immigrant culture. They didn’t grasp McGavran’s foresight to look ahead for the next people movement (Spanish-speaking immigrants) and disciple it.

2010s: More scholars emerged to defend McGavran, such as Gary McIntosh and Mosiax leader Mark DeYmaz, who showed that McGavran wanted to see a “heterogeneous church,” but with homogeneous sub-congregations and worship expressions.[9] Still, the momentum waned significantly until leaders of the Great Commission Research Network (GCRN) such as Gary McIntosh, Elmer Towns, George “Chuck” Hunter, Ed Stetzer, and others began to re-emphasize McGavran‘s writing and thoughts. Stetzer often wrote about McGavran for both Christianity Today and Outreach Magazine. Toward the end of the decade McIntosh penned an authoritative biography of McGavran. The result was a course correction back to the principles behind the tactics, rather than a proliferation of tactics. 

2020s: A fourth decade of observation has led me to believe the work of Stetzer, McIntosh, Gibbs, Towns, and Hunter must be completed. This means grasping the unique attributes of McGavran‘s thinking, and why it was so revolutionary. And, the role of foresight in McGavran’s DNA should be studied and reconsidered.

McGavran’s visionary foresight was to look for the harvest not after it ripens, but as it begins to emerge from spiritually fertile soil.

Text Box: McGavran’s foresight meant that that he wasn’t as concerned about methods, as he was about seeing where God is moving and envisioning where he would move next.                (slide 3)

I spent the last twenty years in varying leadership roles in this organization, which drew me deeper into the thinking and foresight of Donald McGavran. I began to see that McGavran‘s DNA was based on two elements. First, an element of his DNA was his analytical mind. He loved observation and prediction, much like famed church growth writer, Lyle Schaller, who had been a former city planner.[10]But secondly, and perhaps most important for the movement today, is that within his DNA was a focus on foresight, future thinking.  

McGavran’s foresight meant that that he wasn’t as concerned about methods, as he was about seeing where God is moving and envisioning where he would move next.  Gary McIntosh offers a helpful history of how McGavran’s foresight developed:[11]

Through this study, McGavran discovered that of the 145 areas where mission activity was taking place, 134 had grown only eleven percent between 1921 and 1931.  The churches in those areas were not even conserving their own children in the faith.  Yet, in the other eleven areas the church was growing by one hundred percent, one hundred fifty percent, and even two hundred percent a decade.  A curiosity arose within his breast that was to occupy his life and ministry until his death.  He wondered why some churches were growing, while others, often just a few miles away, were not.  He eventually identified four major questions that were to drive the Church Growth movement worldwide, and in the United States of America.

Text Box: Question 1.	What are the causes of church growth?
Question 2.	What are the barriers to church growth?
Question 3.	What are the factors that can make the Christian faith a movement among some populations?
Question 4.	What principles of church growth are reproducible?         (slide 4)

George Hunter summarized these “driving” questions of Great Commission research: [12]

Question 1 and 2 are research questions. 

Question 4 is an application question. “What principles … are reproducible” encourages replicating current best practices.  It was this principle of reproducibility that captivated and inadvertently depreciated much of this movement.  

Text Box: McGavran’s visionary foresight was to see the harvest not after it ripens, but as it begins to emerge from spiritually fertile soil. 
(slide 5)
Question 3 is a gateway to understanding McGavran’s mind, what I call his strategic DNA. It is a question about foresight. Notice it is about “factors that canmake the Christian faith a movement among some populations” (underline mine). Though this foresight question was foundational to McGavran’s DNA, its lack of immediacy made it less attractive to practitioners and publishers. Yet this third question is what makes his writings ground shaking. McGavran’s visionary foresight was to see the harvest not after it ripens, but as it begins to emerge from spiritually fertile soil. 

Such DNA led McGavran, at Fuller President David Hubbard’s invitation, to establish the School of World Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary when McGavran was 67 years old. Charles Van Engen described the school as embracing “prophetic foresight and trend-setting mission leadership.”[13]

The foresight of Donald McGavran (and the shortcuts of his readers)

Text Box: A problem which the befell the Great Commission Research Movement was that McGavran‘s emphasis upon foresight was overshadowed by the popularity of replication. 
(slide 6)

A problem which befell the Great Commission Research Movement was that McGavran‘s emphasis upon foresight was overshadowed by the popularity of replication. And who could blame his readers for this partiality? For the first time cross-denominational scientific measurement was applied to the church. Judicatory leaders as well as local pastors were either enthralled or alarmed. But they all were interested, especially in shortcuts. Such shortcuts were not peering into the future, but locating what is working today and replicating it. The focus on the future faded from view as the shortcuts of the present clouded it out. 

McGavran had looked to see where the Holy Spirit was moving and then marshalled resources to support future ministry in those areas of fertile soil. McGavran sought to allocate future funding to ministries and cultures where the Holy Spirit was and probably will be moving. His most well-known mentee was the prolific author C. Peter Wagner, a colorful cheerleader for replicating what was working elsewhere to customarily help aging congregations thwart geriatrophy.[14]

Text Box: Wagner‘s enthusiasm moved the emphasis away from foresight and placed it on copyright. Thus, began decades of finding what’s working and following it, rather than finding where the Holy Spirit is preparing to move and following Him. 
(slide 7)

While both replication and foresight are important tools, Wagner‘s enthusiasm moved the emphasis away from foresight and placed it on copyright. Thus, began decades of finding what’s working and following it, rather than finding where the Holy Spirit is preparing to move and following Him.

Pulling few punches, Alan McMahan, the former president of the Great Commission Research Network called this proliferation of tactics “faddish,” “shrink-wrapping” and a “paint-by-numbers” approach to McGavran’s missiology: 

“I have concluded that McGavran‘s missiology was really quite a bit different than the church growth practice in the US and there is a bit of a disconnect there. As it became faddish in the US and proliferated to thousands of churches with all the church growth conferences and church growth products, and as places … shrink-wrapping it all into a tape, a workbook, or a textbook, it became a paint-by-numbers, kind of an approach that many people adopted.”[15]

While McMahan attributes this paint-by-numbers to a loss of cross-cultural experience, it could also be attributable to the lack of foresight that’s required of a missionary. It might be said that McMahan is suggesting, “We don’t analyze sufficiently how and where the Spirit is moving or will move in a community.”

Three Disadvantages of Paint-by-numbers Methodologies 

And so, the Effective Evangelism Movement came to be criticized for promoting the latest trend or tactics.[16]And, when such tactics start to be used by many churches, the tactics lose their effectiveness for at least three reasons.

  1. A faddish reputation creates a distain among innovators and skeptics. As a result, organizations led by innovators or change-agents will avoid and even ridicule tools or programs associated with prefabricated methodologies.
  • Text Box: Popularity breeds potential for innovation to be more widely criticized … and avoided.                     (slide 8)

The more that people experience certain tactics, the more good (and bad) experiences will result. Because bad experiences are more likely to be shared than good ones,[17] even worthy tactics can lose their positive regard. For example, the cohesive power of a small group has been attested to from Jesus’ example, through the small group methods of Wesley,[18] to the sticky groups of Larry Osborne.[19] But one bad small group experience in one church can lead an attendee to conclude all small groups are irrelevant to them. Popularity breeds potential for innovation to be more widely criticized … and avoided.
  • Finally, this creates a copycat culture rather than a culture of creativity and innovation.

Text Box: McGavran saw methodology as dependent upon the opportunity. Opportunity was observed through foresight. Foresight dictated the methodology, not reduplication. 
(slide 9)

McGavran saw methodology as dependent upon the opportunity. Opportunity was observed through foresight. Foresight dictated the methodology, not reduplication.[20]

Where did leadership foresight come from (and how do we get it)?

Text Box: What then is the antidote to prefab tactics? The solution is to focus on where and how the Holy Spirit is moving and to begin planning to meet future needs.                      (slide 10)

What then is the antidote to prefab tactics? The solution is to focus on where and how the Holy Spirit is moving and to begin planning to meet future needs. Richard Slaughter, the scholar most associated with foresight thinking (also known as futuring or futurethinking), described foresight as “the ability to create and maintain a high-quality, coherent and functional forward view, and to use the insights arising in useful organizational ways.”[21] Here are his three principles of leadership foresight.

1. Predicting the future is not as difficult as deciding to study it. 

Text Box: Towards that end, Richard Slaughter began to study both how we think of the future and how we act upon that thinking. He studied historical examples of people who thought long and deep about the future and who were then able with a degree accuracy predict the future and take advantage of it.
(slide 11)

Leadership foresight as a practicum has largely escaped the examination of theologians and practical ecclesiology. But we have been dancing around it for decades. As a secular academic practice, it first came to prominence with the research and writings of Richard Slaughter in the 1990s during a ramp-up to the new millennium. Slaughter came to be concerned about societal upheavals might bring in the next twenty years. Towards that end, Richard Slaughter began to study both how we think of the future and how we act upon that thinking. He studied historical examples of people who thought long and deep about the future and who were then able with a degree of accuracy to predict the future and take advantage of it. 

But Slaughter saw reasons organizations don’t study the future and are therefore surprised and disadvantaged by it.[22] These include: “their roots are in an earlier age, change is slow in institutions, turbulent times create problems for leaders, and they avoid thinking about it, and ‘Faulty assumptions in western industrial worldview… e.g., me, mine, now’.” Slaughter warns leaders not to attempt, “to move into the future without foresight.” [23]

Text Box: 2001: A Space Odyssey... was a predictive exercise by Kubrick and Clarke, not an effort to engage what’s next. 
(slide 12)

2. Predicting is not enough; we must academically critique our forecasts.

2023 is the 54th anniversary of the release of Stanley Kubrick’s magnus opus and Oscar award-winning film, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” In 1968, coauthors Kubrick and science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke predicted what the world would look like at the turn of the millennium. Those of you who have seen this film know it is sometimes confusing. But the film predicted that, by 2001 there would be active archaeological digs on the moon and artificial gravity manufactured by slowly rotating space stations. While some of the predictions such as landing on the moon, space stations, etc. were in part correct, this was a predictive exercise by Kubrick and Clarke, not an effort to engage what’s next.

(Article continues on the next page with Slide 13)

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Description automatically generatedWhy prediction alone is insufficient was brought to my attention by one of the pastors in the This drawing from a Salvation Army newsletter in 1929 depicts a salvationist doing their work in 2029 via multiple television screens.[24]Humorous then but strangely accurate now, it nonetheless did not lead The Salvation Army to be an early adopter of technology. Even to this day, one of my former students, a salvationist utilizing electronic outreach in Southern California told me, “We (the Salvation Army) are still wrestling with funding electronic outreach. In the last century, we were innovators in evangelism through musical outreach. But we are skeptical about technology today.”[25]

Text Box: (slide 13)3. Use future thinking to inform current strategies & innovation will result. 

Text Box: There’s a difference between predicting the future and adopting future thinking into our current actions. Dreaming about the future is easy, but it is not enough. We must start planning now how we will engage it. This is the fundamental difference between fantasizing and futuring.                    (slide 14) There’s a difference between predicting the future and adopting future thinking into our current actions. Dreaming about the future is easy, but it is not enough. We must start planning now how we will engage it. This is the fundamental difference between fantasizing and futuring.

As I look back over the Effective Evangelism Movement, I see bursts of creativity taking place when leaders think about what they can start doing now to pivot and engage what’s next. It’s not about just predicting the future. And it’s not even to bemoan it and fear it. It’s about integrating future thinking into our current plans. As Richard Slaughter said, foresight leadership is “the ability to create and maintain a high-quality, coherent and functional forward view, and to use the insights arising in useful organizational ways”[26]

Three Ways to Embrace Leadership Foresight into Your Current Plans

1. Question your biases about the future.[27]

Much has been made lately about the influence our assumptions and biases have on our ecclesial thinking. This is a good exercise. In fact, it should be increased if we are to also learn about biases we naturally have regarding future thinking. Talk to others who see your biases and cultural perspectives. Have others hold you accountable by questioning your assumptions and biases about the future. And when talking with others learn about their biases too.

2. Scan futuring from the outside in.

Don’t just read books and articles about church leadership but discover how leaders from varying fields are planning to meet future needs. Futuring has a robust canon of literature and not surprising more is being penned every day. So instead of reading about what is working elsewhere, try reading about what industries such as technology, communication, service and healthcare are doing now to prepare for tomorrow. Read their articles, books and follow their social media postings.

3. Be provocative: ‘any useful idea about the future should appear to be ridiculous.’

Richard Slaughter says, “The natural next step of scanning is to use your imagination. Challenge yourself to think of provocative implications of ideas, innovations and events. Connect the dots between seemingly disparate pieces of information. Think provocatively — as said by legendary futurist Jim Dator, ‘any useful idea about the future should appear to be ridiculous.’[28] In 20, 30, 50 years, what might happen because of a trend we see today? If you are afraid to let your mind wander, you’ll never find yourself at the leading edge.” [29]

The missio Dei at the Leading Edge

Like the salvationist who uncomfortably chuckled at a cartoon depicting the Good News traveling over televisions, today we worry and fantasize about the future, without making plans to engage it. And copying only what is working now leads only to a proliferation of cloned ideas and instills in the church a lack of innovative ministry. Rather for innovation to resurface, I call upon this research community and others within the ecclesial world to begin to study the future as much as we study the past and the present. Innovative participation in the missio Dei tomorrow and beyond, depends upon it.


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[1] For example, ChatGPT and artificial intelligence are currently of particular interest to the church leaders. Also, future thinking is being applied to planning in the communications, service and healthcare industries. 

[2] Richard Slaughter, The Foresight Principle. (Westport: Praeger, 1995).

[3] Donald McGavran, “What is the Church Growth School of Thought?” manuscript, as quoted in Wilbert R. Shenk, The Challenges of Church Growth: A Symposium, (Scottdale: Herald Press, 1973), p. 17. McGavran defines effective evangelism as a movement that, “enlists in Christ’s school all segments of human society, and incorporates in his body, the church, all the ethnic and linguistic units of the world.” Donald McGavran, “My Pilgrimage in Mission” IBMR, April 1986: 58.

[4] Jeff Walters, “The Legacy of Donald McGavran: A Forum” edited by IJFM Editorial Staff, International Journal of Frontier Missiology, 31:2 Summer 2014, 61.

[5] To understand the difference between dissonant adaptersselective adapters and consonant adapters see Bob Whitesel, The Healthy Church: Practical Ways to Strengthen a Church’s Heart (Indianapolis: The Wesleyan Publishing House, 2013), 69-70

[6] “The mission station was a little enclave, sort of a transplanted European walled city, that would provide a microcosm of European Christian culture amid the indigenous peoples of the mission field.” Bob Whitesel, “Missional & Are You a Mission Station or a Missional Community?” retrieved from, March 17, 2015,

[7] Donald McGavran, The Bridges of God (Cambridge, UK: World Dominion Press, 1955), 109.

[8] Outside of coastal cities existed an American heartland with little diversity in the 1980s. The result was that practical theologians such as McGavran and Wagner, though they had grown up in cross-cultural mission fields, did not see today’s multiculturalism as a requisite factor in Great Commission strategy. Formative years in non-English-speaking cultures had bred in them a respect and appreciation for different cultures. In fact, not wanting to see those cultures assimilate, they understood from firsthand experience how such cultures took pride (as dissonant adapters) amid a worldwide proliferation of Northern European cultures. They didn’t want to see the One-third World push its cultural language, music and artistic expressions upon the Two-thirds World. This gave them a high respect for dissonant adapters, and a desire to see their dissonance preserved. As a product of their time, they did not see diversification as a pressing need within the North American church. Subsequently, this became an oversight toward which church growth under Wagner internalized. McGavran and Wagner were the furthest you can be from cultural supremists. Rather they saw the need to let indigenous peoples experience the Good News and celebrate that news in culturally relevant ways.

[9] Mark DeYmaz, Should Pastors Accept or Reject the Homogeneous Unit Principle? (Little Rock, AR: Mosiax Publishers, 2011).

[10] Lyle Schaller, The Interventionist (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1997).

[11] Gary L. McIntosh. The Roots of Donald A. McGavran’s Evangelistic Insights. Church Growth Network, 2015, retrieved from

[12] George G. Hunter, III. “The Legacy of Donald A. McGavran.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 16(4):158-162.

[13] Charles Van Engen. A “Fuller” Vision of God’s Mission and Theological Education in the New Context of Global Christianity.Pasadena, CA:  2016, Fuller School of World Mission, retrieved from

[14] Geriatrophy is a term coined by Kent Hunter to describe churches “wasting away because of old age” in Bob Whitesel and Kent R. Hunter, A House Divided: Bridging the Generation Gaps in Your Church (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), 33.

[15] Alan McMahan, “Stewarding Legacies in Mission, The Legacy of Donald McGavran: A Forum,” edited by IJFM Editorial Staff, International Journal of Frontier Missiology, 31:2 Summer 2014.61. 

[16] For an interesting historical perspective, reread this evaluation of The Church Growth Movement through the eyes of McGavran’s foresight and Wagner’s practicality: Gary L. McIntosh and Paul Engle (eds.), Evaluating the Church Growth Movement: Five Views (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004).
[17] Devon McGinnis, “40 Customer Service Statistics to Move Your Business Forward,” SalesForce 360, retrieved from
[18] Note the critical role small groups play in the Methodist movement’s effectiveness in George G. Hunter III’s classic To Spread the Power: Church Growth in the Wesleyan Movement (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1987) as well as his The Recovery of a Contagious Methodist Movement (Adaptive Leadership) (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2012).

[19] Larry Osborne, Sticky Church, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008).

[20] Other examples of McGavran’s foresight, beyond the length of this article but suitable for further research, are the role of foresight in funding, the role of foresight in theology (e.g. harvest theology vs. theology) and the role foresight in ministry training. Regarding the latter, McGavran’s foresight appears to have spurred him on to found schools to train future leaders while he was in an advanced age. He was 64 years of age when he founded the Institute of Church Growth at Northwest Christian College and 68 years old when he founded the School of World Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary.

[21] Richard Slaughter, The Foresight Principle. (Westport: Praeger, 1995).

[22] Jan Lee Martin, “A Summary by Jan Lee Martin Approved by R. A. Slaughter of The Foresight Principle (Melbourne: The Futures Foundation, 2001), retrieved from

[23] Ibid.

[24] Sketch provided by Peter D. van Duinen, Major, The Salvation Army, personal correspondence, February 15, 2023.

[25] Roby Bridgeo, The Salvation Army, personal conversation with the author, April 2010.

[26] Richard Slaughter, The Foresight Principle (Westport: Praeger, 1995).

[27] “Foresight: The Most Important Skill in the 21st Century, The Futures School, April 13, 2021, retrieved from

[28] Jim Dator, “Foreword” to Richard Slaughter, ed., The Knowledge Base of Future Studies, (3 Vols.) (Hawthorn, Australia: DDM Media Group, Springer, 1996) retrieved from

[29] “Why ‘Ridiculous’ Maps of the Future are Useful,” The Futures School, April 13, 2021, retrieved from

GROWING THE POST-PANDEMIC CHURCH & #ElmerTowns at #GCRN at #Exponential says a secret has always been using new methods of communication, such as (increasingly) via a camera. #GreatCommissionResearchNetwork

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: My friend and professional inspiration has been Elmer Towns, prolific author (over 200 books), scholar and student of outreach. Looking back over 50 years of studying how churches grow, ne said that teaching/preaching via new methods (today online via cameras) is one of the most important secrets of church growth.

Dr. Elmer Towns at the Great Commission Research Network Annual Conference at Exponential.

Learn more about the Great Commission Research Network at

NONES & When they attend, they generally attend large churches according to @AzusaPacificUniversity professor Dave Dunaetz #GreatCommissionResearchNetwork #GCRN

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: This can be a curse and a blessing. A blessing in that larger churches should know they have nones in attendance and that they should research their physical and spiritual needs. But it can be a curse in that nones can disappear and be beyond strategic notice in a larger context. More ministry to the nones needs to be strategized with this research in mind.

Read more articles by Dave Dunaetz in the Great Commission Research Journal at

NONES & @WheatonCollege prof. @Reimaginer #RickRichardson’s research finds 39% of unchurched millennials see themselves “attending chruch sometime regularly in the future.” #Exponential #GreatCommissionResearchNetwork #GCRN

Figure 3:10. Unchurched millennials response to “How likely are you to attend church regularly sometime in the future.:

For more info check out the Great Commission Research Network research and publications at

SOCIAL MEDIA & Going to church in virtual reality: examples, ideas & cautions

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D.,  I once was skeptical about the depth of community that could be created online. But having taught graduate courses online (as well as onsite) for over 20 years, I’ve come to believe online community can be very personable and deep.

And so, I’ve come to see online churches as another campus or venue through which to spread the Good News. Granted, it still has its weaknesses as does every type of venue, but it also has a potentiality that the strategic leader must not overlook.

7 weaknesses I have identified of online venues include (but also often occur in live venues):

  1. Hubris that comes from being personality-driven
  2. Focus on receiving and not giving
  3. Accountability eclipsed by entertainment
  4. Technology drives expenditures
  5. Disenfranchised continue to be marginalized/ignored
  6. Reconciliation takes more effort
  7. Spiritual transformation is downplayed

Recently I had the opportunity to pull together speakers for the annual conference of the Great Commission Research Network. These were speakers who had experience leading online churches. You can find more information from the conference at these links:

SOCIAL MEDIA & Questions to stimulate discussion on how churches can more effectively utilize social media.

SOCIAL MEDIA & #NathanClark the leader of one of the nation’s first online communities tells the best thing a small church can do to connect & minister online

In addition one of my students from Kingswood University in Canada has started a church with her husband that includes an online service. Find more info about their multiplication strategy here: SOCIAL MEDIA & How a Toronto church plant uses gaming site Twitch to create online bible studies & community

Finally, here is a good video from CNN that gives a introduction to online churches.//

You can also view the CNN video here:

SOCIAL MEDIA & #NathanClark the leader of one of the nation’s first online communities tells the best thing a small church can do to connect & minister online.

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Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Nathan Clark is the online minister of Northland Church in Orlando, which was one of the nation’s first churches in the nation that embraced online community.  Here is what I learned from Nathan’s presentation at the Great Commission Research Network annual meeting Oct. 19, 2018 at Asbury Theological Seminary, Orlando, FL.

How does a large church do online ministry?

Large Church (300+).

In a large church, you can stream your Sunday service.  Northland Church does, and its megachurch stature means it can offer a level of followthrough and excellence that makes the streaming of worship work.

  • Use a live chat with church counselors to interact with the watchers during your live services.
  • Make your goal to get people into a face-to-face experience.
    • There are churches in the neighborhoods of almost all online watchers.
    • Create a system to connect online watchers to connect with Christians in their local community (which Nathan calls an “offline church.”
    • To connect people to a local “offline” congregation, Nathan suggests three steps:
      1. “We tell people to look around for people that exemplify the fruit of the Holy Spirit, ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23).
      2. Go to them and hang around with them.
  • Ask where they go to church and go with them.

How does a small church do online ministry?

Small Church (300 or less)

  • A small church should not try to stream their Sunday service.
    • According to Nathan it is too expensive.
    • The support and followthrough needs to be trained and extensive.
    • And the overly large territory you will reach (potentially hundreds of watchers) is beyond the person-power and financial ability of a small church.
  • Instead a small church pastor/leader should …
    • Check Facebook 30 minutes every day.
    • Call people on the phone if you see they have a need.
      • Don’t just like their post or tweet, that means very little – only that you noticed.
      • Instead, talk to them on the phone and pray for them.

SOCIAL MEDIA & Questions to stimulate discussion on how churches can more effectively utilize social media.


GCRN 2018 Great Commission Research Network, Asbury Theological Seminary, Orlando, Oct. 18, 2018

Praxis Meets Theology: A Panel on Practicing Reconciliation Electronically.

Moderator: Bob Whitesel DMin PhD, McGavran Award recipient & former GCRN president, Consultant/coach at


3:00 – 3:45 PM panel is interviewed

3:45 – 4:15 PM praxis groups study application questions speakers provided

4:15 – 4:30 PM minute break for snacks

4:30 – 5:00 PM praxis groups report on application ideas

Questions for discussion in praxis groups. Each group pick one or two to report after the break.

Questions by Clyde Taber,, Projects Worked On Damah Film Festival, “Jesus: Fact or Fiction?” DVD, the_Oracle CD Rom, Magdalena: Released from Shame (feature), Creativity Summit (event), Visual Story Network. Roles / Skill Sets Producer, networker

What God story do you have from the last week? How can you share it in the world of social media?

Questions by Matt Cruz, using Facebook and social media, his videos of witnessing and encouragement reached over 60 million people in less than one year. Doors began to open for Matt to travel and share his radical faith all over the United States by co-founding the RiseUp Movement.

How can you use live applications in social media for prayer, daily edification, teaching, witnessing, healing, or deliverance for disciple making purposes?

What ways can you build relationship online?

Questions by Dr. Jan Paron, her work reflects experience in urban ministry and leadership, diversity, strategic planning, grant writing, children and adult literacy, teaching children of poverty, differentiating instruction, and curriculum development. Currently, she is a dean and professor with the All Nations Leadership Institute. She was one of the Institute’s founding members.

In what ways can you use social media applications to support spiritual transformation? 

In what ways can you use social media applications to meet needs of non-churchgoers?

Questions by Nils Smith, Chief Strategist of Social Media and Innovation at Dunham and Company. Over the past decade he has been active online in maximizing web resources to further ministries through: Social Media Consulting and Conference Speaking, Co-Hosting the Social Media Church Podcast, Creating courses in the Church Technology Guide, Social Media Church University, & Amplify Social Media Academy. Helping to optimize churches and ministries in search results using Searchable Church.

Download the handout WHITESEL PANEL Handout.

#GCRN18 #GCRN #GreatCommissionResearchNetwork

GUESTS & Ideas for churches based upon the #Disney “5 Principles of Hospitality” explained by former #Disney executive to #GreatCommissionResearchNetwork #GCRN18



by Rich Taylor, former head of Disney Entertainment speaking to the Great Commission Research Network, Oct. 18, 2018 (commentary in italics by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D.)

Disney has 5-rules of hospitality.



  1. Anticipate – Look ahead to anticipate what will your guests need.
    • Walk the venue beforehand.
    • What will be the guests’ needs: childcare, restrooms, open seating?
  2. Arrival – What they experience on arrival.
    • What is the experience in the first five minutes?
  3. Great Experience – the Disney Experience.
    • What is the cumulative experience of the guest.
    • What will they feel after the first 15 minutes?  
    • What will they focus upon?
    • What will they remember?
    • Technology:
      • Don’t over-rely on technology. Be prepared for technology to fail and to have a Plan B.
      • Don’t rely on the latest technology, because the latests technology still has the bugs being worked out.  Adopt proven technology.  This would mean we should be “advanced incumbents” rather than “early adopters.” See this chart for a comparison.  
    • Selection:  Use people that are “naturally friendly” in Taylor’s terminology, which we might define as those with the “gift of hospitality.”
    • Training is another key.  Give them regular training at regular times for which they can plan.
  4. Departure – This is your last opportunity to make a guest feel great. When I went to theatre the other night, everyone welcomed us and said goodbye.  It was well done. But the valets were disinterested and unconcerned. What did I remember from the evening? The valets!
    • Have a departing gift, acknowledgment,
    • Have a banner that says “Thank you for visiting – we hope you encountered God.” of something like that that can be seen as they leave.
  5. Savor – If it has been a good experience they will savor the visit and the most important thing for Disney is that they will come back.
    • Visit growing churches to see what they are doing that is working.  You can’t do everything but you may be able to replicate something they are doing.
    • Follow up with them, right after they leave.  Send visitors an email that arrives on their way home.
    • Get feedback.
      • If they are a repeat visitor, ask them what you did well (and they will tell you what they enjoyed).
      • Have anonymous “ideas cards” that guests can fill out.

TECHNOLOGY & Why the secret is accessibility, not control. #MinistryMattersMagazine @BobWhitesel #ORGANIXbook #GenZ

Whitesel Ministry Matters page full

(article continues)

Modern Miscue: Seek to control networks.

The modern leader has lived most of life in a realm of “command and control.”  Command and control is necessary in crisis situations, such as warfare or firefighting.  For Baby Boomers born after World War II, the command and control way of leadership became a popular leadership style in business and the church.

Modern leaders of this generation believe the way to succeed is to control through power, rewards, and punishments.  Slow cycles that grew out of an agricultural economy began to affect business principles, where the agricultural approach of “command and control” began to be applied to the business world. Like breaking a horse, “The worker must be trimmed to fit the job,” Frederick Taylor famously intoned. Subsequently, modern leaders bristle at the thought of losing control.  When wrestling with the freedom found in emerging networks, the modern leader tends to try to exert control through ownership. In the ever democratizing world of electronic communication, control through ownership is increasingly difficult.

Modern leaders attempt to take possession of networks that shape them.  In business, this often means controlling access by charging a fee and thus reinforcing a modern notion of ownership. In the church, we may do this by restricting access to those times and places the modern leader deems fitting.  Former Silicon Valley executive Rusty Rueff noted, “Movie theatres have long tried to control mobile phone signal in their movie theatres. They say it is because it disturbs people.  Really, they don’t want teens text-messaging their friends that the movie is dreadful.” From the days of passing notes in church, to text-messaging a friend far removed from the church sanctuary, church leaders have also tried to limit the location and occasion of electronic communication.

Millennial leaders who have grown up in the expanding world of communication networks, view these networks as public property.  And, to restrict access or monopolize them seems tyrannical.  Modern leaders may recall similar unfair restrictions.  At one time, restaurants and businesses charged a fee to use the restrooms. Charging a fee or otherwise restricting network access should seem just as illogical to leaders today.

Millennial Attitude: Networks should be accessible

Rueff, who serves as an advisor to the president at Purdue University, recently showed a picture of a classroom at that university.  Of the almost 100 students assembled, every one was sitting behind a laptop computer.  “Think of when this will happen in your church,” Rusty Rueff, the former Silicon Valley executive, said.  “What do you do in church?  Is there a place for those who want to communicate with laptops?  Or would an usher ask them to put their computer away?”

Immediate, Even Critical Feedback.  In a millennial world where unfettered networking is routine, millennial church leaders are starting to accommodate instant feedback.  Some young churches have an “ask assertive environment” where those who disagree are encouraged to state their differences of opinion, even during the sermon.  Millennial congregations such as Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis regularly invite questions or challenges from the audience during the sermon. Even millennial megachurches such as Mars Hill Church in Granville, Michigan, sometimes welcome a congregant on the stage to ask the preacher questions during the sermon (since the audience is too vast for everyone to shout out a query). Leo Safko, author of the Social Media Bible calls this “a fundamental shift in power … no longer does the consumer trust corporate messages … they want to be educated by, hear their news from, and get their product reviews by people they know and trust.”

At recent conferences I keynoted, participants were given a keypad so they could rate the presentation and/or their understanding of the content in real time. Even now increasingly smaller smartphones allow electronic feedback as presentations unfold.  Though modern leaders might initially resist such quick and honest feedback in the church, the day is not far off when immediate, even critical feedback will be visually displayed in our churches in much the same manner that words are displayed to a song.

Fact checking and further research.  Allowing laptops and smart-phones into churches may at first seem disruptive, but it will enhance understanding as it allows checking of facts and further research on a topic. I remember sitting in college classes, balancing a three-inch (or so it seemed) textbook on one knee, while holding in my left hand a large diagram of the human organs.  Amid this balancing act, I tried desperately to write what the professor was stating. Today, multiple items sit neatly on computer desktops where only a flick of a mouse pad is required to separate sources or conduct further research.

Nurturing Accessibility

The accessible church describes a church that is accessible via as many social networks as possible.

The accessible church creates networks that reach out to those in need.  Meeting the needs of the disenfranchised is a priority among millennial leaders. Expanding network access should not be limited to just Christians who attend a church, but to those outside as well. One congregation in Edmonton, Alberta started a church plant in an Internet café. Unexpectedly, the free Internet access they offered met the needs of a large Asian-American community in the neighborhood that did not have computer access.  As a result this accessible church in an Internet café created an ongoing network with a growing Asian-American community.

The accessible church fosters instantaneous research and feedback at teaching venues, including during the sermon.Because Christianity is an experience- and knowledge-based faith, access to information can foster a better understanding about God. The accessible church can offer Internet access at teaching times such as during sermons, Sunday school, committee meetings, etc.  Many modern leaders bristle at the thought of laptops and Smartphones being used during church, but so did professors several years ago (only to lose the battle).  At one time sound systems, video projectors, guitars and even pipe-organs were banned from many churches. Though uncomfortable at first, new ways of communication and exploration will emerge, first among these cutting-edge millennial congregations, and eventually among everyone else.   When speaker Stan Toler speaks to younger audiences he often uses instant messaging so attendees can ask their questions via a Smartphone while he is still speaking.  He then displays their questions on the screen and answers them during his lecture.

The accessible church provides on-line communities to augment its off-line fellowship. Online communities “felt the connection and affinity they experienced in these groups fully justified their designations as a form of community.”  Online communities often enhance off-line friendships. A church offering a 12-step program can create an online group in which participants can dialogue between meetings. Groups, committees, Sunday School classes and small groups can create, share and edit documents via Web-based word processors, such as Google Docs.  These online documents allow collaborative work (such as designing a Bible study) prior to face-to-face meetings. Online communities can allow those who have special needs or limited time/resources to still feel like full participants in the community.  In the same way that Robert Schuller continued a life-long ministry to drive-in worshippers because a physically-challenged lady’s husband requested it, online communities can engage people who might be challenged in their ability to physically connect with a church.

Leaders having little experience with online communities may wonder about their cohesiveness, value and permanency, but those who have seen them in action know that increasing accessibility to the church community only enhances the faith experience.

This article is excerpted and adapted from Organix: Signs of Leadership in a Changing Church, Chapter 6, “Networks.” Used by permission and it can also be found in Ministry Matters magazine.


SOCIAL MEDIA & Should churches follow Gen Z into virtual spaces? Experts say yes – if they are willing to commit time, money & staff.

by Jeff Brumley, Baptist News Global, 6/19/18.

…Data recently released by the Pew Research Center shows Facebook rates fourth behind YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat among young people.

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 1.46.29 PM

So, should churches with strong Facebook presences follow younger Millennials and the up-and-coming Gen Z into virtual spaces a lot of ministers have barely heard of?

Experts say yes – if they are willing to commit time, money and staff resources to the effort. Leadership must also recognize they may be venturing into territory where hoped-for results, like boosts in attendance, may be elusive.

Simply opening an Instagram or Snapchat account isn’t enough. Ministers must study the platforms and how they work, said Bob Carey, chairman of the department of communication and new media at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, North Carolina.

Read more at …

#GCRN18 #GreatCommissionResearchNetwork

SOCIAL MEDIA & How, in the words of #Luther, it increasingly “curves us inward on ourselves.”

“Social Media and Sin” by A. Trevor Sutton, The Martin Marty Center, University of Chicago Divinity School, 4/4/18.

…Religion may offer an important explanation as to why this social media platform is so problematic both for society and for individual well-being. Human depravity, original sin, and concupiscence are perennial themes, for example, within the discipline of Christian theology. Augustine and Martin Luther are known for describing the human condition as incurvatus in se (“curved inward on oneself”). Rather than living a life that is aligned toward God and others, human sinfulness directs our life inward, toward self-justification, self-gratification, and self-aggrandizement. The notion that sin has warped, twisted, maimed, and ruined human goodness is as ubiquitous in theology as Facebook is in modern life.

The burgeoning field of user experience design (UX), when put in conversation with the theological notion of human depravity, helps to put the problematic nature of social media into sharp relief. A central concern within UX is user-centered design. As the name suggests, user-centered design advocates for designing with end users in mind. That is to say, technology is designed to acknowledge and accommodate the needs and wants of the user, as designers seek to maximize user experience by creating products that are built around the user’s desires. User research is responsible for nearly all the design decisions at Facebook. In fact, there is an entire department at Facebook dedicated to Human Computer Interaction and UX. Teams of people at Facebook are thus dedicated to researching, and finding ways to capitalize on, the individual behaviors, thoughts, and impulses of users.

Donald Norman, a formative figure in user-centered design, has recognized how designers actually aim to facilitate human sinfulness through that which they design. In the foreword to a book by Chris Nodder, Evil by Design: Interaction Design to Lead Us into Temptation, Norman writes: “But why should design be based on evil? Simple: Starting with evil means starting with real human behavior … And good design results from good understanding.” Norman’s point is rather simple: good design understands users, and it must therefore also consider the depravity of users.

This means that, according to user-centered design, human sinfulness ought to be accounted for and perhaps even exploited when creating products for the digital age. According to Nodder, designers must ask themselves the question: “how do we influence behavior through the medium of software?”

Theology recognizes that human hearts are curved inward, inclined to boast, and always looking for opportunities to prove their own self-righteousness. Human-computer interaction, UX, and user-centered design recognize that social media platforms should be designed to meet the wants and needs of real human users. Putting these two concepts in conversation with one another reveals why Facebook can be so dangerous. Facebook’s technology is designed to accommodate, encourage, and exploit human depravity. The “Like” button on Facebook is not there by chance; the “Like” button was created to satisfy our deep longing to be liked by others, lauded for our accomplishments, and acknowledged for our righteousness…


– Allen, Mike. “Sean Parker unloads on Facebook: ‘God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains’.” Axios. November 9, 2017.

– Murphy, Mike. “Why Apple’s Tim Cook doesn’t want his nephew to use social networks.” MarketWatch. January 22, 2018.

– Nodder, Chris. Evil by Design: Interaction Design to Lead Us into Temptation. Wiley, 2013.

– Wong, Julia Carrie. “Former Facebook executive: social media is ripping society apart.” The Guardian. December 12, 2017.

Read more at …

#GCRN2018 #GreatCommissionResearchNetwork


MULTICULTURAL & 8 Steps to Transitioning to 1 of 5 Models of a Multicultural Church #GCRNJournal

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., The Great Commission Research Journal, Biola University, 3/1/17.


Theories of change and theories of changing 1 are insufficiently studied, hence often inadequately understood by the ecclesial academy. The few theories that are available are based on an author’s experience with singular process model developed from similar homogeneous contexts. However, the present author, reflecting on case studies over a ten-year window, strengthens the argument for a holistic, eight-step model as first developed by John P. Kotter at Harvard University. Whitesel argues that the eight-step process model is resident and visible in ecclesiological change. He then suggests that the requisite change objective for many churches will be a heterogeneous, multicultural model, which will intentionally or unintentionally follow one or more of the five classifications.

Delivered to the Great Commission Research Network, Oct. 6, 2016, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, TX

Author Dr. Robert Whitesel Pages 212 – 222

The need for research by the Academy.

In my literature review on ecclesial change 2 I found that most popular books on church change are penned by prominent (e.g. megachurch) authors who customarily tout one model that has worked for her or him. Subsequently, overall general principles of organizational change in the ecclesial context are contextually bound and may be too narrow.

In addition, a theology of change/changing is poorly understood. Yet, both the Bible and church history are replete with ecclesial change, e.g. from old covenant to new covenant (Hebrews 8:13, Col. 2:16-17) and from monarchies (1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings), to oligarchies (e.g. Judges) to synodical forms of government (e.g. the council of Jerusalem, Acts 15, 1-12, see Schaff, 1910, p. 504)

To establish a theological context for church change, I penned three chapters in the book Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church. This current article will assume that either the reader has read those chapters or will consult them later. Subsequently, the present discussion will be delimited to the theory and practice of changing with one of five potential multicultural objectives.3

A case study basis for research.

Reliable and valid process models usually arise from examining and comparing numerous case studies. In this regard, the best organizational researcher may be John P. Kotter, former professor at Harvard Business School. Having read hundreds, if not thousands of student case studies, he began to formulate a process model that would explain successful change. His seminal article in Harvard Business Review titled “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail,” created a seismic shift in the way organizational theorists and practitioners applied the change process. His theory of changing as reflected in his 8-steps for leading change became a staple for the study of organizational change in business schools and increasingly in seminaries.

In my position as professor of missional leadership for over a decade, first at Indiana Wesleyan University and then at Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University, I have been afforded the opportunity to also study hundreds of student case studies on ecclesial change. I have observed that ecclesial change follows very closely Kotter’s 8-step model. In this paper I will briefly explain how Kotter’s model can inform a process model for ecclesial change.

Outcomes: 5 Models of Multicultural Churches

As mentioned above, a delimiter for this article is that I will consider objectives with more colorful (i.e. multicultural) outcomes. I do this because of my research interest and because it is of growing relevance to homogeneous churches in an increasingly heterogeneous world. I employ the term multicultural in the broadest sociological sense and a list of ethnic, generational, socioeconomic, affinity, etc. cultures as relevant to this discussion can be found in The Healthy Church, pp. 58-59.

In a previous article for The Great Commission Research Journal, I put forth in detail five multicultural models as a contemporary update of the historical categories of Sanchez (1976). I also demonstrated some of these models afford a more comprehensive and reconciliation-based approach. I then evaluated each model through a 10-point grid of “nomenclature, mode of growth, relationships, pluses, minuses, degree of difficulty, creator complex, redistribution, relocation and reconciliation” (2014). This present article will assume that the reader has access to this article for further reading. An overview of the five models will frame the process model’s objectives….

Read more here (purchase a copy) …

Students/researchers may read more here by downloading for personal use: ARTICLE CGRJ 8 Steps to Transitioning to One of Five Models of a Multicultural Church

GCRJ Article 8 Steps to Multicultural Website COVER copy.jpg


1 There is an important difference between theories of change and theories of changing. The latter, and the focus of this article, investigate how to control and manage change. Theories of change however seek to understand how change occurs. I have discussed theories of change as well as theologies of change in the book Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2007). For a fuller treatment of the differences between theories of change and theories of changing see Warren G. Bennis, Changing Organizations (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996).

2 This article will expand some of my previous theorizing as represented in two of my books: Preparing for change reaction: How to introduce change in your church (2007) and The healthy church: practical ways to strengthen a church’s heart (2013). In addition, my initial thoughts on the “How to Change a Church in 8 Steps” can be found in my article of the same title for “Church Revitalizer Magazine.”

3 I embrace the term multicultural in lieu of multiethnic or multiracial, because the latter carry important implications for reconciliation between cultures that have been polarized by violence and bigotry. My co-author Mark DeYmaz and I in re:MIX – Transitioning your church to living color (2016) spend several chapters addressing the importance of multiethnic and multiracial reconciliation. The reader of this present article should consult our more exhaustive treatment there. Thus, the present article will be delimited to general procedures, processes and plans that can result in a multicultural church regardless if that cultural mix is ethnic cultures, affinity cultures, generational cultures, social economic cultures, etc.

MULTIPLICATION & 4 Methods for Becoming a Mixed Economy Church #video

Commentary by Prof. B.: My students in Transformational Leadership have the opportunity to hear in Oxford the author of this article, Michael Moynagh, personally explain the shared economy strategy of the Fresh Expression Movement.  Read this article for a good introduction.  First is a lengthy video followed by a short article.

(Drawing from his experiences, both as the Director of Research for Fresh Expressions and as Editor of Share–a collection of resources out of the Fresh Expressions phenomena–the Rev. Dr. Michael Moynagh (based at Wycliff Hall, Oxford) shared with assorted members of the Trinity community the impact that this, more than 10 year pioneering movement continues to have throughout the United Kingdom; April 11, 2013)

A Mixed Economy?


It’s easy to go through life, only interacting with people just like themselves. For many churches is no different.

There is a growing need for churches that are a “mixed economy.” These churches thrive be on creating opportunities for old and new expressions of the church to be a blessing to each other. The term was coined by Rowan Williams. The Fresh Expressions UK Website likens the mixed economy to the Eucharist itself, saying:

Just as the pieces of broken bread – in their different shapes and sizes – belong to the one loaf, we see that in all our diversity we belong to each other because we each belong to the one body of Christ.

Phil Potter, Team Leader of Fresh Expressions UK has likened the ‘mixed economy church’ to rivers and lakes. Rivers flow, bubble with energy and bring new water into lakes. Lakes are deeper and more tranquil. Just as rivers and lakes need each other, new forms of church flow into the existing Church and are enriched by its depth and traditions.

Four Methods that Mix Things Up

In some cases, a mixed economy church develops when new believers have a blended church experience. They attend both a fresh expression and an established church. There is nothing in the Bible to say that you can’t belong to two local churches! Rather than consumerism, this is about commitment – to more than one Christian community.

Shared events between an established church and a fresh expression can also lead to the development of a mixed economy church. The two communities can share social events, study groups, short courses, outreach or occasional acts of worship. Both will have a richer church life for having shared together.

One place to start might be for a fresh expression to look out for opportunities to serve its parent church. Might it provide the refreshments for a church study day, for example? There is nothing like loving kindness to open others’ hearts.

A third expression of the mixed economy occurs when emerging Christians connect to the church at large. This can happen through events run by local churches together, or through regional and national conferences and training events, or through accessing Christian resources and making connections online.

Fourthly, the mixed economy develops when new Christian communities cluster together. In an English cathedral city, a small team hosts a monthly Sunday breakfast for people in the neighborhood who don’t attend church. Up to 60 have crammed into a house!

The Birth of a Mixed Economy Church

Picture this:

A house is crammed with people who do and don’t have a church. They’ve gathered around the breakfasts are other events, such as ice cream parties in the summer and hot chocolate parties in winter.

These individuals start to ask questions about spirituality and faith, they are invited to a weekly meeting at which the core team eats together, plans, prays and studies the Bible. If a person enjoys it, they are invited to join the team.

Within two or three years, the team grew from 8 to 18 people. It multiplied into two cells. The cells meet from time to time.

Now, picture the same scene after five years:

Some of the cells will no longer be new. They will represent an established church. As new cells keep being added and cluster with these older cells, they will give birth to….a mixed-economy church!

If you lead a fresh expression, keep connecting to the wider body! Existing churches may be refreshed and energized by the new life you bring. Your fresh expression may be deepened by the wisdom and experience of established churches.

It can be win-win for everyone.

Visit or Host a Fresh Expressions Vision Day Near You!

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CHANGE & A process model of church change as reflected in St. Tom’s Church, Sheffield UK

Bob Whitesel, D.Min. Ph.D., Associate Professor of Missional Leadership, Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University, Journal of the Great Commission Research Network, Vol. 1, No. 2, Winter 2010.


This article is an abbreviation of research originally presented to Dr. Eddie Gibbs, Donald McGavran Professor of Church Growth at Fuller Theological Seminary. Gibbs has been involved with the church under study for over two decades and lauded the author’s research. The research indicates a five-stage/four-trigger process model of change that may serve as an ecclesial prototype for effective change. The article is presented here in honor of Dr. Eddie Gibbs on his retirement.


Though how church change occurs is discussed in Church Growth Movement literature (Whitesel 2007), a holistic process model[1] (Poole 2004:11) of how it takes place is largely missing. Toward envisioning such a model, the purpose of this article is to develop grounded theory (Locke 2001) from an analysis of change within a linked Anglican-Baptist congregation in Sheffield England.

Four Forces of Organizational Change

After examining over 2,000 journal articles on organizational change, theorists Andrew Van de Ven and Marshall Poole have noted that change occurs because one or more of four forces are pushing for change (Poole and Van de Ven 1995). The author has shown elsewhere that these four forces are replicated in ecclesial change (Whitesel 2009). The following is a short overview of these forces.

Life-Cycle Forces

Life-cycle forces push for change because of the organizational life-cycle (Poole 2004:8). Life-cycle forces acknowledge 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).

Within Church Growth Movement literature a significant amount of ink has been devoted to life-cycle forces, including: people movements (McGavran 1970:333-372), church planting for denominational survival (McGavran and Arn 1977:92-101), individual church renewal (McGavran and Hunter 1980:59-65), life-stage dynamics (Gibbs 1981:17-48, 364-366) and Schaller’s pioneers vs. homesteaders tension (Schaller 1975:93-96).

Teleological Forces

Teleological theories emphasize forces pushing for change that are a result of “goal formulation, implementation and evaluation” (Poole 2004:7). An “envisioned end state” (ibid.) or goal embraced by constituents moves the organization forward toward change.

Church Growth Movement literature is filled with examples of teleological strategies of goal-setting, including McGavran’s emphasis upon dispelling the “universal fog” that can be pierced by facts and strategic verifiability (McGavran 1970:76-78, 93-102), numerical steps for church growth (e.g. McGavran and Arn 1977:15-115), and many of the tactical conventions of Lyle Schaller, a former city-planner (Schaller 1975:97-104, 107-110, 137-141, 184-187).

Dialectic Forces

Here “an opposing thesis and antithesis … collide to produce a synthesis” (Poole 2004:7). The process is cyclical, whereby the initial synthesis “in time becomes the thesis for the next cycle of dialectical progression” (ibid.). These forces are best dealt with through conflict resolution tools.

An analysis of the major writings of the Church Growth Movement reveals the conflict resolution segment is under represented (Whitesel 2007:9). Some references are apparent, including Wagner’s admonition to “plan a considerable portion of your time for trouble-shooting and problem solving” (Wagner 1976:200) and Schaller’s interventionist framework (Schaller 1997:111-125, 139-149).

Evolutionary Forces

Evolutionary forces are forces that push for change because some program or idea is working, and this tactic becomes the prescriptive solution for other churches. (Poole 2004:7).

Within Church Growth Movement literature strategic programs that work in influential churches (e.g. mega-churches, etc.) can lead to a popularity for evolutionary strategies. Most notable may be Willow Creek Community Church’s seeker-strategies (Hybels and Hybels 1995) and Rick Warren’s purpose-driven ecclesial strategies (Warren 1995).

A Time Line of A Change Event At St. Thomas’s Church

The Change Under Scrutiny

The change chosen for scrutiny was the rapid locational and organizational change that St. Thomas’ underwent the leaders received notice that within days they must vacate the facility due to asbestos. As a congregation of 2,000 meeting weekly in Sheffield’s largest indoor venue, simply moving to a bigger locale was not feasible. In addition, the rapidity of the move would not allow a new facility to be constructed or converted. The result was that St. Thomas’ had only a matter of days to inaugurate a strategy, implement change and then maintain ecclesial effectiveness while holding true to their theology and polity.

A Timeline of Change

The following timeline was created from personal interviews (Whitesel 2005, 2006, 2009), as well as books written by leaders of St. Thomas’ (Breen 1997, 2004; Mallon 2003; Hopkins and Breen 2007).

1978                                        Renovations at St. Thomas’ forces it to share facilities with Crookes Baptist Church (Mallon 2003:20).

1980                                        Renovations at St. Thomas’ are completed and St Thomas’ moved back to their original facility (Mallon 2003:20).

1981                                        After missing synergies from their partnership the two churches dialogue about merger (Mallon 2003:20).

1982                                        St. Thomas’ became a joined Anglican and Baptist Church (Mallon 2003:20).

1983                                        Robert Warren became Rector of St. Thomas’ and senior leader of the Local Ecumenical Project or LEP (Warren 1989).

Fall 1985                                 John Wimber, leader of the network of Vineyard Churches, conducted a series of renewal meetings at the church’s request (Gibbs and Bolger 2005:82). Soon after, Robert Warren invited a local charismatic community, the Nairn Street Community, to conduct a 9 p.m. postmodern worship celebration on Sunday nights. This became known as the Nine O’clock Service (NOC) which has been called the “birth of a postmodern worshipping community” in the UK (ibid.).[2]

October 1993                          Warren resigned to work with the Anglican denomination (Mallon 2003:25). Paddy Mallon became the Baptist minister of the LEP (ibid., p. 26). Mike Breen accepted the call to St. Thomas’ and sensed the Lord underscoring the word “Ephesus” in his prayer life. Breen noticed that Ephesus (Acts 19) had several unique and representative characteristics (Mallon 2003:26):

  1. It was the principal city of the region.
  2. Paul trained local leaders in a rented building.
  3. Leaders went out from Ephesus to plant churches at Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Philadelphia, Sardis, Laodicea and Colosse.
  4. From Ephesus, “the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power” (Acts 19:20).

Breen concluded that, “the church of St. Thomas’ was to function as a resource to its city and region. It was to be a base for church planting and mission and a centre for teaching and training” (Breen 1997:25).

March 1994                            Breen introduced a discipleship program based upon six icons, eventually calling it Lifeshapes (Mallon 2003:18, 25). Mallon credits Lifeshapes as “the most fundamental change in this period … an easily transferable method of planned, disciplined and structured membership activity, at a person as well as a corporate level …” (ibid.).

1994 – 1996                             Management style under Breen moved from a consensus-modality model of Warren (Mallon 2003:27), into a more directive “manager as planner and strategist” (Jones, George, and Hill 2000:234-243). Approximately 200 people left during the first months (Mallon 2003:28).

1998                                        The New Apostolic Churches (Wagner 1998) has a profound effect upon St. Thomas’ leadership structure, leading to an even more centralized apostolic paradigm (Mallon 2003:29-30; Breen 2004). Maconochie recalls, “basically Mike as a CEO kind of guy, helped us through it all. Although he was very delegating in terms of responsibility for clusters and things, he was the main person we processed (things) through …” (Maconochie 2007:5).

However, when a major church decision was needed more modality was practiced, with Maconochie recalling “we’d move back toward more of a Baptist (consensus) model where we’d actually have a church meeting and everybody would vote on it” (Maconochie 2007:6).

September 1998                      Leaders of St. Thomas’ began to sense that the size of their facilities was “restricting growth” (Mallon 2007:1). St. Thomas’ began to meet in a “leisure centre” called the Logos Centre one Sunday each month (Mallon 2007:4). Since the venue was more accessible for unchurched people than the parish church, growth among unchurched attendees increased. The temporary nature of the facility was fostered in part because the facility was only available 35 Sundays a year, it was expensive to rent, and much labor and time was spent in setup and teardown (Mallon 2003:36).

January 2000                          The Roxy nightclub became available for rent, and appeared to overcome the sociological strangulation of the leisure center. Media attention was fostered because The Roxy had been a bawdy concert venue, and by mid-February 400 people were added to the church (Mallon 2003:36-37). “I think what we saw was every time we created space people joined us,” recalled Mallon. “some of that was transfer growth, but a lot of it was conversionary growth” (Mallon 2007:4).

Sunday mornings at The Roxy attracted Baby Boomers, while Sunday evenings attracted Generation X. Services also continued at the parish church in Crookes and were attended by approximately 300 people committed to the local Crookes parish (Mallon 2003:36-37).

Almost without strategic intent, St. Thomas’ had evolved into multiple sub-congregations (Hunter 1979:63; Whitesel and Hunter 2001:26-27). They designated these sub-congregations “celebrations” after a used Pete Wagner (1976:101-2). Three celebrations emerged, each with different cultural patrons: Sunday morning (Boomer) at The Roxy, Sunday evening (Gen. X) at the Roxy, and Sunday morning at the Crookes parish church (Crookes neighborhood of Sheffield).

2000-2001                               The three Celebrations were comprised of “Clusters” of three to seven small groups. These clusters began to reduplicate themselves among (Mallon 2003:37):

  1. Students,
  2. The Café culture,
  3. Inner-city areas,
  4. Generation X singles,
  5. Generation X married couples.

January 2001                          Mike Breen senses God saying, “What would you do if I took away the Roxy?” (Mallon 2003:38; Breen 2007:1-2). “I was in a bit of a panic about that,” recalled Breen. “Because we had just been surveyed with the rest of the churches in Great Britain…. as being the largest church in Great Britain at that time. So most certainly we were a mega-church. And, it felt like God was giving me the option of really going in the mega-church direction or really embracing this thing he had been developing in us the last few years” (Breen 2007:2).

Breen still saw this as God’s nudging toward planting clusters as missional communities, something that they had always intended. “We already had begun by that stage to realize that we were being confined, as we had been at the parish church, by the size of the building and that was restricting growth,” stated Mallon. “So then what we did was we began to think about planting out the clusters” (Mallon 2007:1).

A leadership structure developed, with leaders of celebrations (culturally similar groups of clusters) reporting to Breen or other senior staff. Operating underneath celebration leaders were cluster leaders who oversaw a network of small group leaders (Breen 2007:2).

However, moving from the seemingly successful and comfortable mega-church event-orientation that The Roxy fostered still gave cause for hesitancy (Mallon 2003:38) and even group exit behavior (Maconochie 2007:3).

December 2001                       An attendee who had concerns about the safely of the “torpedo-style heaters” used to heat The Roxy contacted the local authorities requesting a safety inspection (Mallon 2003:39; Calladine 2007:14-15). A subsequent inspection revealed that asbestos rendered The Roxy an immediate health hazard (Calladine 2007:4). “If we were going to do the work on the building that we wanted to, we would have had to put a bubble over the building and put people in space suits” remembered Calladine. “It would have cost around $7 million to renovate…that building is still standing there unoccupied. Anybody who’s going to do anything to that building is going to have to spend huge amounts. We could’ve come up with 60 thousand, but it’s 60 thousand into a money pit …” (Calladine 2007:4).

“…One minute we were in the building and basically several weeks later we were out because we had to close immediately due to the health and safety issues” remembered Woodhead (Woodhead 2007:2). Though this event occurred just before Christmas 2001, the leaders were able to negotiate a five week grace period before they were forced to leave (Mallon 2007:2).

Communicating the venue change to a large congregation flowed effectively through of the celebration-cluster-cell structure. “…The most effective way of communication was … through four phone calls” recalled Calladine (Calladine 2007:4). The Rector would (1) call the Celebration Leaders, who would (2) call the Cluster leaders, who would then call (3) the small group leaders, who would then call (4) all small group attendees.

In addition, Maconochie recounts the spiritual preparation for this change, stating “We’d been talking about it for nearly a year and so we just said to the guys ‘well the Lord said it was going to happen and it has happened and there you go’.” (Maconochie 2007:2). Woodhead added, “So he’d (Breen) already shared that with the staff team, the senior staff and then the staff team and some of the cluster leaders were aware of this word. But was it going to happen? We don’t know because we’ve got this building and then that was it … it was taken away so they (the leaders) were ready to go” (Woodhead 2007:2).

January 27, 2002                    The last celebration was held in The Roxy (Calladine 2007:15) with 17 clusters commissioned to begin meeting the following week to replace the Sunday gatherings at The Roxy (Mallon 2003:39). The emphasis from the weekly Roxy events, to a weekly cluster meeting, democratized the process according to Woodhead, for “people had to really begin to sort things out for themselves. They couldn’t depend on the center for everything. So leadership took on much more of a dynamic, much more of a community (that) ‘we’re in this together’ for each cluster. ‘We’ve got to go out and find the venues. And, we’re looking to see what God’s heart is for this particular area.’ So there was a whole different dynamic it seemed to me when guys were reporting back” (Woodhead 2007:1).

February 3, 2002                    17 clusters are planted throughout Sheffield as St. Thomas’ takes on a “dispersed church” mode (Mallon 2007:3). The Bishop gave permission for clusters to meet within the boundaries of other Anglican parishes (Mallon 2007:2-3).

2002                                        The Diocesan Handbook of Sheffield indicates the average Anglican parish has 25 worshippers (Mallon 2003:36).

2003                                        St. Thomas’ Church now has 34-35 clusters (Mallon 2007:4; Breen 2007:2) with (Mallon 2003:36):

  1. 2,500 members,
  2. 85 percent under the ages of 40,
  3. 298 identify themselves as Anglicans,
  4. 188 identify themselves as Baptists.

Mallon believes this one year period was “the greatest growth we saw as a church. It showed us what we weren’t going to go down the mega-church road, which was an option. And when we had The Roxie, a plan was to make it a large worship complex that would have been glass and chrome and glitter. And now, we were spared all of that” (Mallon 2007:4).

Still, this considerable growth was a surprise. Mallon recalls, “Even developing the resources for the clustering for the six months beforehand, we had no idea we would double in size in terms of cluster leaders in the subsequent 12 months that we were in a dispersed mode. It’s a bit like The Acts of the Apostles: the idea of expansion, contraction, consolidation and then you grow again” (Mallon 2007:6).

A Process Model of Change At St. Thomas’ Church

A Process Model.

The following process model follows the congregation from a gathered congregation, into a dispersed cluster-orientated congregation. The triangles replace the customary rectangle of process models. At St. Thomas’ the triangle represents an interconnected triad of spiritual holism: UP-IN-OUT ministry (Mallon 2003; Breen 2004, 2005). Hopkins and Breen describe this triangle as the “glue or essence” of their organizational structure (Hopkins and Breen 2007). Arrows signify “trigger events” that push the organization forward toward change (per Trigger Theories, e.g. Pondy 1967, Worchel 1998 and Dyke and Starke 1999).WHITESEL Figure 3 St. Toms GCRJ.jpgStage 1, Program System

The pastorate of Robert Warren (1983-1993) molded the church into an increasingly program system of organizational behavior (Maconochie 2007:5-6). Twenty percent of the congregants support the burgeoning programs above them, often with resultant burnout. Mallon describes this period as a consensus model of leadership, that became “stifled, impaired and over-bureaucratic” (Mallon 2003:27). Hopkins and Breen’s inverted triangle of Figure 4 suggests an unstable organizational behavior.

WHITESEL Figure 4 St. Toms GCRJ.jpg

Trigger 1, Ephesus Leadership

Breen’s emphasis upon the word “Ephesus” (Mallon 2003:26) began to move the leadership toward a more teleological style (Breen 1997:25). The first trigger (arrow) in Figure 3 indicates the four forces pushing in the following ranked order:

  1. Dialectic forces are the most powerful forces pushing for change, as Breen begins a steady yet measured process (Breen 2007:6) of acquainting leaders, congregants and attendees with a new church model based upon the church at Ephesus.
  2. Life-cycle forces next affect change, as Breen emphasizes a new era of church life is emerging (Breen 2007:2).
  3. Evolutionary forces are exemplified in Breen’s wide range of readings (Breen 2007:4), basing his leadership model upon Ken Blanchard’s The One Minute Manager (Mallon 2003),
  4. Teleological forces did not appear to play a significant role, as goals are downplayed in lieu of a reorientation in vision.

Breen begins to “tip” the congregational behavior system (in a counterclockwise rotation in Figure 3) from the point-down perspective toward an upright configuration. But first it must rotate through the horizontal (point to the right) configuration of a mission movement (Hopkins and Breen 2007:70).

Stage 2, Emerging/Organic Leadership

The congregation moves into a growth stage, with increasing numbers requiring stronger sodality leadership (Wagner 1984:141-165). Though small groups and clusters are integrated, increasingly the leaders are required to be primary decision makers. Maconochie remembers, “basically Mike, as a CEO kind of guy, helped us through it all. Although he was very delegating in terms of responsibility for clusters and things, he was the main person we processed (things) through” (Maconochie 2007:5).

Trigger 2, The Roxy is Available

The Roxy becomes available and expands St. Thomas’ ministry. To the leaders it appears that “every time we created space people joined us,” (Mallon 2007:4). At Trigger 2 the four forces occur in the following ranked order:

  1. Teleological forces push the church to change as The Roxy must be adapted and utilized. Examples such as the noisy torpedo-heaters, safety issues and other administrative objectives are required to effectively utilize Sheffield’s largest venue.
  2. Dialectic forces remain strong as Breen and others seek to maintain the unity and missional faithfulness by emphasizing a structure of small groups (cells) and clusters (Mallon 2007:6).
  3. Life-cycle forces decline, as the church sees teleological and dialectical issues coming to the forefront. Yet, life-cycle forces are still evident, as the church moves into what congregants perceive as a new stage in the church’s life, one that resembles a mega-church.
  4. Once much of the organizational foundation has been laid, evolutionary forces seem to wane as leaders have few external models to follow (Maconochie 2007:3).

 Stage 3, Organic/Emerging System

The growing size of the new congregation now continues to “tip” the triangle (continuing a counterclockwise rotation) from the forward sodality leadership style of Stage 2, into a more organic structure with broader participation by volunteers. This broadening of the base (e.g. more cell leaders and cluster leaders are needed) is required by the size of the growing congregation. As a result, cells and clusters receive an increasing emphasis, a factor that would prepare the church for the next trigger, the loss of The Roxy. God prepares Breen personally for the loss of The Roxy (Breen 2007:1-2).

Trigger 3, The Roxy is No Longer Available

Though warned the loss of The Roxy venue came with amazing speed. Within one month (the end of December 2001 to the end of January 2002) the church was in the dispersed mode. Forces that occurred (in ranked strength) are:

  1. The rise in teleological goal-setting by volunteer cluster leaders, democratized the process and heightened teleological change forces.
  2. The sense that the church was moving into the long-awaited dispersed stage gave the sense of a prophetic life-cycle (Maconochie 2007:2).
  3. Evolutionary forces now become more important as leaders sought to grapple with the implications of leading a distributed church. Administrative goals, such as how to collect the offering, etc. became increasingly important (Calladine 2007:7-8; Mallon 2007:10).
  4. Because of the leadership’s high-commitment / low-control style of leadership (Maconochie 2007:5), dialectic forces were not a major factor, as those who did not support the new vision went elsewhere.

Stage 4, Organic System

St. Thomas’ now emerges in much the same form it exhibits today (see Figure 5).WHITESEL Figure 5 St. Toms GCRJ.jpg

In Figure 5, the largest part of the church, represented by the broad base, connects with its indigenous context. In addition, the leaders in Figure 5, represented by the 20%, function as strategic managers looking toward the long-range future and planning of the church.

Trigger 4, (Ongoing) Dissemination

This ability of the 20% to be strategic thinkers and to focus on long-range vision has permitted St. Thomas’ to send its leaders around the globe to share their experience.

  1. Evolutionary forces come to the fore for the first time, since the strategies and systems created at St.. Thomas’ provide a model for similar congregations. Breen’s success as a writer, as well as the designer of Lifeskills, now Lifeshapes,© is testimony to the evolutionary forces now at work. Mallon’s writings have likewise helped disseminate what was learned in Sheffield. The popularity of their Visitors’ Week is also an indication to the evolutionary forces at play.
  2. A teleological emphasis upon measuring the church’s growth indicates that teleological goal-orientation forces still have significant influence.
  3. Life-cycle forces play a smaller, yet important role, as Breen, Mallon and Visitors’ Week help churches on the downward side of their life-cycle (Mallon 2003:76-95, Breen 1997, 2004).
  4. Finally, because dialectic forces do not usually play a significant role once a church has reputation for a particular tactic, dialectic forces are now less influential.

Stage 5, Organic System

             St. Thomas’ Church of Sheffield can be viewed today as an example of ecclesial change that is founded upon an evangelistic ethos, wed with a developing and integrated organizational management structure. Within this management structure a process model for change has emerged that deserves consideration as much as does St. Thomas’ insights on clusters (Hopkins and Breen 2007; Mallon 2003) or Lifeshapes© (Breen 1997). It is the writer’s hope that this process model can provide another view of the interplay of change forces and their involvement in church change.

Questions for Further Research

Question 1: Does the process model described above bear resemblance to processes found in other large postmodernal and organic congregations? A case study comparison between Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, Calif. and Mar’s Hill in Grandville, Mich. might inform further discussion.

Question 2: Does this process model overly emphasize the importance of dialectic powers due to this change taking place in a long-standing Anglican congregation? An investigation of newly planted postmodernal and organic congregations such as The Bridge in Phoenix or Scum of the Earth in Denver might inform this research.

Question 3: What are the cultural ramifications of an English congregation as an church case study? In his responses, Breen downplayed the effect of dialectic forces because he sees English spirituality as so unpopular, that congregants who align with an evangelic church in the UK have already made a cultural break with popular expectations (Breen 2007:5). To what degree does a hostile, indifferent or unacquainted culture bear upon change forces, especially dialectical forces?

Question 4: Does the size of a congregation make certain forces for change more prevalent and/or powerful? In other words, are teleological forces more prevalent/powerful in larger congregations where professionals are expected to operate as strategic leaders. Note how this occurred at St. Thomas’ in Stage 2. A study of postmodernal and organic congregations of varying size, such as the sol café in Edmonton, Alberta along with Bluer of Minneapolis and Solomon’s Porch in Minnesota might inform grounded theory development on this topic.

Download the article here … ARTICLE_Whitesel_ProcessModel_Sheffield_UK


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[1] Poole tenders a helpful definition that a “process theory is a series of events that unfold through time to bring about some outcome” (2004:11).

[2] A autocratic management structure eventually led the NOS into schism. For an insightful look into the forces involved, as well as the NOS’s cultural influence see Gibbs and Bolger 2005: 82-85.

Speaking hashtags: #Kingwood2018 #GCRN #GCRJ GCRN GCRJ

COMMUNICATION & From Gutenberg to Google – analysis by Elmer Towns

Commentary by Prof. B: Elmer Towns, founding professor of Liberty University School of Theology and elder statesman of the Church Growth Movement, shared his meta-perspectives on communication, by contrasting Gutenberg and Google.

Address by Elmer Towns D.Min., Ph.D., 10/19/17 to the annual meeting of The Great Commission Research Network at Asbury Theological Seminary, Oct. 19, 2017.

Gutenberg controlled the printing process by utilizing lightly trained individuals and an expert who oversaw the process. This created a top-down approach, which is not a rational approach but a power-based approach.

Google has democratized information.  It is bottom up and individualized. The next generations will probably attain their knowledge in this manner.

Speaking Hashtag #GCRN

GENERATIONS & McIntosh on theories re. power & characteristics

(From a presentation at the annual meeting of The Great Commission Research Network at Asbury Theological Seminary, Oct. 19, 2017).

Generations can be thought with key words (in italics below)

The senior generation is informing. They are (attempting) to pass their knowledge along to further generations.

The mature generation is prevailing.  This means they are in charge and their behaviors, ideas and products are prevailing in most areas of the culture.

The adult generation is promoting.  They are promoting themselves and their products in order to move up (i.e. be promoted) in influence.

The young generation is learning.  They are watching and accessing knowledge modalities (YouTube, Internet, etc.) to learn more (but may not actually embrace this knowledge).

Speaking hashtags: #CGRN

HIRING & Rural Pastors’ Myers-Briggs Correlated w/ Church Size/Health

Commentary by Prof. B: There are many research-based and valid ways to look at pastoral suitability.  Martin Butler has looked at various leadership traits and behaviors in his exhaustive research.  Kenton F. Hinton D.Min. offers a somewhat different and interesting correlation between the Myers Briggs Type Indicator and whether a pastor can grow a church. The following is gleaned from his presentation to the 2017 annual meeting of the Great Commission Research Network held Oct. 19, 2017 at Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, KY.

Caution: These findings were part of a DMin project by Hinton and based upon a sample of 28 rural churches led by Anglo pastors.  Though the results mirror other research (notably Finke and Stark), the reader must be careful to apply this cautiously outside of the sample context. One of my colleagues at the presentation stated, “This proves what works in Johnson County in Southern Baptist Churches” (ET).

Here are some of the takeaways.

ESFJ pastors

  • mostly grew a church.
  • top spiritual gifts (ranked): faith, prophesy, pastor, encouragement
  • strongest skill set: preaching

ESFJ pastors

  • mostly plateaued a church.
  • top spiritual gifts (ranked): pastor, giving, encouagement, faith
  • strongest skill set: pastoral care

E/ISTJ pastors

  • mostly declined a church.
  • top spiritual gifts (ranked): teaching, wisdom, knowledge, pastor, giving
  • strongest skill set: teaching

(Hinton didn’t expand on other MBTI categories)





CHANGE & Harnessing the Differences Between Generations & Their Approaches to Change

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., an address delivered to the Great Commission Research Network (GCRN), Asbury Theological Seminary, Oct. 19, 2017.

“How Changing Generations … Change: Harnessing the Differences Between Generations and Their Approaches to Change.”


This article will compare and contrast two leadership change strategies as observed in older generations (influenced by modernity) and younger generations (influenced by postmodernity). It will be suggested that modernist leadership strategies may focus more on command-and-control and vision. It will be further suggested that postmodern leaders may employ a more collaborative and mission-centric approach to change leadership. This latter approach will be shown to have been described in postmodern circles by organic metaphors and four conditions as set forth by organizational theorist Mary Jo Hatch. Subsequently, it will be suggested that the style of leadership embraced should depend upon the cultural context of the generational actors and the environment.

This study must begin with a few delimitations and explanations regarding terminology that will be employed. I present these as juxtaposition propositions.

Boomers vs. Everyone Else (Gen. X, Y & Z)

There are varying ways to designate generational cultures. The most widely accepted labels have been put forth by Philip Bump in his article “Here is When Each Generation Begins and Ends, According to Facts.”[1] Synthesizing work conducted by the US Census Bureau, the Harvard Center and Strauss and Howe, Bump suggests these designations:

  • Greatest Generation, born before 1945
  • Baby Boomers, born 1946-1964
  • Generation X, born 1965-1984
  • (overlapping: Generation Y, born 1975-2004)
  • Millennials, born 1982-2004
  • TBD, 2003-today[2]

Philip Bump, The Atlantic, titled “Here Is When Each Generation Begins and Ends, According to Facts” (3/25/14)

To complicate matters, I have suggested the older generations are more influenced by modernity while the younger generations by postmodernity.[3] Though it is hard to designate an arbitrary point at which the majority of a generation crosses the modernal divide, this article will assume these influences. I have made at length a case for this elsewhere.[4]

Modernity vs. Postmodernity

To contrast modernity and postmodernity is beyond the scope and scale of this article. However, the genesis of these two views coupled with a meta-perspective on culture can frame our discussion.

Modernity roughly coincides with the emergence of education as the interpreter of knowledge. Emerging with the Reformation and gaining momentum in the Enlightenment, modernity viewed the mentor-mentee form of education as the arbitrator of civilization. Modernity hoped that through education the world would become a better place. Therefore, while sitting at the feet of experts, neophytes could build a better life for themselves and others.

Somewhere around the beginning of the 20th Century, disenchantment with the modern experiment arose. Modernity hoped that its emphasis upon education and knowledge would usher in a new world of peace. Instead, it had created new powers who tapped their educational resources to create weapons of mass destruction. The carnage of World War I was a verification that modernity had failed, as witnessed through the most educated countries on the earth becoming the most likely to devise new ways to kill people en masse.

The reaction first took hold in the art world, which employed an oxymoron (postmodernity) to describe a world in which humans move beyond the modern experiment (i.e. into post-modernity).[5] While modernity saw education from experts as the redeemer of culture, postmodernity began to prefer experience as its arbitrator of civilization. Modernity dictums such as “Get an education to get ahead” were replaced with postmodern maxims of “Try it, you may like it.” Thus arose in postmodernity an emphasis upon experience as a better teacher than experts.

To highlight this, the terms modern and postmodern will be used to highlight the difference in leadership approaches between younger and older leaders. The reader is cautioned to not apply these descriptors too narrowly or too generally. Rather, the judicious academic should allow these categories to inform his or her analysis of leadership while also taking into account the context and the players.

Organic vs. Organization

Over time, the term organic church has been more palatable in Christian circles than the term postmodern church. For instance, my publisher rejected my use of the term postmodern in the chapter titles of a 2011 book, because of the perceived anti-religious bent of postmodernity. Thus, I chose the term organic because it is helpful when describing the New Testament concept of a church as an organism with its interconnected, inter-reliant parts as seen in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 1, and Colossians 1.

Theologian Emil Bruner also emphasized that though the church is a spiritual organism (requiring pastoring and spiritual growth) it is also an organization (necessitating management and administration ).[6] Therefore, the term organic organization will be employed in this article to emphasize both elements.

I find it interesting that secular postmodern organizational theorists, such as the influential Mary Jo Hatch, have picked up upon the organic metaphor as a designation for healthy organizations.[7] Hatch suggests organic organizations embrace four conditions, which I will utilize in this discussion to frame how change mechanisms respond to them.

Condition 1: Organic, postmodern leadership understands it is dependent on its environment. While a modern leadership approach might try to colonize or impose upon another culture a leader’s preferential culture; according to Hatch an organic approach adapts its leadership practices to the indigenous cultures in which it hopes to bring about change.

Condition 2: Organic, postmodern leadership envisions a dissonant harmony that must be cultivated between the varied parts in the organization.[8] While a modernist strategy might overlook parts of the organization in order to emphasize those organizational aspects with growth potential, the postmodern sees an interconnectedness that requires addressing weaknesses in addition to building upon strengths. (Biblical examples for this view may be inferred from I Corinthians 12:12, 14, 20, 27; Romans 12: 4-5 and Ephesians 4:12 – 13).

Condition 3: Organic organizations adapt continually to their changing environments. The organization learns from its environment, weeds out aspects that can be unhealthy and learns which aspects can be embraced without compromising the mission or vision. To do so without compromising an underling mission, Kraft suggests this requires us to see Christ as “above but working through culture.”[9] Eddie Gibbs elaborates by suggesting that behaviors, ideas and products of a culture must be “sifted.”[10] Using a colander metaphor, Gibbs suggest this is an incarnational approach, “He (Christ) acts redemptively with regard to culture, which includes judgment on some elements, but also affirmation in other areas, and a transformation of the whole.”[11]

Condition 4: Organic uniqueness recognizes that certain species flourish in some environments and die in others. Hence, to Hatch what works in one organization cannot necessarily be franchised into another context. Therefore, Hatch and other postmodern theorists like Zalesnick reject the notions of “irrefutable” and “unassailable” leadership laws or rules that can be applied in a general manner.[12]

With the above understanding of generational depictions, the philosophical forces that inform them, the organization as organism, and the conditions of an organic organization, we can move on to compare two areas where modern and postmodern leadership may differ. This is not to say these are the only or even most powerful areas in which they differ. I have compared and contrasted eight areas in my Abingdon Press release: ORGANIX: Signs of Leadership in a Changing Church. More depth on this discussion can be found there. However, for the present article, I will delve into two aspects that were not discussed to this depth in the aforementioned book.

Command-and-control leadership vs. collaborative leadership.

Modern leadership has customarily been associated with command-and-control leadership as depicted in Adam Smith’s seminal book The Wealth of Nations.[13] In this model the role of the leader or manager is to command often unwilling workers to pursue a goal while controlling their actions to attain it. Upon Smith’s ideas Frederick Taylor built Theory X, famously asserting; “The worker must be trimmed to fit the job.”[14]

Postmodern leadership, not surprisingly, reacted against this emphasis on a leadership expert and instead embraced a consensus building and collaborative approach. Harrison Monarch describes the contrast this way:

The archaic command-and-control approach is shelved in favor of a culture in which managers admit they don’t have all the answers and will implement and support team decisions. This means mangers become the architects of that team dynamic rather than the all-seeing purveyors of answers. The result is a culture of trust and employee empowerment that is safe.”[15]

Support for this approach can be found in the research of Bruno Dyck and Frederick A. Starke. Not only organizational theorists who study of the formation of breakaway organizations (e.g. how organizations lose their change proponents), they also participate on the boards of their churches. They have applied their understanding of breakaway organizations to what they’ve witnessed in churches.[16] Dyke and Starke found that pastors who dictate change (or even who align themselves with a subgroup of change components who do so) will usually be pushed out by the status quo unless the leader demonstrates collaborative leadership. They discovered that the successful leader will build consensus for a change, even among the naysayers, before the change is implemented. They also discovered that implementing change too fast and without vetting it with the status quo results in failed change. Thus, change often fails in churches because it was not implemented in a collaborative fashion. Disturbingly, they also discovered an end result is that pastors and those proposing change are forced out of the church because they didn’t attain a unifying outcome.[17]

John Kotter is a Harvard management professor who wrote the seminal article (and the resultant book) on change, titled Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail.[18] He states that the “second step” for bringing about change is to create a “guiding coalition” to generate that change. He found that when one person or one side pushes for change, the other sides will push back with the resultant change creating division rather than progress. Kotter’s solution is to create (as the second step of the eight-step process) a “guiding coalition” of both change proponents and the status quo who will bring change in a collaborative manner.

Best practices for the church: A leader must resist command-and-control tendencies and instead embrace approaches oriented toward collaboration. Best practices include Dyke and Starke’s suggestions that church leaders go to the status quo and listen to their concerns before launching into a change.[19] While field-testing this, I have found that simply giving status quo members a hearing goes a long way to helping them feel their voice and concerns are heard. Dyck and Starke also found that when an inevitable alarm event occurs through which some change begins to polarize the congregation, the collaborative pastor will bring the people together to grasp the common vision and cooperate on a solution.[20] Kotter even pushes the establishment of a guiding coalition to the top (second) of his eight tactical steps.

Motivating by vision vs. motivating by mission

There is some confusion among practitioners regarding the difference between vision and mission. Kent Hunter and I, in an earlier book, sought to compare and contrast various ecclesial definitions of vision and mission and suggest an abridgment.[21]

George Barna[22]  

Elmer L. Towns[23]


Whitesel / Hunter[24]

A philosophic statement that under-girds the heart of your ministry.

Your ministry emphasis and your church gifting. “What do we do” (and why do we do it, 2017)
Vision: A clear mental image of a preferable future imparted by God, and based on an accurate understanding of God, self and circumstances. Same as Barna. “Where do we believe God is calling our church to go in the future?”


My experience has been that older generations, influenced by modernity, typically emphasize the vision. By this, I mean they have a clear mental picture of the future and try to muster all of their forces to attain it. This can, and often does, result in a parade of different programs being promoted to the congregation which often – by their sheer frequency – overwhelms and wears out the congregants. Burnout is often the result.

I have noticed that younger generations are more likely to emphasize the mission that undergirds these various visions. This is perhaps because they have witnessed this in their parents’ congregations. According to Barna, a mission is “a philosophic statement that undergirds the heart of your ministry.”[25] This leads postmodern-influenced leaders to emphasize less the different programs that are being implemented and instead to motivate by stressing the mission behind them.

An interview with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s in USA Today yields a useful example.[26] In the article, Nadella criticizes founding CEO Bill Gates for mixing up the difference between a mission and a vision. Nadella states, “It always bothered me that we confused an enduring mission with a temporal goal… When I joined the company in 1992, we used to talk about our mission as putting a PC in every home, and by the end of the decade we have done that, at least in the developed world.”

“…we used to talk about our mission as putting a PC in every home, and by the end of the decade we have done that, at least in the developed world.” – Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s in USA Today

Nadella was right because “putting a PC in every home” is not a mission – it is a vision. It is something that can be reached, can be pictured in your mind and is temporally bound. You can see a vision in your mind. You can envision every house having a PC computer. That is why every house today doesn’t have an IBM PC. Instead, many have Apple Macs.

A mission, however, drives the company and its values, therefore shaping its decisions. It is much bigger and grander than a vision.

When Steve Jobs was luring Bill Scully from PepsiCo to become CEO of Apple, Jobs shared a mission, not a vision, saying: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?”[27]

A mission is just like that. It is exciting, world-changing … but somewhat imprecise so it could manifest in many different outcomes (i.e. visions). It is also not temporally bound, like “putting a PC in every home.” A mission drives your values and decisions through many different projects.

Apple’s mission reminds me of the trend I see in my youthful seminary students to emphasize mission over vision. They correctly understand that mission can be realized in many different visions. Apple’s mission would be realized in varied visions including: the vision to revolutionize the way music is purchased via iTunes, the vision to miniaturize the computer into a handheld device, etc. The result is that Apple devotees have a passion that IBM followers don’t. Apple has an ongoing mission that continues to be realized in various visions. As a result, the clarity of Apple’s mission, best exemplified in Apple’s 1984 Super Bowl ad, unleashes a passion in its followers.[28]

Best practices for the church: When leading younger leaders, it may be helpful to emphasize the mission while letting many subcategories of vision come and go as opportunity rises and wanes. The younger generations appear to want to be reminded of the mission but allowed to create multiple visions of how it may be carried out. They don’t want to stick to one idea or tactic, but rather one mission. Therefore, the mission becomes more important than a time and measurement constrained vision which often influenced their parents’ church.

Though they may not realize it, Hatch’s four conditions of organic organizations are reflected in the postmodern emphasis upon an unchanging mission in lieu of the temporal- and quantitative-bound nature of vision. For example, “Condition 1: An organic dependency on its environment” is reflected in the postmodern emphasis that church should not be a closed, self-contained system; but rather an organic congregation tied to those it serves inside and outside the organization. Hatch’s “Condition 2: An organic harmony among the parts” is reflected in the postmodern propensity toward dissonant harmony among multiple constituencies. “Condition 3: Organic adaption to the surroundings,” is exhibited as these organic experiments adapt to the culture of their surroundings by changing visions as the environment changes. And finally, “Condition 4: Organic uniqueness from other organizations” is mirrored in their intentions to not franchise what works in other churches but to create indigenous and elastic visions that serve an immutable mission.

The tip of an iceberg

These approaches to change are just the tip of an iceberg of divergences between the leadership modality of the modernist and postmodernist. I’ve compared and contrasted more areas in my Abingdon Press book ORGANIX: Signs of Leadership in a Changing Church. The reader may be interested in how I delve into the striking difference regarding how younger generations offset the disadvantages of homogeneity. For a thorough investigation of the distinctions between modern and postmodern leadership, I would encourage the reader to consult this volume.

[1] The Atlantic magazine, March 25, 2014.

[2] Generation Z has been suggested as the descriptor for this generation by the New York Times, see Sabrina Tavernise, “A Younger Generation is Being Born in Which Minorities are the Majority,” New York Times, May 17, 2012.

[3] Bob Whitesel, “Toward a Holistic in Postmodernal Theory of Change: The Four-forces Model of Change as Reflected in Church Growth Movement Literature,” The Journal of the American Society for Church Growth, Fall 2008.

[4] Bob Whitesel, Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church (Indianapolis: The Wesleyan Publishing House, 2007, pp. 53-56.

[5] Eddie Gibbs in Church Next (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2000, p. 23) explains that though Frederico de Onis created the term “postmodern” in the 1930s it was not until the 1960s that it gained popularity due to its use by art critics.

[6] Emil Bruner, trans. Harold Knight, The Misunderstanding of the Church (London: Lutterworth Press, 1952), pp. 15-18.

[7] Mary Joe Hatch, Organizational Theory: Modern, Symbolic, and Postmodern Perspectives (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 53-54.

[8] While Hatch utilizes the term requisite harmony, I have substituted the helpful term dissonant harmony as employed by Bruno Dyck and Frederick A. Starke, The Formation of Breakaway Organizations: Observations and a Process Model. Administrative Science Quarterly (1999), 44:792-822. I have applied the Dyke-Starke model to the church in Bob Whitesel, Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change and What You Can Do About It (Abingdon Press, 2003).

[9] Charles H. Kraft, Christianity in Culture, (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1979), pp. 113.

[10] Eddie Gibbs, I Believe in Church Growth, op. cit., p. 120.

[11] Eddie Gibbs, I Believe in Church Growth, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981), p. 92.

[12] See for the example the hedgehog versus Fox’s comparison in Abraham Zalesnik’s book, hedgehogs and foxes: character, leadership, and commanding organizations parentheses New York: Palm grave McMillan, 2008). Zalesnik use this is a metaphor of hedgehogs who live by unwavering rules with the more long-lived foxes who adapt to their environment..

[13] Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (1776; reprint, Chicago: University of Chicago press, 1976), books 1 and 4.

[14] Quoted by Daniel Boorstin, The Americans: The Democratic Experience (New York: Vintage, 1974), pp. 368-369

[15] Harrison Monarth, Executive Presence: The Art of Commanding Respect Like a CEO (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2009), p. 55.

[16] Bruno Dyck and Frederick A. Starke, The Formation of Breakaway Organizations: Observations and a Process Model. Administrative Science Quarterly (1999), 44:792-822.

[17] For more on this seek Bob Whitesel, Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change, And What You Can Do About It (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002) and the chapter titled “Go Slowly, Build Consensus and Succeed” in Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church (Indianapolis: The Wesleyan Publishing House, 2007, pp. 151-169.

[18] Harvard Business Review (Boston: Harvard Business Press, January 2007).

[19] Bruno Dyck and Frederick A. Starke, ibid., 44:812-813.

[20] ibid., 44:813-819.

[21] Bob Whitesel and Kent R. Hunter, A House Divided: Bridging the Generation Gaps in Your Church (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001), p. 107.

[22]George Barna, The Power of Vision: How You Can Capture and Apply God’s Vision for Your Ministry (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1992), pp. 28, 38–39.

[23] Elmer L. Towns, Vision Day: Capturing the Power of Vision, (Lynchburg, Virginia; Church Growth Institute, 1994), pp. 24-25.

[24] Whitesel and Hunter, op. cit., p. 107.

[25] Barna, op. cit., p. 28.

[26] Marco della Cava, “Microsoft’s Satya Nadella is Counting on Culture Shock to Drive Growth,” USA Today, Feb. 20, 2017.

[27]John Sculley and John A. Byrne, Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple: A Journey of Adventure, Ideas, and the Future (New York: HarperCollins, 1987), p. 90.

[28] The 1984 Apple commercial is available on YouTube and is best described by MacWorld writer Adelia Cellini in the following: “Apple wanted the Mac to symbolize the idea of empowerment, with the ad showcasing the Mac as a tool for combating conformity and asserting originality. What better way to do that than have a striking blonde athlete take a sledgehammer to the face of that ultimate symbol of conformity, Big Brother?” “The Story Behind Apple’s “1984” TV commercial: Big Brother at 20,” MacWorld, 21 (1), p. 18.

Download the article here… ARTICLE Whitesel 2017 Changing Generations Change GCRJ GCRN 17.10.17


Bob Whitesel D.Min. Ph.D. holds two doctorates from Fuller Seminary and is the former founding professor of Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University. A speaker/consultant on church health, organic outreach and multiethnic ministry, he is the award-winning author of 13 books published by national publishers. National magazines have stated: “Bob Whitesel is the change agent” (Ministry Today) and “Bob Whitesel is the key spokesperson on change in the church today” (Outreach Magazine). The faculty of Fuller Theological Seminary awarded him The Donald McGavran Award for outstanding scholarship in church growth and The Great Commission Research Network awarded him The Donald A. McGavran Award for outstanding leadership in church growth.

Speaking hashtags: #Kingwood2018 Theological Reflection Seminar #TheoReflect #GCRN

CHANGE & My video introduction to “The 4 Forces that Control Change” #LEAD600

Here is a video introduction to articles I have written (for anyone) and assignments (for students in LEAD 600, etc.) that deal with controlling change (which we call theories of changing). It introduces the viewer to “The Four Forces that Control Change” and how to manage each.

©️Bob Whitesel 2017, used by permission only.

Articles mentioned in the video as well as additional articles are available at the following links:

Download the Church Executive article by Bob Whitesel here:  ARTICLE_Four Forces-Whitesel (Church Executive Article)

Fownload the article in the Journal of the Great Commission Research Network here: article-whitesel-gcrn-toward-a-holistic-and-postmodernal-theory-of-change-in-cg-literature-gcrn . To subscribe and/or receive more information about The Great Commission Research Journal (the new name) click here:

And find more “theories of changing” articles on here: