What’s emerging on the spiritual landscape and what might those changes signal for mainline protestant denominations and local churches ten years out? That’s not a question I’d normally ask in my role with KnowledgeWorks, given our focus on education. But Rev. George Meier of the United Church of Canada reached out in the context of a project exploring microfinance as a way of fostering experimental and entrepreneurial ministries outside traditional church governance structures. I was fortunate to be able to collaborate with him to explore the implications of our work on the future of education for the spiritual domain.
As George astutely observed, many of the socio-cultural changes that are disrupting education are also affecting religious and spiritual practice. In applying our forecasts from “A Glimpse into the Future of Learning” and Recombinant Education: Regenerating the Learning Ecosystem to that domain, we found that the spiritual ecosystem is expanding, just as the learning ecosystem is expanding. Both domains are experiencing a time of disintermediation, wherein people’s relationships with traditional institutions are changing and, in some cases, ending entirely.
So what does that look like? We’re seeing school take many forms, some of which are self-organized. Similarly, church is beginning to take many forms. We expect that trend to continue, often with no denominational accountability and sometimes without new forms of church even claiming that identity. We’re also seeing educator roles diversify, such that a whole host of specialized learning agent roles could emerge. It also looks as if denominational roles and professional staff positions will diversify as many new roles emerge to support people on their spiritual journeys.
These are just a couple of highlights from the booklet that George and I produced, “Transforming Church for North America’s Expanding Spiritual Ecosystem.” We forecast that, in ten years, it will no longer be necessary for an individual to adapt to the institutional church as it has so far existed. Indeed, we forecast the emergence of a recombinant church in which people will be able to put the pieces of the spiritual ecosystem together in new sequences, potentially creating a living system that can keep evolving as people’s needs and the world that we inhabit change.
The emergence of a recombinant church represents a huge adaptive challenge for mainline protestant denominations and local churches. George and I identified four pathways that could help those institutions contribute to transformational community life and the creation of the recombinant church:
- Spiritual Cultures: Cultivate spiritual cultures that support individuals in pursuing authenticity and spiritual awakening
- Organizational Structures and Roles: Support the development of diverse spiritual structures and professional roles
- Church Offerings: Recast church offerings to extend beyond institutional boundaries and support individuals in pursuing customized spiritual journeys
- Transformational Leadership: Lead toward the creation of a flexibly and radically personalized spiritual ecosystem.
The parallels between the educational and spiritual domains point toward a cycle of disintermediation, adaptation, and recombination that my colleague Jason Swanson and I think could be affecting many sectors. We’re looking forward to exploring that cycle of change further.
In the meantime, check out George’s microfinance project for more ideas about fostering adaptive transformation.