Assimilating And Accommodating Congregations

“Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
Philippians 2:12-13

Assimilation = The process of integrating our understanding of new experiences into existing mental paradigms
Accommodation = The process of changing our mental paradigms to integrate our understanding of new experiences

Both are helpful when it comes to being church together, yet one of these is especially needed at this point in our development.

Remember when the world around us was more stable, allowing for stability in institutions, organizations, government, and congregations? That was the age of assimilation. Models and paradigms rose up, giving guidance for us about how to be what we were. Culture was more homogeneous than in this Postmodern age. Congregations went about their ministries… assimilating new ideas, members, activities into their established church paradigms. We knew how to be and do church then.

Now, in this Postmodern world, it’s not the fittest who will survive; it’s those who can learn the fastest, accommodating to this new world. No, the gospel itself has not changed, yet our expression of that gospel must change.

So, how is your congregation doing with thinking outside the box? We humans are biased when it comes to living in the tension between assimilation and accommodation. We trend toward assimilation, partly because it’s easier and takes less energy. We don’t need to stretch much to assimilate new ideas and activities into our current way of being church. The problem we face though is that many paradigms for being church are outdated and increasingly irrelevant. They were formed with the cultural influences of the Modern Era, as were all organizations formed during that time (nothing wrong with this).

Given this, now is the time to work out our salvation. Now is the time to stop trying to force congregational paradigms who have run their course. Now is the time to start experimenting with new ways of embodying the gospel. Now is the time to let the fresh winds of the Holy Spirit inspire the Church to take shape in ways wherein we can experience God, can find the pearl of great price. So evidently accommodation is not a bad word, when understood correctly. We want to live into new expressions of church as they are rising up within our congregations even now.

May we accept this God-given call to shepherd the Church into church-as-it-is-becoming even now.

Mark Tidsworth, President, PLA
Helen