The Postmodern Shift Comes To The Bible Belt

Mark Tidsworth, president

There’s no mistaking it now, no matter where one lives in North America. For a time, churches securely buckled by the Bible belt could ignore the religious trends taking place elsewhere. Cultural enclaves and sociological pockets could do church as it was in the 1980s with enough people responding that their institutional concerns were small. It’s been fascinating to watch those remains of Christendom shrink since the turn of the century (now 18 years ago!). Clearly, the Postmodern shift is permeating North American culture, regardless of where one lives on this continent.

Those who are curious how churches are responding, or who want to locate themselves on the spectrum of responses, may want to secure a copy of the Developmental Response Continuum in Chapter 2 of Shift: Three Big Moves For The 21st Century Church.

The following are responses to the article above, plus insights rising from our work with congregations in this USA

  • ·Clearly, the Modern Era-shaped expression of church is in decline. There are exceptions, yet they are growing fewer rather than more numerous.
  • ·Nostalgia followed by doubling-down on how-church-used-to-be produce a small participation bump, yet is unsustainable as those who appreciate that expression of church age-out.
  • ·When congregations try what used to work well, they are largely disappointed with the diminishing returns, especially in light of their substantial efforts.
  • ·The largest congregations of each denomination are typically the last to respond to the Postmodern shift since they collect up spiritual refugees from other smaller churches and can maintain their programs for some time.
  • ·Visioning is not the magic bullet. Visioning is helpful when the effective working-model of church is stable. When adaptive change is necessary, visioning and strategic planning are inadequate tools for the task at hand.
  • ·Churches are more fragile than before. When one of the spinning plates falls (beloved pastor leaves, strong financial givers die, conflict occurs) the institutional damage is greater than during more stable times.
  • ·Starting a contemporary worship service was a strong adaptive move….around 1990. Starting a worship service which is an alternative to your current approach to worship may help, yet it’s still working from an attractional model of church (expecting those with no personal connection to church to come to you because you have a new worship style).
  • ·For some congregations, asking those who have been church in this way for decades is too far a stretch. It’s better not to essentially change their approach to church. Instead….
  • ·Some very traditional denominationally-based congregations are cultivating new missional worshipping communities on their church campus. These two expressions of church then share facilities.
  • ·Other churches are sharing their facilities with congregations who are from different demographic groupings than themselves, stewarding their facilities.
  • ·Some very traditional denominationally-based congregations are stepping out of their comfort zones, due to innovative leadership among them, and engaging holy experiments. They have liberated themselves sufficiently from Modern Era church expectations to follow the Holy Spirit’s lead into new wineskin living.

Ultimately, the opportunity before us is to discover our faith. The Way of Jesus is a beautiful, life-changing way to be in this world. People in congregations who are discovering their identity as disciples, getting caught up in God’s reclamation of this world, are giving shape to church-as-it-is-becoming. The essence of the gospel is extremely relevant and attractive. We are simply coming to the end of an era wherein we dressed-up the gospel in gaudy clothes that are now overly-cumbersome and outdated. Taking a step back toward Eden, we shed those rags, and find God is providing everything the Church needs to live abundantly in God’s good creation.

Mark Tidsworth


Pinnacle Leadership Associates