Review: Adapt to Thrive

March 3rd, 2014

In the 1920’s in Dayton, TN the country heard on live radio a debate that still rages today in parts of American Christianity. The debate was over the role and place of Charles Darwin and the concept of evolution in Christianity in the so called Scopes Monkey Trial. For many Christians, including these authors, there is no debate and Darwin is simply accepted but to other Christians in rural churches and school boards across the country the place of Darwin and evolution continues to foster discord and emotional conflict. The authors make ample use of evolution as a guiding metaphor, particularly of how different creatures have adapted to the changing environment. They argue that the church must make similar adaptions to the changing environment (culture) around them if they are to survive. Where you sit on the “evolutionary” debate will help inform your acceptance or rejection of this book.

Overall the authors make good use of biblical images and stories to illustrate their points. They often craft vivid images to demonstrate their ideas which are helpful in an age where images seem to connect with people better than written words. While only one author is United Methodist, the book is driven by a United Methodist ethos such as the UM Church’s definition of the purpose of the church. For those who are UM, like me, the book will resonate with them. I leave it for those outside our particular faith tradition to decide if the book connects with them.

I found Adapt to Thrive enjoyable and an easy read. It makes sense and can help challenge the complacency of many of our congregations and provide, for some, a new way of thinking about their church’s ministry and place in the community.

I did find the section on leadership to be extremely simplistic and naïve. I don’t know that the authors have a full grasp on who actually is providing leadership in UM Churches or in the problems of the financial models of education of clergy leadership such as seminaries for example. Nonetheless the Ten Cultural Adaptations (check the actual wording in the book) for the Church that are outlined in the book and make up the bulk of the book are worth exploring for both clergy and lay leadership in congregations.

To summarize some local churches are going to die, as local churches have been doing for hundreds of years, others will adapt, survive and even grow. Whether your church grows or dies depends on your church’s ability to adapt to the environment around you. If your church wants to survive this book can help you look at your church’s situation and help the conversation on what adaptations are necessary to survive. I might add that in my experience some churches survive not because they have adapted but simply because they are too stubborn to die and a few leaders in the congregation have enough money to keep them open. Happy reading!

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