Relaxed about R & R

There has been a lot of heat generated about R &R (Reform and Renewal, or is it Renewal and Reform – it’s different wherever I look); some love it, others loathe it.

Some appear to love and loathe characters on either side of the debate, as I say there is a lot of heat around the place.

So, I must say I feel strangely ambivalent about it. I understand all of the very real concerns, and am especially sympathetic to concerns about the ongoing quality of theological education and, the perceived negative impact on the rural church.

I also take it as a truism that you can’t manage your way to success (whatever metrics are used to define this slippery little word) but, equally the Church does need to manage both its assets and its affairs well. Good and decent management is necessary, but not sufficient. 

But, the real reason behind my ambivalence is that history and experience both show that grand initiatives never end up working out quite as their authors think they should. As Professor Mintzberg has consistently pointed out the best strategies are those that ’emerge’ over the course of time.

Good planners, leaders, managers, strategists are aware of this, and they adapt or modify their plans in the light of new, possibly unforeseen, information. Often in the corporate world the supposed winning strategies tend to end up being loosing strategies, but the good news is that they are frequently compensated for by successes that come seemingly out of nowhere. If anyone is interested in a recent example of this just consider Nokia, who made the bizarre, yet miraculous, transition from manufacturer of arctic forestry tires to technology company.

This transition allowed them to move from sustainability at best, to growth. You could argue, and Martyn Percy has, that the C of E, unlike a company can’t simply change its core offering, and he is correct. Analogies between the world of business and the Church are limited at best, but they can be highly illustrative.

But, the fact that growth often comes as if out of nowhere doesn’t mean that we (that is the Church of England – because at least for the moment we remain a we) should stop investing in approaches that are currently working. No, we should instead invest in them (but without regarding them as a Utopian solution that will work forever and ever, Amen;  again the Corporate World is full of small and medium companies who were yesterdays big companies and we should at the least beware that big can become bloated, before it is forced to slim down.)

As someone with no personal desire to worship in a HTB style church it would be a bit churlish to deny that many, many folk have come to faith through their mission initiatives.

To back away from investing in these types of initiatives would be akin to selling shares in Microsoft a year or two after it floated. In order to bank the 100% return, you risk losing the 10,000% return.

My own view on Church plants, just out of interest, changed when I read the history of my own church (St Laurence Winslow) and found that it had been planted, circa 1350, by St Albans Cathedral, as a minister to serve the local villages. Nearly 700 years later we still have a vibrant worshiping community and a church that serves the whole parish. Maybe we should (re) create many more minsters as part of our rural strategy?

Another reason that I am sanguine is that grand initiatives are operationally hard to implement. They meet road blocks, or more positively checks and balances, en route. They always tend to get watered down. That’s just reality. We know this from our own experiences.

So what do I think the Church of England could, or if its not too arrogant should, do from a management science perspective, in order to achieve its stated aims of ‘making sure we have the right people and resources to help us to re-evangelise England and grow in the life of the Kingdom of God?’

I would suggest that what it absolutely needs to do is build a portfolio of responses by:

  • Investing in strategies that are demonstrably working at present, whilst accepting that such strategies may not continue working forever (Microsoft’s growth did slow down! So might HTB’s!)
  • Investing in a range of smaller scale initiatives in the knowledge that future growth often comes from the periphery (this is known in the management sciences as Logical Incrementalism, its chief theorist was J.B. Quinn.)
  • Making sure that we keep scanning the external environment for new and emerging investment possibilities (such as the group that self-define as ‘spiritual but not religious,’ as recommended by Woodhead and Brown. Mintzberg is the theorist in chief of the emergent school of strategy, and in my opinion, and it is only opinion, the greatest living management theorist.)
  • Engaging in a healthy dose of central planning (Michael Porter.) without expect the plan to role out as expected; it won’t!

My criticism of the C of E is that appears ‘all Porter’ and, insufficiently Mintzberg and Quinn. Purposefully add in a little of the emergent (Mintzberg) and incremental (Quinn) and there is a chance that R & R might just help the C of E achieve its stated aims.

I hope I haven’t added to much heat to the debate!






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