The Church and Development

I have written about communities before. Let me remind you: they can develop through four stages.

In a pseudo-community, everybody agrees to believe the same. But many things are just not talked about. We assume that we all think the same, mostly because people do not dare to share their doubts, ask for clarification, or speak up if they have different views. They don’t because their need to belong and fear of being expelled is stronger than their intellectual curiosity or drive for truth. Or they fear losing their standing.

It takes a lot of trust and courage to speak about something that is seen as at least a perceived taboo.

You see the full size of the problem when you look at the next phase, called chaos. Chaos is a natural reaction to freedom. People will, once they are allowed, speak about anything. And since they are primed by their past and still insecure, they will need to defend their newfound freedom and declare it the new absolute truth. Thus, they want to convert everybody else.

Pastors usually react in the only conceivable way, at least for them. Chaos is of the devil. Therefore, to save their people, they must protect them from evil. This happens in two ways. They will organize the community even more strictly, and eliminate all outliers.

A church will rarely develop into the next phase called emptiness. In this phase, people will empty themselves of all their prejudice and lose the need to prove themselves.

And finally, the community is ready for authenticity. Instead of tolerating different opinions, which could be done late in the chaos phase into the emptiness, people peacefully recognize them as enrichment, a possibility to grow.

But this model describes the growth of communities. How about the individual within them?

For individuals, I would use this other diagram, which in some ways parallels the development, but is more to the point.

A true community does not depend on its members being developed. They can just be used to such an environment and be in primary integration (“fit in”).

It helps if some people within the community have started the journey through the stages and have at least reached spontaneous multilevel disintegration (“I have a conflict”, which somewhat corresponds with chaos) to lead the way.

We can see that the personal story has an additional step between pseudo-community and chaos, which is “I am confused”. It is an early stage of chaos that usually leads people to fall back into a new pseudo-community such that they do not need to go through chaos. One way of doing this is to change churches.

65-85% of people do not have the developmental capacity to go from “I am confused” to “I have a conflict” and therefore need good role models in their primary integration to be part of anything but pseudo-communities.

Have I confused you enough? If so, that is a good thing. It is the starting point of a journey that is well worth it.

What does that mean for us in churches?

Churches, at large, are pseudo-communities because their leaders are in primary integration (“I fit in”) and are afraid of a personal stage of “I am confused” for both themselves and their “sheep”. Thus, they have extensive taboos.

They are afraid of “I am confused” in their sheep because, in their experience, that will lead to people leaving the church and joining another or not going to any. In church, 85% of people do not have the developmental capacity to go from “I am confused” to “I have a conflict” and further. Thus, their experience is mostly as described.

Of the 15% that have the capacity to develop further, the church leaders are usually convinced that they have fallen from their faith due to their own convictions.

Thus, leaders do whatever they can to keep the church at the level of pseudo-community.

Knowing all this, we should model true community for our people. Doing so will allow for those who have the developmental capacity to grow through the levels within the community, and those who don’t to experience a positive environment. It is safe for them to be confused at times and fall back into “I fit in” and still grow personally while staying at a level of primary integration.

Some churches have progressed to a state of chaos, maybe even emptiness, with moments of true community. True community is hard to impossible to sustain, especially when people meet in environments with (perceived) hierarchies, and engrained doctrines, and are only learning to grow beyond a dualistic mindset.

But we can experience periods of true community. Let’s aim for that.

By the way, I said 65-85% of people do not have the developmental capacity to grow beyond “I am confused”. For the church, I suddenly only talked about 85%. The church has become the catchment basin of those that have retained a traditional mindset and therefore have shown that they do not have the developmental capacity.

It has been shown that, in Switzerland, only about 3% of those 3% that still go to church have the developmental capacity in principle – much less than the 15% I was talking about. This is why churches all lost so many people when they wanted to go forward, as to do that, people would have had to allow for an extended period of “I am confused” and chaos in the community.

But that would lead us to another model (the change process of Spiral Dynamics). Enough for today.