Thursday, March 08, 2012

This is How We Are Changing: Five Stages of Change in Religious Renewal Movements

Diana Butler Bass has this outstanding way of breezily introducing new patterns and stats. In fact, she is so good at describing current realities that sometimes, I think her descriptions actually end up being prescriptive (but that is for another post).

Her outline of anthropologist Anthony F.C. Wallace's "revitalization movement" framework is outstanding:

1. During a crisis of legitimacy individuals cannot 'honestly sustain the common set of religious understandings by which they believe they should act.' People wonder if they are the only ones who see the problems and experience the frustrations of the old ways. Thus, they begin to question conventional doctrines, practices, and their sense of identity.

2. People then experience cultural distortion, during which they conclude that their problems are not the result of personal failings, but rather 'institutional malfunction,' as they seek ways to change these structures or reject them.

3. Significant individuals or communities then begin to articulate a new vision, new understandings of human nature, God, spiritual practices, ethical commitments, and hope for the future. New possibilities begin to coalesce that make more sense in the light of new experiences than did the old ones.

4. As a new vision unfolds, small groups of people who understand the necessity for change begin to follow a new path; they experiment, create, and innovate with religious, political, economic, and family structures in a search for a new way of life. They develop new practices to give life meaning and make the world different. They embody the new vision and invite others to do so as well.

5. Institutional transformation occurs when the innovators manage to 'win over that large group of undecided folks' who finally 'see the relevance' of the new path and embrace new practices. When the undecideds 'flip,' institutional change can finally take place. (Christianity After Religion, 33-34)

Butler adds, "Given the limitations of any such pattern of human experience, Wallace's stages and McLoughlin's use of them can be very helpful. When many people feel lost, this can be a simple and empowering orienting device."

Absolutely. Butler uses the framework as the basis for her book.

Organizations and churches would be well served to print out this framework, then talk it through in worship, council meetings, and so on, in order to get a sense of "where we are" and so howe are are moving. 


  1. Kathy S.12:59 PM

    I know that you will be annoyed by what I am going to write, but I will write it anyway. I am a German American born during WWII. During the early, formative years of my life, I witnessed some of the results of Hitler's Germany. I have spent my life pondering what happened in Germany before the War.

    The 5 stages for "revitalization" sound exactly like the stages leading up to the German people accepting Hitler in the 1930s. In the end, many "undecided folks" who felt "lost" were won over by "innovators" to the "new path."

    I know that you and many Lutherans are becoming desperate to save the ELCA and all the other "Tetragrammaton" splinter Lutheran groups: LCMS, NALC, WELS, LCMC, ALFC. I think you should consider returning to the Catholic Church. It has lasted 2000 years and it is not going away.

  2. I don't know if annoyed would be the right word. A friend and I were talking about how this description of how change happens doesn't take into adequate account Adorno's critique of "progress," which I think would be in line with the concern you are raising.

    I do agree that uniting as the church catholic should be our common goal, I imagine we just differ on whether that means it needs to be "Roman."

  3. I think we are making this much too hard. This morning Eric Ash ("chemnitz" from LL) had an excellent post, "Who is head of the church?"

    We should be very proud and happy to be "very Roman." Sts. Peter and Paul died in Rome, and Rome was the center of the early church. We just need to untangle this knotted chain.

    I am an old lady with one foot in the grave, but you are young. Just imagine how exciting it would be to be a part of the generation that re-united the Church. Just try reading the CCC. You will love it. It is total logic.

  4. Kathy S.10:32 AM

    Clint -- I have a question. I have tried to ask it on other blogs, and it has been ignored. You and I disagree on many things, but I do respect you, and I would like to hear your point of view.

    "In his report, Hanson highlighted Santa Maria de Guadalupe Lutheran Church in Irving, Texas, one of the fastest-growing congregations in the ELCA, with more than 2,500 members worshiping at five services every weekend."

    This goes back to our little flap over the Immaculate Conception. If the church were named only Sta. Maria, that would be fine, but Guadalupe, as you know, is a Catholic Church-approved Apparition. This seems to me to violate the Augsburg Confession Article XXI.

    I am "mal pensada," as they say, but I think this church is growing because the Mexican immigrants think it is a Catholic Church. The other day, I asked an "evangelico" here in Miami what he thought of Martin Luther. He said: "Martin Luther King?" I said: "No, the other Martin Luther." He said: "You mean there are two Martin Luther Kings?!"

    Do you see where I am going with this? You know, if the ELCA wants to grow like a Catholic Church, why doesn't it just become Catholic? That would at least be honest.

  5. I doubt I'm the right person to ask about Lutheran Latino ministry. My guess is that it has to do with the fact that many Latinos coming to the U.S. are coming out of a different Roman Catholic context than the European one, and so the integration of different kinds of spiritual practice and devotion looks different than previous.

  6. Anonymous12:40 PM


    I'm glad to see that you've clarified your stand in your post: The Precise Way in Which Diana Butler Bass Is Not Quite Right. I'll leave comments there about Diana Butler Bass's book and ideas.

    What I'm noticing here though are a lot of Romans that seem to perceive Evangelical Catholics (Lutherans) as crumbling in the battle against the gates of hell that cannot stand against the "true" Church. It is difficult for them to recognize that we are part of the catholic church. We share the same creeds.

    It is interesting to me that as the Roman church looses parishioners the current pope seems to be doing his best to bring Rome back to its traditional roots. The Extraordinary form of the Mass is now permitted, the new translation of the Mass in to English is closer to the traditional Latin in meaning, and closer to the old Lutheran and Anglican translations.

    For me, personally, I'd be more likely to follow Jaroslav Pelikan and join the Orthodox Church. I actually considered this at one time, but couldn't find a Western Rite church in my area.

    I must also say that I agree with the Roman above that Lutherans should not name churches after saints or apparitions recognized by Rome after the Reformation.

  7. Kathy S.1:05 PM

    kitty -- I'm laughing because I have been called a lot of things, but never a "Roman"! I agree that the ELCA is part of the church catholic, but on the level of the Mystical Body of Christ. I am talking about the earthly institution. In this sense, you cannot say that you (ELCA) are part of the Catholic Church. The ELCA now has many, many doctrines that are contrary to Catholic teaching: Gay Ordination, Abortion, Re-marriage after Divorce, Women's Ordination, broken Apostolic Line, Eucharist, no Sacrament of Confession, and on and on.

    kitty, my friend, we cannot sweep these things under the rug. I think we should all become "very Roman" in the sense of all belonging to the Universal Church.

  8. Please stop hijacking conversation here with your own agenda.

  9. Sorry. I wasn't aware that I was doing that.

  10. This pertains to the Hitler reference above: a video on ad hominem attacks,