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Examining Change Force Models

Jan Paron / July 14, 2012

From the Reconciliation series

Looking at change force models to uncover historical developments behind  Scripture on issues of reconciliation in Corinth. Part one of three.


Corinth rose in stature from destruction in 146 BC to one of the Roman Empire’s by the 50s and 60s AD. When early Christian settled in Corinth, the Romans esteemed the city. Inhabitants, though, faced challenges and change amid rebuilding and growth in Corinth (Witherington, 1994).  As a result, conflict threatened reconciliation and unity of the newly formed faith community there.  Fluid societal dynamics create like conditions today.  How do you learn from historical events in Scripture for application in modern-day, cross-cultural ministry?

The conflict of harmony and disharmony between the brethren with God and each other is not a recent phenomenon. Certainly, both the Old and New Testaments portray the challenges of reconciliation. German philosopher Georg Hegel’s thinking was “that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.” Time does not limit the truth of the Word and its applicability. By reading behind scriptural text and examining the historical aspects at hand, one can learn from the past. Further, by exploring ancient change forces in early Christian communities, one gains insight into the dynamics of reconciliation set against contemporary human behavior.

While Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians at two different times, he addressed conflict and division in both letters. The divisions were political, cultural and religious. Separately and joined, each affected the growth and standing of the Christian Ekklēsia and threatened unity of Koinonia. Paul’s central plea to Corinthian Christians entailed maintaining reconciliation with God in Christ and each other through Christ. You’ll see parallels to contemporary society.  Modern day Christians still live in the world, but are not of the world—resident aliens in their country of residence, but citizens in the Kingdom of God. Political, cultural and religious conflict tensions yet impact the faith community. Most importantly, upholding reconciliation is as essential to today’s Ekklēsia and Koinonia as it was during the days of the early Church.

Overview of Change Forces and Modern-Day Examples

Viewing events from the perspectives provides deeper understanding of Scripture. So to speak, you look at the different types of change to peel back meaning in everyday circumstances. Theorists Van de Ven and Poole, say that

It is the interplay between different perspectives that helps one gain a more comprehensive understanding of organizational life, because any one theoretical perspective invariably offers only a partial account of a complex phenomenon (1995).

Imagine looking at fibers through a microscope to name its contents. Without a system of classification, one sees a mishmash of materials. On the other hand with markers to guide recognition, one sees patterns emerge that lead to interpretation. Along these lines, Van de Ven and Poole present four basic types of change force models, markers, that help explain historical development of an organization: life-cycle, teleological, dialectical, and evolutionary. Let’s take a look at each model, as described by Van de Ven and Poole (2004, 1995), set against examples for each from a fictitious church, New Covenant.

LIFE CYCLE. In the case of this change force model, growth progresses in a linear and sequential fashion through cycle of events that unfold in stages: startup, grow, harvest and termination. The cycle does not act along on its own accord, rather an institution or logical program influence it (2004; 1995).

Example. New Covenant church opened in the early fifties. Twenty founding members built it in a newly constructed neighborhood. Church membership grew along with the community, and peaked at 700 in the late sixties, early seventies.  Just after peak attendance, the church experienced a steady decline due to population shifts from relocation of membership. One of the shifts involved young adult congregants.  They went away to college or got married and changed churches.  As time passed, another shift occurred when the adult population moved to other areas. These members commuted to their ‘home’ church for a while, but eventually relocated to a new church.  At the same time, the neighborhood makeup surrounding New Covenant changed as an Hispanic population moved into the area. The aging church membership held to its traditional structures from the sixties, and did not acclimate to people movements.  As a result, membership dwindled to 20 people.  Geriatrophy threatened the church’s future existence.

TELEOLOGICAL. This force depends on goal implementation to drive change.  The forces are systematic and planned; whereby the organization, in this case the local church, adapts to change.  Constituents of the organization come to agreement through consensus and work together in a collaborative fashion to meet goals (2004; 1995).

Example.  Look again at New Covenant Church. Now faced with the prospect of closure, the congregants fasted and prayed for direction.  Upon which, they were led to hold a retreat and plan intentional change for church renewal. They also hired a church consultant to support them in the church turnaround process.

DIALECTICAL. Simply stated, dialectical change forces occur as a result of conflict between two parties. Contradiction is a nature state.  With this mode of change, conflict between oppositions produces stability (2004; 1995).

Example. Back to New Covenant Church. After two years of church renewal, New Covenant’s membership grew to about 200 people. Most growth came through conversion. The church initiated a Christian community development ministry in their area. Its membership population reflected a mix across cultures and generations. However, many of the original members did not like the changes. While the church adapted to the influx and needs of new members, it stayed focused on the vision God gave them for mission. Unable to agree with the new direction of the church, a small number left and joined another church. New Covenant continued ministering within its change boundaries, following the Holy Spirit’s leading for vision. Its membership increased.

EVOLUTIONARY. This type of change results from accumulated events, which evolve through what Van de Ven and Poole (1995) describe as a “continuous cycle of variation, selection, and retention.”

Example. Envision New Covenant five years into the future. After, incorporating a separate service for the millennial age group, it now draws people from a wide geographical area. This new trend in service programming creates a loss in membership for other churches. Some of the churches decide to adapt to a multi-generational population, and use ministry methods like New Covenant’s.  As various churches change, new worship models emerge and existing evolve.


While God is immutable, humankind is unpredictable and subject to their own whim. A study of the different change forces not only provides us a glimpse into human behavior, but also provides a lens to interpret it. This post is part one from a series of three. Part two examines reconciliation in the faith community of Corinth through the lens of each model, while part three proposes lessons learned from the Corinthian church for the contemporary American.

For further thought…

  • What types of change forces might occur as congregations transition from a monocultural to multicultural church makeup?


  • Hegel, G. (n.d.) History Quote. Retrieved on June 25, 2012, from http://www.age-of-the-sage.org/ philosophy/ history/ learning_from_history.html
  • Reid, M. A brief review of Van de Ven & Poole’s (1995) article,Explaining development and change in organizations.’  Academy of Management Review, 20 (3).
  • Newbigin, L. (1991). Truth or tell: The Gospel as public truth. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing.
  • Van de Ven, A. & Poole, M. (1995). Explaining development and change in organizations. Academy of Management Review, 3 (20) 510-540.
  • Van de Ven, A. & Poole, M. (Eds.). Handbook of organizational change and innovation. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Whitesel, B. (2010, April). The ‘fantastic four.’ Leadership. Retrieved on October, 2010 from http://churchexecutive.com/archives/understanding-the-four-forces-that-control-church-change.
  • Witherington, B. (1994). Conflict and community in Corinth: A socio-rhetorical commentary on 1 & 2 Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing.