How to Influence the Future

Churches tend to lag behind when it comes to innovation. Pastors are usually so focused on “Sunday’s Coming” that they forget the future is already here. As a result, churches spend most of their time living in the past, planning for today, and completely missing tomorrow.

But what if you could actually shape the future. What if, rather than living in reaction mode, you actually created the future. Irene Sanders, innovator and author of Strategic Thinking and the New Science, observes, “The key to influencing the future is to apply your thinking and planning resources NOW to emerging conditions, issues, and opportunities.” Doing so requires a blend of insight about the present and foresight about the future.

Influencing the future requires insight about the present and foresight about the future. Click To Tweet

Insight comes from studying the issue or problem at hand, understanding your church’s history, knowing the assumptions that shape why and how you do ministry, and reading and learning outside of your field. This aggressive learning posture prepares you to see and seize the future.

Foresight is all about identifying your emerging initial conditions. I know that’s a mouthful so let me make it as plain as I can with application to a local church. Identifying your emerging initial conditions is about seeing the changes that are bubbling below the surface of your church that could have a radical impact on how you do ministry. These conditions are usually not easily visible. They could be emerging changes in the community where you serve, emerging technologies, economic shifts, growing needs, or any number of issues. Sanders says, “These are things which  may seem small now, but if any one of them mushroomed overnight it could have a dramatic impact on the future of your business.”

This is where your church’s opportunity exists. The emerging conditions present opportunities for something new and give you the ability to influence what is actually taking shape. Rather than chasing the future, you actually shape it. Sanders says, “The key to foresight is learning to recognize your system’s initial conditions as they are emerging, so that you can see change coming, respond early, or influence it to your advantage.” Here’s the key: Your emerging initial conditions are your “leverage points.”

Don’t miss this. We get so focused on leveraging the here and now that we miss the future. Why? Because we invest all of our time, money, and personnel in what we know. And as Sanders observes, “What we know gets in the way of seeing what is…” Leaders need to ascend to a 30,000 foot perspective, temporarily suspend what they know, scan the environment around them, and catch glimpses of what is. Here are a few questions Sanders recommends to get you started:

  • What seems small now, but if it mushroomed overnight could go through your environment like a bolt of lightning and completely rearrange it?
  • What could have a dramatic impact on the future of the organization or issue being scanned?
  • What thoughts or concerns about your work or this issue keep you awake at night?
  • What is your intuition telling you? What do you feel in your stomach, but don’t talk about?

Do you want your church to shape the future? Well, the future is happening today. Merge insight with foresight and then apply your resources to your findings NOW. That’s where your greatest potential is. Otherwise you’ll live in reaction mode and you’ll create ministry for a future that is behind you. Your growth opportunities are in your emerging initial conditions. And that’s where you can influence the future.

Questions: Form a team and ask yourselves, “What insights do we have about today?” “What emerging initial conditions are bubbling under the surface?” How can we leverage these conditions to create new, innovative, high-impact ministry initiatives?”