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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

01 Jan '13

Are you an institution or a movement?

Posted by T.J. Addington in institutional, missional, movement, organizational health
Is the church or ministry you are a part of more of an institution or a movement? Look at this excellent description of the difference between the two by H.R. Neibuhr.

There are essential differences between institutions and movements: the one is conservative the other progressive; the one is more or less passive, yielding to influence from the outside, the other is active influencing rather than being influenced; the one looks to the past, the other to the future…the one is anxious, the other is prepared to take risks; the one guards boundaries, the other crosses them.

By this definition most churches and ministries are more institutional than they are missional. Most start their ministry journey with  missional energy and vision but over time move to the institutional side of the continuum. Institutional is more comfortable, demands less of us, requires us to think less and does not demand that we change much. It is a nice place to be.

And a very dangerous place to be! The cost of institutional is that we lose our ability to flex to meet current ministry challenges. We become comfortable with what is rather than with what could be. We become oblivious to the threats to our existence. We allow comfort to subvert effectiveness. We live with the allusion that all is well while in fact it is not!

How do you know where your ministry falls? Ask the following questions from the quote above. Better yet have all your staff and board members answer the questions and then compare notes.


  1. Would we be considered conservative or progressive in our ministry paradigms?
  2. Do we yield more to influences from the outside or do we influence our direction actively?
  3. Do we look more to the past or more to the future?
  4. Are we risk takers or risk adverse?
  5. Are we afraid to try new things or actively look for new opportunities to pursue?
  6. Where would we peg ourselves on the institutional/movement continuum?
  7. Are we satisfied with where we are? If not what do we need to do about it?