The Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) is a small, reformed denomination with a rich history. As many denominations and churches, the CRCNA is facing a changing world and recognizes that there is a need to reframe their ministry in response to this challenge. And it seems ever so daunting. In response, the Board of Trustees (BOT) convened a special group called the Strategic Planning and Adaptive Change Team (SPACT) to begin a dialog within the denomination regarding these challenges. They were tasked to fundamentally reframe the existing Denominational Ministry Plan and to engage with the church at all levels by asking “How might we, at all levels within the church, participate more fully in God’s mission in such a time as this?” The CRCNA has classified these challenges as Adaptive and Technical Challenges.

SPACT Definition of Adaptive and Technical Challenges

Here how SPACT defines Adaptive and Technical Challenges:

Technical Challenges

These are challenges for which we presently have the resources, skills, and expertise to engage directly. These will be addressed through the development of strategies that the various agencies and ministries are able to carry out.

Adaptive Challenges

These are challenges which we know we must address but for which we presently we do not have the answers for doing so. These will be addressed through designing experiments that help us to behave our way into new thinking.

Technical vs Adaptive Challenges

Technical challenges are things we already have experience solving. They are a class of problems that we can solve by executing a well, crafted strategic plan. We undertand the problem and we have a good idea of how to solve it. Whether we succeed in solving these problems completely depends on our ability to execute a plan, to manage our resources and money, how well we leverage our skills and expertise.

Adaptive Challenges are things we know we need to solve but we have no idea how to solve. We don’t have experience solving it and we’re not sure what’s going to work. With all the mainline denominations experiencing a decline for over two decades, the future of the CRCNA looks as grim as other mainline denominations that have gone before us. They were facing the exact same adaptive challneges and they didn’t know how to solve them.

Not Small vs Large

It’s important to note that technical challenges are not small issues and adaptive challenges are large issues. Either can be small and either challengee can be large. There are many technical challenges that are both large and complex.

Not Easy vs Difficult

The distinction is not easy vs difficult, either. Technical challenges are difficult to solve as well. We just know how to solve them and we have experience solving them. Adaptive challenges are extremely difficult to address because it typically requires us to change our behavior, posture, and require us to embrance change. It’s not an adaptive challenge just because it’s difficult to solve.

Not Simple vs Complex

Once again, it’s not about simple vs complex. Both can be extremely complex and difficult to understand.

Naming the Issue

Being able to name the issue is a big step in the journey to address the Adaptive challenges that the denomination and that the Church is facing. There is a general uneasyness and an uncertainty of what the future holds. We knew that we needed to change and reinvent ourselves to successfully address the changing world, but to begin naming this class of challenges as Adaptive Challenges helps us share a common language and begin aligning everyone to collaborate in addressing the challenges.

Whether your a church, a nonprofit and small business, or a fortune 500 company, whether it’s an internal or external challenge, there’s a name for these kinds of challenges that require behavioral change from people. It’s called an Adaptive Challenge.