There is plenty of input concerning the problems and solutions of the church. The inputs that scream loudest come from the arenas management, leadership, marketing and statistics. I’m not aware of too much coming from the social sciences, like sociology, psychology and human development.
When the solutions are presented, if they’re not some general strategy they’re plug & play fixes. Either way, the wisdom and insights offered are typically rooted in management, leadership or marketing thinking and present practical application at work and succeeding. Yet, in order to effectively implement the wisdom, one needs to understand their own context and deeper issues and how the wisdom addressed the problem in it’s own context. Context is everything, but this context is normally not provided. After all, the writers are not writing to offer scientific analysis, but inspiration and hope. A 1 to 1 plug and play strategy will only work by changing the context one is in, be it the town or the congregation. And general strategy is helpful insofar that it offers a framework that seemed work in it’s context.
Even the raw data that comes from polling is of only so much help, because it can’t provide the answers; the recent failures of McDonald’s and Pizza Hut’s are a testament to that. The data offered by the Census, Pew Research and the Barna Group is fantastic. Sometimes it offers an explanation that helps interpret the data, but can’t provide meaningful insight as to what about humanity and the world makes the data say that. What is behind the reasons that millennials (or anyone for that matter) are fed up and leaving church? What was the underlying reason that drove baby boomers to return to church after having kids. How is it that the hashtag #LoveWins is so unifying?
Theology offers something in the way of answers to those questions and solutions to the problems. Yet, theology is more helpful in establishing a solid ground from which to move when attempting solutions and answers. The application of theology needs a framework of some sort in order to make it come alive in the communities we live in, which causes most to turn to the prior mentioned strategy or plug & play fixes, perhaps with a more critical eye.
Fact of the matter is, humans are bio-psycho-social beings and the interplay of all three shapes each individual as they go through life. If we’re going to better solve the issues facing today’s church, we’re going to have to better understand the human way of being, the human identity. A 28 year old is experiencing life differently than an 18 year old, than an 8 year old and a 48 year old. Common wisdom suggests that it’s because they are at different points in their life, but deeper than that, the interplay of their own biology, psychology and sociology are all affecting them differently – things like socioeconomic status, location, race, sex, personal/familial/communal history and experience.
Human developmental theory grasps this inherent human way of living in the world in a way that management, leadership, marketing or raw statistics from polling data never could. Instead of just understanding how to best swim in the water, they assess what makes the water and human the way they are and why they swim the way the do. And the social sciences peer into this human way of being differently than theology does.
We need the insights offered by developmental theory in order to produce more meaningful answers and applications to our problems at hand, because they go much deeper than strategy.