When churches do not engage in anticipatory planning, their ability to define an issue, set the agenda, and establish the boundaries of the issue are limited (Ashley & Morrison, 1995). This is one reason the church as a whole has diminished in its ability to influence the communities it serves. The church is classically known to react to an issue when it is far too deep into its life cycle, having no real choice to influence the issue, and settles for standing in opposition to an issue that society has already embraced.
Every issue has a life cycle that consists of four stages: societal expectations, policy agenda, formalization, and social control. The church tends to engage in the formalization or societal control stage, which is far too late in the process to have any hope to influence the direction of the issue. Attention needs to be turned away from the local news and popular press and needs to be focused on other areas of society to learn about issues when they are in the societal expectation phase. Influencers at societal expectation phase are innovators, leading experts in fields that impact human social life, authors, and public policy researchers. By keeping a finger on the pulse of people in these areas, ministry leaders have the ability to become aware of, active in, and influencers of an issue before they have fully formed.
The church is not alone. Organizations across all sectors are having to become more proficient at knowing issues at the societal expectations stage. Changing societal expectations bring new challenges to organizational legitimacy in society and with their stakeholders (Lenssen et al., 2005). For the church, people in their communities, as well as their congregants, are watching to see how they influence issues rather than react to them.
Ashley, W. C., & Morrison, J. L. (1995). Anticipatory management: 10 power tools for achieving excellence into the 21st century. Leesburg, Va.: IAP.
Lenssen, G., Berghe, L. V. D., & Louche, C. (2005). Responding to societal expectations. Corporate Governance; Bradford, 5(3), 4–11.