I recently read about how the board of IKEA decided to implement a radical new approach to doing business in 2021. In their statement the company said:


After 70 years, hundreds of millions of copies, and countless hours of inspiration to armchair designers… It has decided to kill its beloved catalogue… Over the years it has become an iconic and beloved publication and it has been an important success factor for IKEA to reach and inspire many people across the world.


Then they added these words:


But times are changing. IKEA has become more digital and accessible while embracing new ways to connect with more people. Customer behaviour and media consumption has changed, and the IKEA catalogue has been less used. [IKEA] has therefore taken the emotional but rational decision to respectfully end the successful career of the IKEA catalogue, both print and digital versions – and to look to the future with excitement.


In many ways, the Church of Scotland is, like so many of its local parish churches, facing similarly hard decisions about whether familiar approaches to doing church and ministry are still fit for purpose. It is always hard to change something that has been part of a local church’s ministry especially if in the past that approach has yielded a certain degree of success. We all can and do become very attached to certain ways of being together as family but if those ways no longer serve the long term health of the family then difficult decisions have to be made and certain steps have to? be? taken.


In reading about IKEA’s new strategy I particularly liked the phrase that the board used to describe their decision making process. It was they said and “emotional and rational decision”.


The dynamic tension between the “emotional” and the “rational” is never easy for local churches to navigate. This is especially the case when it comes to decisions about new ways of being church and doing ministry in a rapidly changing missional context. Church history is littered with examples of those times when as churches we got it wrong. That fear of getting it wrong is perhaps why we so often procrastinate on making those difficult decisions about change in our church life. Even when such decision?s? are made they are often fiercely resisted by those who have strong emotional attachments to certain ways of doing things. When that happens it is so easy to reject the “emotional and rational” and to resort to the “emotional and irrational”.

That is why it is so important to recognise when we do make such changes that for some church members, we are not just ending a way of doing ministry, we are changing what “going to church” on Sundays has meant to them. When we make changes to the music for some we are not just changing the music we are changing how they have always worshipped.


All of which brings me back to IKEA’s decisions to end the life of a catalogue that was a company staple for 70 years a catalogue that at its peak ran to 200 million copies in 32 different languages. When explaining why they took such a radical step the board said:


But times are changing. IKEA has become more digital and accessible while embracing new ways to connect with more people. Customer behaviour and media consumption has changed and the IKEA catalogue has been less used.


It is worth noting that as a result of this decision IKEA.com has seen worldwide sales increase by 45%. It would seem that the emotional intelligence behind this ‘emotional and rational decision’ has paid off.


Now comes the app test questions. What if when it came to deciding about how we will do church and ministry in the future we as local churches chose to operate more on the basis of emotional intelligence rather than mere emotion? What would it entail if we made a conscious effort to make more “emotional but rational” decisions about how we will do church and mission in the future? What if we took seriously not just the impact of the technological revolution but also the changes in our social and cultural contexts and evaluated our ministry and mission strategies in the light of such reflection?


Why and how should we do this?


Firstly, it is important to remember that time does not change once and then settle down for a long season of things staying the same. The times are always changing so our very survival is dependent on our flexibility of heart and mind.


Secondly, going forward we will need to be willing, to be honest about our emotional attachments to certain ways of ‘churching’ and doing ministry and ask ourselves how much of how we are ‘churching’ and doing ministry is based on timeless principles and how much of it is based on personal preferences? How much of who we are and do as the church is based on giving others the best opportunity and experience of hearing the Gospel and how much of it is based on being too cosily embedded in our liturgical comfort zones?


Thirdly, if we are to be faithful to the great the commission Jesus gave the Church in Matthew 28 we have to be willing to let the missional context and culture to shape our methods. It is only by making the hard “emotional but rational” decisions can we hope to be effective co-workers with Christ.


Let me leave you with this thought: “Machines wear down and die. Living systems, if they learn and adapt, do not.” Margaret Wheatley