Blog Entries

Scenarios for China

From the series Positioning for Growth in Uncertain Times

Earlier this week we looked at the tools for strategic planning and the necessity of using them in preparing organizations operating in China for an uncertain future. We continue with more specifics here in part two.

In Matthew 9:17 Jesus tells his disciples, “no one pours new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the skins burst and the wine is spilled out and the skins are destroyed. Instead they put new wine into new wineskins and both are preserved." (New English Translation)

When the New Testament church broke free of its Jewish roots and began planting churches among the Greeks, it faced new cultural realities, requiring new forms of ministry.  Remember, much of their new ministry styles were initially condemned by existing leadership. The resulting struggle led to a fundamental reexamination of the church’s core identity. 

The church emerged from those turbulent times with a clearer identity of itself in Christ, and how it was to relate to society.  Just think what might have happened had Paul’s new Greek churches been forced to conform to the old Jewish ways! Still, this identity struggle transformed the church, and resulted in a time of astounding growth and multiplication. By the turn of the century, historians estimate there were 80,000 believers in Ephesus alone.

Practitioners of strategic foresight methods learn to keep track of changes they observe in their environment. They keep a record of issues, events, emerging trends, fringe changes, etc. and begin thinking how these could interact and influence the future. Over time, they develop a growing repository of newspaper articles, magazine articles, conversations, blog posts, etc. each with an annotation of the changes they could create. 

The idea is to systematically break down both explicit and implicit biases toward an assumed future. In the process, we build new mental models encompassing a wide range of future possibilities, each rooted in different aspects of the changing environment. This learning process allows us to identify high leverage opportunities which others (who are caught in the old paradigms) often miss. Focusing in on these high leverage points, also allows us to make the most of the resources God has entrusted to us.

As we grow in our understanding of how various forces are influencing the future, we identify a new set of probable future scenarios. Each scenario we write prepares us for another potential future reality. The more scenarios we develop, the more we understand the future as it emerges. The more we understand the emerging future, the more prepared we become, whatever comes down the line.

“China Forecast,”  a forecast I wrote on China for the World Futures Society. highlights issues, events, cycles, trends, etc. as well as projections from well-known consultancies. In the end it presents several macro level scenarios which highlight alternative futures, other than the populist future of indefinite continued 7% economic growth. Remember the goal is not to predict the future, but to identify the forces interacting to create various futures. The idea is to open our eyes to the changes happening around us, while identifying the opportunities and challenges inherent in those changes.

The same exercise can be done for any industry in China, for urban churches, rural churches, Christian publishing, orphan care, the development of Chinese of parachurch organizations, etc. The results can be quite revealing; more importantly, they are immediately useful. 

For instance, when examining the various future scenarios for emerging Chinese parachurch ministries, one could examine various government and societal responses, and the impacts those responses could have on the development of the organizations. Findings could be used to create pathways, preparing the organization to successfully navigate any number of future scenarios.

The goal of such scenario planning methodologies is for us to become as the tribal leaders of Issachar:

For from day to day men came to David to help him, until there was a great army, like an army of God… Of Issachar, men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, 200 chiefs, and all their kinsmen under their command.  (1 Chronicles 12:22,32)

In such a time of turbulent change, we too must be as these 200 chiefs: able to perceive our times with the knowledge of how to respond.  May God give us wisdom and courage as we walk with him, leading the way into the future.

To read stories highlighting how this type of planning is being applied, please reference an article recently published for the Lausanne Global Analysis.

In 2007 ChinaSource co-hosted a conference with the National Bureau of Asian Research to look at possible scenarios for China in the year 2020. An article in the 2007 autumn issue of ChinaSource "China in Transition: Transition to What?" discusses the scenarios that came out of that conference. Read the entire issue of "China in 2020" for more information. 

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Derek Seipp

Derek Seipp

Derek Seipp functions as East Asia operations manager for an organization that partners with locals to develop and multiply leaders in China, Taiwan, Japan, Mongolia and Korea. He has 15 years of experience in China, living there for 12 of those years, and has 20 years of experience in …View Full Bio

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