1968 if you asked anyone who would dominate the world watch market in 1990 almost everyone would have answered the Swiss. Why because at that time the Swiss not only dominated the world watch market they had done so for decades. Moreover, they were not resting on their laurels they were constantly seeking to improve their watches inventing the minute hand, the second hand, better ways to manufacture the gears and mainsprings. They led the world on research into waterproofing watches. By 1968 they controlled a dominant share of the world’s watch market no one was even close. But 20 years later that market dominance collapsed. In less than 10 years what had been so secure, so profitable, so dominant was wiped out. In 1979 the Swiss employed 62,000 watchmakers by 1981 that was down to 12,000 – 50,000 people lost their jobs.
What happened? They had run into a paradigm shift – a change in the fundamental rules of watch making. The mechanical mechanism was about to give to be overtaken by quartz. Everything that the Swiss were good at in watch making – making gears and bearings and mainsprings – was about to become irrelevant to how people made watches. The irony is that the Swiss could have avoided this catastrophe if they had given more thought to the future. It was a Swiss watchmaker who invented the electronic quartz movement. Swiss watch manufacturers were initially sceptical the watch didn’t have a main spring, it had no bearings it could not possibly be the watch of the future. But by 1969 when Seiko offered the Astron quartz watch the future of watches had arrived and with it the rise of Japan as a powerful new rival in the global watch market
What the story tells us is that the future will happen. The forces that will shape it are already at work in the present. The future may not happen the way we want it to or the way we expect it will happen. Our past cannot be changed but our future will be shaped by what we do in the present. I do not know what the future of our churches will be or look like. I do not possess a prescription to safe guard our churches from the impact of future challenges. But I do know that a flexibility shaped by an “eyes wide open” approach to what is happening in our present social context will determine how well we as churches are able to respond to our future missional context.