The Starfish And The Spider, Part 4: Decentralised Organisations Stand On Five Legs

Here is part four of my summary and notes.

1. Circles – independent and autonomous groups. Different levels of ease in joining, different sizes and thus different levels of intimacy, but not lawless – they share the ‘norms’ of the organisation and grow in trust. Cell church, base communities and the like would probably be the Christian equivalent.

2. The Catalyst – an inspirational figure who initiates a circle but then fades into the background, handing over leadership to others and disappearing. Steve Chalke with his various initiatives? In Scripture, John the Baptist is a classic catalyst – ‘he must increase, but I must decrease.’

3. Ideology – the core beliefs are what keep a circle together. How strong the beliefs are and how strongly they are held will give indications of how long the circle will stay together. There may again be some broad parallels with churches here, although they may not completely hold. Circles with weak ideology hold while there is support in wider society for Christian values, but less so when the latter fades – to that end, this is true. Churches with stronger ideology and commitment probably do largely survive longer than others, but sustained opposition may affect that.

4. The Pre-Existing Network – a catalyst stands a better chance of building a circle if a platform can be built on a pre-existing decentralised network which functions as an infrastructure. Granville Sharp did this with the Quakers in the anti-slavery movement. The Internet makes decentralised organisations easier to start and to find. Christianity began from the pre-existing network of Judaism. Rarely does a group spring up in Christianity that has not been based on something else. (Although sometimes it is a reaction against it.) Fresh Expressions certainly do this – to the point that one URC minister friend called them ‘parasites’.

5. The Champion – catalysts need a charismatic, hyperactive person who will implement their vision and take it to the next level. For the anti-slavery movement it was Thomas Clarkson. However, he was not concerned about securing recognition for himself, and this last quality is the most obviously Christian of this approach. I find it hard to think of combinations of catalysts and champions in the Bible, but not worrying about recognition is deeply biblical, and not always what is wanted in a CEO-led, personality-driven church.


  1. Yes, that might be a good point, Peter. I’m probably more thinking of church leadership in more recent times in the notes above. However, the itinerant models of Jesus and Paul could certainly chime with the catalyst model.


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