The Starfish And The Spider, Part 8: There Are New Rules To The Game

Here is the final part of the series. You will see a number of recurring themes here, in what virtually amounts to the book’s own summary of itself.

1. Diseconomies of Scale – small outfits with minimal overheads can bring revolutions. How the church needs to hear that, in place of megachurches, buildings, stipends and so on. I seem to be doing myself out of a job!

2. The Network Effect – adding one more person to the network costs little but adds value to them and the existing network. Assumes greater sharing by new network members – this won’t work if we treat people as pew fodder.

3. The Power of Chaos – standardisation squelches creativity. In a starfish, anyone can have a go. Churches think of newcomers as those who can be fitted into the currently vacant jobs. We don’t start with people and see what they can do and then shape church around that.

4. Knowledge at the Edge – not just from on high but the margins too. (Typically postmodern!) Body of Christ metaphor. God works from the fringes, too.

5. Everyone Wants to Contribute – people join a starfish for this reason. This requires reconceiving received models of church if we are to operate as starfish. Many wouldn’t join us for this reason.

6. Beware the Hydra Response – attacking a starfish organisation conventionally generates a many-headed response. Again, I think of persecution in the early church. As they were attacked in one town, they fled to another and more churches began.

7. Catalysts Rule – they inspire people to action rather than running the show, and they know when to let go. However, if one becomes a CEO, the starfish is in jeopardy. This is a radically different vision for leadership. How easy it is to default to CEO.

8. The Values Are the Organisation – ideology is the fuel of the starfish. In the church we have too easily defaulted to ‘institution’ as the definition of organisation, whether it’s seeing episcopacy as the esse of the church (as in Anglo-Catholic theology), or in seeing recruitment of new members as a matter of maintaining the institution rather than sharing the Gospel.

9. Measure, Monitor and Manage – measurement still happens despite ambiguity, but in different ways. It looks at the activity of the circles, how distributed the network is, the health of a circle, continued participation of members, etc. They are more dynamic measurements than static numbers and harder to quantify. Puts a new light on the October Count for Methodists. How would we go about assessing the spiritual health of our groups? How would we handle the inevitable subjectivity? It would also require sensitive handling when the assessment is negative.

10. Flatten or Be Flattened – the power of decentralisation is causing more companies to flatten or at least become hybrids. Decentralisation looks chaotic, even like entropy, but it is powerful. This sounds like an argument of the ‘You must move with the times’ variety. The real question is whether decentralisation is consistent with Scripture. In many ways it is. We have to be wary of where particular applications contradict Christian theology, whether it is eBay‘s ‘people are basically good’ creed (which they couldn’t completely live with, hence the hybrid with PayPal) or the use of the theory in support of violence (al Qaeda, Animal Liberation Front). 


  1. Thanks for this series. I was surprised to read today that Bishop Alan (not sure if he has been reading your series) thinks that “The Church is almost the ultimate Starfish, rather than Spider organisation.” He explains more of this in an older post. Certainly the Anglican Communion is starfish-like, but within his Church of England dioceses are trying hard to restrict any starfish-like freedom in individual parishes.


  2. Thanks, Peter. I wasn’t aware of Bishop Alan’s posts on the subject. Certainly there are decentralised aspects of the church (including the C of E) but there are still some profoundly centralised aspects. In Anglican terms, perhaps it is interesting to think of the Diocese and the Bishop, whose role as a central, unifying and authoritative (if not authoritarian in some cases) looks a lot more like the ‘spider’ approach. Well, must go, I’m typing this just before a lecture starts here at the college.


  3. Thanks for your kind words, Dave. I only wish I’d had time to reflect more before posting the various bits. Certainly I’d have liked to have pulled together the various themes that kept recurring. Still, if it’s been helpful I’m glad.


  4. Dave – thank you for your analysis and comparative statements regarding the church of today and the concepts of centralization VS decentralization.
    I just picked up the book The Starfish and the Spider about 3 days ago and I am almost finished with my first reading of it. It has concretely confirmed what I am experiencing in our “family” of Believers which God started within us, almost 3 years ago. These concepts have been within me from the beginning and we have been actively at work, attempting to architect the vision, cheerlead the people, and just get out of the way. Our Sunday morning gatherings are very interactive and our ministry is about 98% organic in nature. We believe that Jesus is the Head of the Church and He wants to teach us THROUGH each other. We believe that God is at work at the fringes as well as on the stage – and what He is doing, He is doing for the edification of His Body.
    After reading your comments though it has spurred me on to approach the other 2% in this process of freeing the people up to minister. Thank you for your insight and your applications to the church of today. You saved me alot of time in doing the same thing and you have sparked many questions and analysis of my own as I read yours. Thank you and God bless you brother!
    Stan Denman


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