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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). 

The Starfish And The Spider, Part 6: Taking On Decentralisation

Notes etc for part six below.

Going after the catalyst or the circles won’t work – cf. attempts to destroy Al-Qaeda. Instead, those who want to counter starfish groups must use different tactics:

Strategy 1: Changing Ideology – rather than go after terrorist circles (cells) or catalysts (bin Laden, etc), change the ideology in areas where they thrive, e.g., bringing hope to hopeless, poverty-stricken villages. Has the church at times been crippled by subtle changes to her ideology? Missional Christians would probably answer, ‘yes’. If church members are asked what the main priority of the church is and frequently reply, ‘worship’, then the ideology may well have changed. It will have become a much more internalised organisation.

Strategy 2: Centralise Them – when a catalyst gains property rights (Apache Nant’ans being given cattle by the ‘Americans’), centralisation happens and the catalyst’s power moves from their example to their resources. Is this why issues of ‘the building’ are so crippling for churches and their mission?

Strategy 3: Decentralise Yourself – if you can’t beat them, join them. This could be where traditional Christianity needs to be dragged, kicking and screaming. Church decline and increasing age demographics are already causing a crisis; what if the current recession lingers for a few years? Might we need some radical rethinking? For a few years now, the Church of the Nazarene has been talking about bivocational pastors: might we? It could be a development of no-stipendiary ministers in local appointment. And that’s just to deal with the biggest expense on the average church.

Blogs On The London Bombings (2)

I forgot an excellent post from Christianity Today, which takes an ‘Iraq plus’ interpretation. Here is an extract:

But two other factors were probably in play. Al Qaeda undoubtedly borrowed its strategy from the Madrid train bombing. There was another symmetry. Just as President Bush was absent from the U.S. capital during 9/11, so Blair was absent from the U.K. capital during (what may now be called) 7/7. Moreover, happening at the same time as the G8 summit, with Bush, Blair, and Putin present, it humiliated world leaders. The message being that they were trying to solve the world’s problems, and they can’t even solve this one. Moreover, Blair’s argument for invading and staying in Iraq-to give us security from terrorists-will look hollow as the dust settles.