Becoming a sustainable movement
by John White
LK10 is seeking to be an organization that is highly decentralized and reproduces its DNA throughout the organization so that it does not depend on any one person to grow spontaneously and sustainably.
How do we do this? When the Lord moved us into the house church world in 1998, we had very little idea of what to do. My four years in seminary and then 25 years as a pastor in traditional churches had not prepared me for this new world. It soon became clear that house church was not simply the large church shrunk down into a house. Many people tried this and found it didn’t work. We literally heard stories of people setting up pulpits in their basement, arranging chairs in rows and passing the offering plate when their church met. We came to describe this way of thinking as “Honey, I shrunk the church!” We learned that house church was “a whole different kind of animal”.
House church networks? Little by little, the Lord began to re educate us about what church might look like if it were truly family and if Jesus truly brought the agenda. (The most important things we learned are now available in our five week Church 101 Course.) One of the big questions we had was what it might look like if there were a number of house churches that were connected with each other. I came out of a Presbyterian denomination which was a top-down organization. General Assembly at the national level. Then, Synods that reported to General Assembly for each region. Then, Presbyteries reported to the Synods. And, then, Sessions (a group of elected Elders) in each church that reported to Presbyteries. I instinctively knew that this highly centralized hierarchical model wouldn’t work for house churches. But, what was the alternative?
Then, in 2006, a book appeared that helped us imagine organization in an entirely different way… The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Brafman and Beckstrom. When I read that book, the light bulb came on!
The basic idea is that there are, in general, two kinds of organizations – the starfish-type and the spider-type. A spider is a highly centralized organism. Cut the head off and it dies. A starfish, on the hand, is highly decentralized. It’s DNA is diffused throughout the body. So, if you cut a starfish in two and throw it back in the ocean, you are likely to get two starfish.
Examples of spider-type organizations are obvious. General Motors, the US Army, the Catholic Church, the Presbyterian church, every megachurch. What I hadn’t realized was that there are also fascinating examples of starfish-type organizations. Alcoholics Anonymous, Al Qaeda, the Abolitionist Movement, the early church. Here are a few quotes from the book that were very helpful…
Sustainability. “If you take out a unit, is the organization harmed? Units of a decentralized organization are by definition completely autonomous. In fact a severed arm of a starfish might grow an entirely new organization. Isolate an AA circle from the AA organization and both will be able to survive.” JW: The larger LK10 Community is very helpful to its members but every CO2 (church of two) and every small group (house church, etc.) carries the DNA (what you learn in Church 101) and is able to thrive and multiply on its own.
Power and Knowledge Distributed. “Are knowledge and power concentrated or distributed? In spider companies, power and knowledge are concentrated at the top. In starfish organizations, power is spread throughout. Each member is assumed to be equally knowledgeable and has power equal to that of any other member. Each AA circle knows about the needs of its members, and each group can decide how to react accordingly.” JW: LK10 groups are seen as Communities of Practice where everyone is both a teacher and a learner. Everyone is a practitioner. Every group is an ecosystem of grace where every member has an important role to play.
Circles. “Circles are important to nearly every decentralized organization we’ve explored. Each Apache group resembled a circle: independent and autonomous. Once you join, you’re an equal. Its then up to you to contribute to the best of your ability. Until the Internet age, circles were confined to a physical location.” JW: People get a taste of life in a circle (where everyone has a voice) first in a facilitated Church 101 group. Then, this continues in Leader Teams and LK10 small groups (house churches, etc.). The difference between life in a “circle” and the typical church service is obvious.
Ideology. “Ideology is the glue that holds decentralized organizations together. At AA, the ideology is that people can help each other out of addiction (12 steps).” JW: The LK10 ideology is conveyed first in Church 101 and then in Leader 101. This is the glue that holds the LK10 Community together. And, it allows community members to bond almost immediately when meeting each other for the first time.
Hybrid Organizations. At first, it seemed that there was only a binary choice. An organization was either a spider or a starfish. But, then, the book explained that it is more helpful to visualize a continuum. We saw that the LK10 Community had many starfish characteristics (towards that end of the continuum) without being completely starfish. To be most effective at this point in time, we also had some elements of centralization. The book called this the “decentralized sweet spot”.
“Peter Drucker worked with GM but they weren’t willing to change. So, he taught the Japanese to embrace the hybrid organization…The decentralized sweet spot is the point along the centralized-decentralized continuum that yields the best competitive position…decentralization brings out creativity, but it also creates variance…The sweet spot that Toyota found has enough decentralization for creativity, but sufficient structure and controls to ensure consistency…the forces of centralization and decentralization continue to pull the sweet spot to and fro.”
All of this to say, that if you want to understand the LK10 Community, you will need to understand that we are a largely (but not completely) starfish-type organization. (To read my 15 page summary of The Starfish and the Spider, email me and ask for the Starfish Summary. John.LK10@gmail.com )