I’m continuing my Church 2.0 posts (Web 2.0 thinking applied to church leadership) today by talking about the concepts of emergence, chaos, and nonlinearity.
The title of this post is likely confusing for some. I intend to talk about emergence and chaos as phenomena, and relate those phenomena to the Church 2.0 series. As such, it doesn’t have any direct link to the Emerging Church Movement (if I capitalize it, am I making it into a denomination?). Incidentally I think Emerging Church is a great name, because of what emergence means. But this post is about emergence and chaos, not the Emerging Church Movement proper. Capiche?
Emergence refers to the process of a complex pattern forming from simpler rules. The termite "cathedral" on the left is an example of emergence in nature. None of the individual termites planned the structure, it just "emerged" from their collective termiting (or whatever it is termites do).
The Internet itself is an emergent phenomenon – there is no central database of links, no planning committees that decide what cool new web pages there should be. It’s simply a massively decentralized network, yet a structure emerges as pages get linked to from other pages. This is why even though anyone with Internet access can get to my blog they’re far more likely to end up on this one.
Emergence means that the end result cannot be reliably predicted from the initial conditions. It implies unpredictability and nonlinearity (1 plus 1 may or may not equal 2). Chaos theory is all about studying apparently random systems and finding their inherent, though hidden, order. All these concepts relate closely with one another:
Emergence = functionality/order without specific design
Chaos theory = "hidden" order in what looks random
Nonlinearity = 1 plus 1 doesn’t equal 2
In Web 2.0 thinking, emergence means you can’t predict the end result when you start the project, many times because you’re creating systems that are "hackable", or scalable – systems that are fueled by user participation, and because you can’t control how users participate (entirely), you can’t predict what the thing will look like in the end.
Likewise, church leaders are increasingly going to need to
understand the phenomena of emergence, chaos and nonlinearity as they
lead. No more five year plans invented entirely out of one person’s
brain (no more five-year plans at all, perhaps). Church leaders won’t be
able to simply create a rigid structure, and then fit people into it.
Church 2.0 will demand that this flows the other direction: your
structure needs to be determined by the people you are leading.
Church 2.0 demands that the structure be flexible and organic,
structures that can adapt quickly and be shaped by the unique gifts and
anointings God has given a congregation. Then through these adaptable,
scalable, hackable, flexible structures, emergence can take place. Very
often the best results we get are those we weren’t planning for, the
happy accidents that serendipidously take us by surprise. In a Church
2.0 flexible structure, nonlinearity and emergence will cause "hidden"
order to emerge from the apparent chaos (and for those who are used to
traditional heirarchical structures, Church 2.0 structures will look a
lot like chaos, even though they’re not). It’s just the order of a tree
instead of that of a brick building.
Church 2.0 will leave room for the Holy Spirit in its planning and
structuring and strategizing. She’ll leave room for happy accidents to
emerge. She’ll be patient with chaos, knowing that even though things
are all tohu bohu ("without form and void" in Hebrew), the Spirit is probably hovering over the waters, bringing order and life out of chaos.
Church 2.0 leaders will give people permission to experiment, creating a culture where it’s okay to fail.
"The nature of innovation involves experimentation. It involves chaos. It involves running with
ideas because they sound promising. Are they promising? Yes! Will they
be successful? Unclear. Not all promising ideas are going to succeed" (from emergentchaos.com).
only way to make an emergent system work is if the "end-users" are
participating in the "system" in an intelligent and creative way. For
Church 2.0, that means congregations that are more than just spectators
at a religious entertainment event, more than just mindless drones who
fill spaces in pre-packaged programs. Instead Churches 2.0 will need to
be filled with fully-engaged, creatively active participants in a
missional movement that seeks nothing less than the full manifestation
of the kingdom of God on the earth, God’s healing love being brought to
bear on human brokenness and sin, God’s will being done on earth as it
is in heaven.