Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point has an interesting story about W.L. Gore & Associates, the company who invented Gore-tex fabric. Two fascinating facts about them: they never have any more than 150 people working in any specific branch or plant, and they have eschewed traditional hierarchical models and titles of leadership, opting instead for a massively decentralized, organic, relationally centered structure. All of their business cards say the same thing: their name, and underneath it, "Associate", no matter how much money they make, how long they’ve been with the company, or how much responsibility they have. They don’t have bosses, they have "sponsors", or mentors who look out for their interests. There are no organizational charts
Maybe you’re thinking, "That’s nice. They’ll probably be featured on the cover of of some cutesy business magazine and go out of business in two years." But here’s the kicker: It actually works! W.L. Gore & Associates is a multimillion dollar high-tech firm that has been profitable for 35 consecutive years, they are continually expanding and innovating in new areas, and they are consistently rated one of the top companies to work for. Their employee turnover rate is a third the industry average. "It is a big established company attempting to behave like a small entrepreneurial start-up. By all accounts, that attempt has been wildly successful," Gladwell writes.
Obviously this has some huge implications for the church in the 21st century. Like I’ve said before, growth is good, obviously. The gospel is good news – it is meant to be preached, and when it is preached, people will believe. They will become followers of Jesus, and the church will grow. But there are different kinds of growth: cancer is a kind of growth that kills because it’s purposeless and homogeneous. There are dangers in growth, as well as opportunities. W.L. Gore & Associates has successfully navigated the perils of bigness by getting small.
Perhaps for the church to find healthy growth in the 21st century, she’s going to have to get small to get big. Smaller, semi-autonomous "companies" that still retain the unifying vision of the larger "body". Maybe this is the key to the church being a bit more sticky – it’s easy to slip through an institution’s system, it’s harder to slip through a web of relationships.
“…cancer is a kind of growth that kills because it’s purposeless and homogeneous.”
It also feeds itself and reproduces with devastating consequences. Perhaps that’s what you meant by “homogeneous”….I also call it the ‘ingrown toenail syndrome’.
I have been attending all manner of different churches recently, trying to get a handle on what ‘church’ is supposed to be. I’ve decided that small doesn’t necessarily equate with ‘good’, just as ‘big’ doesn’t necessarily equate with ‘bad’. Melding the best of the two seems ideal, but that is an elusive mix. Evidently Gore-tex is on to something.
Off topic:I’ve also come to appreciate the fact that people worship best when they are comfortable in the ‘style’ or presentation of the services. That would include the people who gather, the methods of ministry, and the focus of the particular body.
It seems to me that in order to keep a large group of people in a coherant and effective ‘group’, each individual must grasp and assimilate that groups’ particular mission. (we make Gore-tex, we sell Gore-tex, we are innovative in our industry) Each must feel a personal responsibility to give their ‘talents’ to push the mission forward, and no person’s ‘talents’ should be made to feel inferior in the scheme of that mission.
Unfortunately, at least in my (admittedly biased) exposure to evangelicalism/protestant churches, the ‘focus’ often becomes not the mission of the body, but the particular ‘gifting’ that exhibits itself in certain individuals (prophesy, music, prayer, etc.)…so that those who aren’t bent in those directions feel somewhat apart and unimportant. They don’t feel especially connected to the group, and usually end up attending as consumers.
I don’t know how the authority structure works in Gore-tex, but no matter what the title says, *someone* is leading the vision for the company….casting vision within the church (again, mainly evangelical/protestant streams) often takes on the personality of the vision caster, which is fine, so long as everyone else is free to express that common vision in whatever manner fits their personality and gifting….without feeling ‘unimportant’ or expendable. (No one likes to feel they aren’t a ‘Golden Child’!) One thing that has drawn me to a more liturgical experience is the lack of ‘personality’ up front, and the loyalty of the members to the ‘mission’ of that church. I’m not sure I always agree with the mission…but I appreciate the loyalty (via the ‘commitment/membership’ initiations).
At Gore, there are people with more responsibility than others, people who make more money than others, of course. But they’ve gotten rid of all the trappings of the prestige of those positions. The executive offices look like anybody else’s offices. The corners of the plants are public space or meeting rooms, so nobody gets the “corner office”. Yes, there are people who lead and set the agenda for the company, but it’s more of a function than a position, if that makes sense. There’s no extra prestige associated with more responsibility, everybody’s an “Associate”, from the leader of the entire company to the guy they hired last week – but they function in different ways.
Perhaps I’ll post about this sometime, but I’ve often wondered if this prestige-in-the-postition thinking often derails helpful thinking about the five-fold ministry gifts (apostle, prophet, evangelist, teacher, pastor). When we treat them like positions, they alienate and/or cause hero-worship. When we treat them as functions, and not worry about whether or not we have a certain “position”, they work like they’re supposed to.