Last Friday I was at the youthwork summit early day (I couldn’t be at the actual event due to a family occasion) where Marko shared some sociological and organisational stuff, that turned out to be actually really interesting. I’ll share some stuff from the second session here, and some point later this week when I find the references I’ll put up the big ideas from the first session. These are half Marko’s ideas and half my reflections on them.
All organisations inevitably follow a natural lifecycle of birth, infancy, adolescence, maturity, old-age and then death. Everyone knows this, but everyone thinks that their organisation will be different. It never is.
Marko then shared this organisational lifecycle stuff from Adizes; a management consultancy person. He says there are various stages in an organisations development as it grows, stabilises and then declines. Again, these stages are inevitable, they will happen. But there are ways of rebooting and rebirthing the company when things start to die. Better than that though, there is a way of getting your organisation growing long-term, but to do that you’ve got to be willing to change the company as it reaches it’s prime to better do what it should be doing. As you come into your prime you’ve got to look at what you need to kill so you can do your job better.
Good organisations do this. I think you can see some of it in Apple, where though they were raking in loads of money in the laptop market chose to devote loads of attention into designing and creating the best possible tablet, knowing that any successful tablet would cannibalise laptop sales. The iPad is obviously a hit, but in doing so it undermines their laptop sales. They could have stayed safe with putting out faster and better laptops which would have worked for a bit but then ultimately someone would have made a good tablet and they wouldn’t have been able to react fast enough to catch up.
What’s this all got to do with church work? First, you’ve got to see that there is something very Christian about all this. Choosing to die to yourself so that you will live is what we’re called to do as Christians. Even Jesus didn’t seek to hold onto his life but rather gave it up so that we might live and in doing so was raised up to new eternal life. So for Christians, putting to death things that are sinful, unhelpful, or just no longer necessary so that new things can live should be a natural process.
And when you start thinking like that, it shows a lot about the need to plant churches. The way things in nature get around their natural lifecycle of birth, growth, and death is by having kids. That way something carries on if and when they die. Churches that plant are going to have heirs and growth even when they eventually get old and die. More profoundly than that though, a church that plants as it hits it’s prime is a church that’s choosing to let go of an important part of itself by sending out key people. But that doesn’t cripple the old church, rather it gives life as the old church then has to change and grow again. A church that plants repeatedly is actively self-sustaining.
Of course, we know that because we know God is faithful to his promise to bless his people and grow his church, but it’s nice when it’s demonstrated in other fields too.