I drive a Prius. I also drive a big 4WD GMC Yukon. I always joke that one car is for preserving the environment; the other car is for enjoying the environment. And I choose which car I am going to drive depending on…the environment. That is the particular type of environment that I am going to be driving in.
Most of the time, driving the Southern California freeways or shuttling to and fro the church office or meetings, my hybrid-fuel Prius is exactly the car I need. But when we are carpooling a crowd, taking our teen and pre-teen kids and the two dogs on a road trip, or especially when we head off for skiing in the Sierras, it’s pretty nice to have a big four-wheel drive. Again, two different cars for two different uses, but for one family with one overall goal to be good stewards of both our family life and God’s good earth.
But this really is just an illustration of a larger point that I want to make about The Hybrid Combo Organizational Structure of The Starfish and the Spider.
Very often, I am asked about the values of a more decentralized organizational structure. Why is it necessary? Is it just trendy? And really what does it accomplish?
Decentralization is not a goal, it’s a strategy. Effective missional communities of faith that reveal the Kingdom of heaven in a particular community is the goal. (What we call at SCPC being “A Community for the community.”) “Hybrid combo” structure where there is centralization around the things that need to be protected and passed on (like values, theology, resources and assets) and decentralization around specific expression of ministry, allows churches and other non-profit organizations to have a variety of ministries to match the different needs in a community. Decentralization, done well, and held together through specific, clear, shared values allows a much greater variety of expression of ministry with greater diversity and creativity. When the terrain calls for a big, slow 4WD SUV, you can use it. When not, you can use a Prius. The terrain, environment, culture or “missional context” determines what strategy you use, not the “vehicles” that you are most comfortable driving.
Let me use another “fuel” illustration to clarify my point. In one of my favorite passages in Brian McClaren’s book A New Kind of Christian, Neo writes to a seminarian who wonders how churches that were formed and successful during the heyday of modernity are going to be able to change and adapt in a post-modern world. Neo uses the illustration of gasoline stations that had to offer both “leaded” and “unleaded” fuel back in the days when some cars still ran on leaded and the change hadn’t been entirely made to unleaded. Until there all the cars made the transition to the new fuel, stations had to offer both.
For the past few years, since reading that passage, that is the way that I have seen the work of bringing renewal in mainline congregations. As long as we have “leaded” folk whose faith and faithfulness is “fueled” by more “attractional”, “programmatic”, and church-campus focused ministries, we’ll offer them. But as we seek to reach out to more unchurched “unleaded” people, we’ll have to find other “fuels” to ignite and empower their faith journey. A church that only offers "leaded fuel" will soon run out of people to energize. A new church can determine with "fuel" to offer based on its missional intent and environment. But a church that is trying to bring renewal within an existing church structure (like my own denomination), will need to offer a variety of fuels. (Something that is even more dramatized by the rise of all kinds of “alternative fuels”, is it not? What a great metaphor of the varieties of spiritual experiences that are out there today.)
So, for example. As a church we have wanted to have a more "missional Advent and Christmas season." We have offered our congregation a number of ways to express their faith in service and generosity. Have highlighted The Advent Conspiracy and encouraged families to refocus on simplicity, giving and service.
In the past two weeks we offered two distinctly different Christmas “outreach” events. One was a pretty traditional, “leaded”, Christmas concert. Choir, orchestra, carols, a message. It was beautiful, and our people sang their hearts out. Over 1000 people came out for it. Mostly older folks, many with tears in their eyes as they heard the old carols sung by a choir. Some families, mostly there to hear their children sing.
But the second event, while still focused on outreach, was pretty different. Our English-speaking congregation, partnered with our new Hispanic Congregation and offered a “Christmas Festival” in a local neighborhood park. Santa, music, crafts, bounce house, face painting, a woman in our church just showed up and offered caricature drawings. We made 1000 tamales. Everything was free. Just a big free Christmas party in a mostly Hispanic neighborhood park. 500 people took part. (Which we thought was pretty amazing for the first time doing this.) A lot of church members did both events. But do you know who was front and center involved in this event? Many of our young families, young adults, and teenagers… with our Hispanic congregation in the lead. In other words, a lot of people who wouldn’t come out for a concert were “fueled” by a service project. (And the attendance at our Hispanic service went up by 30% the following Sunday.)
As we move forward with a missional vision, attempting to shape a church out of the "environment" where the mission is launched (to use Michael Frost's description), we will need many different strategies, many different circles of relationships, many new experiments and endeavors if the Mission of the Kingdom is going to be the “central organizing principle” of our church. At the same time we are going to need to continue to protect our shared values, faith and Kingdom commitment so as not to become competing factions.
What is so encouraging to me is that whether it was a group of senior citizens inviting their neighbors to hear some good Christmas music at the church, or a small group of teenagers serving in a park, their faith was “fueled” by very different experiences, but they were oddly enough heading in the same direction.