Friday, September 30, 2011

173. Organizational Vehicles and the Four Spaces

These are true stories, that happened within two weeks of each other. Me and my wife go to Lowe's to purchase a wrought iron security door for our house. As we are driving in our car, we pull into the parking lot, get out, and go shopping. We spend a short moment looking at the doors, pick the best deal for our money, then get one of the push carts to transport it towards the front of the store. We are waiting in line, thinking about how we will be sleeping better now that the back door on our house will be secured from potential kick-ins.

So we pay the cashier and start pushing the cart out the sliding double door. As we step out into the parking lot my wife stops....turns and smiles at me for a few seconds. I stop pushing the cart and say...."what?" She says "We are in the car...." Doh! We bought a 7 1/2 foot by 4 foot wrought iron door and we only have a Honda civic to transport it. Needless to say, one of us had to go back to the house in the car, trade vehicles and come back with the pick up truck.

Second, about a week later, we go to Dick's Sporting Goods in our car. We go in to buy a bike for my wife. We pay for it at the cash register, and just to make sure it is in good shape, my wife rides it around in the parking lot. As she approaches me on the side walk going back to the car, she gets that smile again. I of course say...."What?" She says......"we did it again." I say "did what again?" She says "we drove the car.".....Doh!!!! We tried to fit the bike into the Honda civic, but it just wouldn't accommodate us.Trying to get somewhere with the wrong size vehicle can be a real drag. We love our Honda Civic, but it is not designed to transport wrought iron doors or bicycles. Having the right vehicle makes all the difference in the world when it comes getting from point A to point B.

In spending time with the folks at 3DM, I have come to appreciate more and more the idea that, just like cars, organization is not a one size fits all affair. We had to learn this the hard way through trial and error in our church plant. At the beginning of our plant, we thought we could be effective at mission, community, discipleship, accountability, fellowship, momentum, evangelism....all the good stuff...with the house church model. In other words, we thought groups of 8-15 people were a one size fits all. We had good motives for going this route. We wanted to be simple and reproducible. We wanted to be low maintenance. We wanted to be close as a community and live out true fellowship.

However, what we failed to realize was that different group sizes, by their very design, can only achieve certain outcomes. As a general rule, small is not better than big, big is not better than small.  The size is neutral. The determining factor is what you are trying to achieve. So for example, if I am trying to achieve a strong sense of personal belonging, then a group of 50 people will not be ideal to achieve this. A group of 8-15 people though, will be suited just fine for this.

Consider this diagram.

If we use the example of creating a personal sense of belonging, the peak of the arc is the place where you achieve the optimal level of connection and bonding in a group. So at the bottom left of the arc, there may be 4 people. As you the group gets bigger, it gets more effective at creating a sense connection and belonging. So at the top of the arc, from what sociologists tell us (and what Jesus modeled for us), the ideal number of people for a group to experience a strong sense of personal connection and belonging is 12 people. Once you reach this level of growth in the group, you have reached the optimal number of people to be effective at creating a personal sense of belonging. Once you add one more person, because of how groups work, then that sense of belonging will begin to slightly diminish. The sense of connection between people is now being dispersed among more people and begins to diffuse. So as the group size grows, you begin to slide down the right side of the arc, losing effectiveness at being a group with a strong sense of personal connection. So half way down the right side of the arc there may be 15 people in the group, and then at ground zero, it may be 20+ people.

Borrowing from the insights of sociologist Joseph Meyers in his book The Search to Belong, Mike Breen and Alex Absalom in their book Launching Missional Communities: A Field Guide, have captured this concept of group size and group effectiveness by allocating different functions for different group sizes. They do this from an Old Testament and New Testament, as well as a sociological/missiological perspective.

We operated in our church plant for about 4 years in the personal space but saw very little fruit when it came to evangelism and mission. We had some fruit, but not what we were hoping for. In one sense, we were trying to fit a wrought iron door into a Honda Civic. Nothing wrong with the vehicle itself, it is just not designed to deliver that kind of thing. What we needed was a different vehicle to achieve a different outcome. We have recently begun organizing around the vehicle of an extended family, what 3DM calls the missional community.

I am thankful to be living into these other organizational vehicles. This missional community we have started in Cunningham Farms neighborhood called NeighborLife will be the first of many missional communities: extended families focusing on a particular neighborhood or network, with the engine of discipleship propelling us forward into the Spirits leading.

This lesson about vehicles was a hard one for us to learn, but I am glad we learned it and are living into it. In the future, we will be pressing in to the public space vehicle for worship celebrations, most likely on a once a month rhythm.