The Starfish and the Spider


If you lop off the head of a spider, it dies. It is a very centralized organization.

If you cut off the leg of a starfish, it will grow a new leg, and  the leg will grow a new starfish. It is a very decentralized  organization.

Question: what kind of organization is the church? What kind of  organization should it be?

Starfish style organizations are multiplying . . .

AA is a starfish organization. No president. No leader. Or, more  precisely, everyone is a leader. No one owns AA. No one has any idea  how many members they have. Suffice it to say, a lot!

Wikipedia Arguably the  largest depository of information on the planet and it is all user  created. You can edit the content yourself. Users decide what is  included and what is not. Very decentralized.

Napster--the old Napster  before the feds got a hold of it--very decentralized. And, in  various incarnations, the idea continues to thrive because of its  decentralization.

OpenOffice. A Microsoft  office look-alike. All user created. All free. Very decentralized.

The House Church Movement in America is another example of a  starfish movement. From all accounts, it is growing and growing  rapidly. Consider these facts for the North American Mission Board's  Center for Missional Research (This is gathering information from  several sources. There is some discrepancy between the findings.)

    • House churches have shown remarkable growth in the past  decade—shooting up from just 1% to near double-digit  involvement.
  • Zogby poll: We asked, "Do you meet weekly with a group of 20  people or less to pray and study scriptures as your primary form  of spiritual or religious gathering?" Remarkably, 26.3% of the  3600 sampled Americans who were asked that question indicated that they  did—as their primary form of spiritual or religious gathering.
  • One out of five adults attends a house church at least once  a month.  
  • It's estimated that more than 70 million adults have at  least experimented with house church participation.     
  • In a typical week, roughly 20 million adults attend a house  church gathering. Over the course of a typical month, that  number doubles to about 43 million adults.      
  • Millions of Americans are intermittently engaged in a house  church, alternating back and forth between house church and  conventional church. (For clarity, the survey distinguished  between involvement in a house church and participation in a  small group that is associated with a conventional church.)       The Barna survey revealed that of those who attend a house  church, 27% attend on a weekly basis, 30% attend one to three  times per month, and 43% attend less than once a month.

There is an explosive house church movement in our land. It is a  decentralized, leaderless, starfish movement. How should we respond? As I see it,  we could take one of three approaches.

Ignore it

This was my approach at first. It seems too big a movement to  ignore.

Bring a bucket of water

As I have had the opportunity to talk to church leaders about the  house church movement, this is the most common response. The  conversation usually includes this sentence: "Well, those house  churches are all well and good, but I just think there should be  some accountability."

I am thinking, "Accountability to whom?" and I think I know the  answer. I think he is sitting across the table from me.

But, if this house church is a real church, I thought we believed  in the autonomy of the local church. I thought we believed local  churches were not accountable to anyone except each other and God.

The Catholic Church is very spider-like. It is very centralized.  Very command and control. The protestant movement was much more  decentralized. Baptists in particular are extremely decentralized. I  have always thought the name Independent Baptist was a bit  redundant. What other kind of Baptist is there?

The House Church movement begs the question: how far do you press  that?

Bring a bucket of gasoline

Well, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out I  think this is the best approach.

What would you call a ten fold increase in house churches in ten  years approaching 25% of the  population. They have done that  with no budget, no money, no visible leaders, no literature, no  program, no nothing. I would call it a movement of God. If it is a  movement of God, I think we do well to fan it into flames lest we  find ourselves opposing what God is doing.

Local churches can do at least three things to partner with and  encourage house churches:

    • Identify them. See if you can identify  people in your church that are participating in an independent  home Bible Study. Get their names, phone numbers and email  addresses.
  • Encourage them. Validate what they are  doing. They are studying the Bible and fellowshipping. It is a  good thing. Don't make them feel like rebels. They are not  rebels. Some of them are good members of your church. Just as  some of your church members attend other activities at other  churches, some of your church members may be a part of a House  Church. (Approximately 20% of those who go to church routinely  attend more than one church.) Validate them publically from the  pulpit. Encourage them privately.
  • Train them without trying to control them.  Provide training and resources if they want it. Don't try to  control them. These are independent churches. You wouldn't want  your Association trying to control you; don't try to control  them.
  • Create networking opportunities. People  like to fellowship with like-minded individuals. There are many  house church networks in major cities across America. Identify  any that exist in your area. Allow them to use your building if  they want to have occasional large-group networking meetings.
  • Pray for them; pray with them. It is my  prayer that America will come to Christ. My vision is that they  can do this through doubling groups. It seems that God is doing  a new thing in a multiplying movement of doubling house groups.  I think it will happen through all kinds of churches--mega  churches, house churches, new churches, old churches. Pray for  this movement.

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To read more on this, pick up a copy of The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless  Organizations by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom