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
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
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
http://www.namb.net/cmr (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
- 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
- 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.
This was my approach at first. It seems too big a movement to
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
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
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
- 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
- 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
To respond to this, go to
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