This week I have been invited to participate in the ACTS 8 Discussion. ACTS 8 says this about itself:
The Acts8 Moment is a Missionary Society made of lay and clergy members of the Episcopal Church.
Vision statement: Proclaiming Resurrection in The Episcopal Church.
Mission statement: Changing the conversation in The Episcopal Church from death to resurrection; equipping The Episcopal Church to proclaim resurrection to the world.
Acts 8 Guiding Principles:Find out more here. This week they are asking for pieces about the nature of the structure of church. Hey have posed these questions for thought:
- We follow Jesus, guided by the Holy Spirit, grounded in prayer, scripture, and worship.
- We challenge The Episcopal Church to proclaim the good news of Jesus in effective ways.
- We encourage and equip local missionary communities.
- We carry out our work with hope, optimism, and good humor.
- We consistently and transparently communicate to achieve dialogue across the church.
What is the mission of the (Domestic and Foreign) Mission Society (of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America) or whatever you currently insist on calling it? How should it be structured to serve its mission?
What follows is an excerpt from a new book due out in May called: Church: A Generous Community Amplified for the Future. It is written from the perspective of the Episcopal Church and is offered as my thoughts on the nature of structure. As a chapter it naturally depends on arguments made previously in the text but I think it gives a good sense of what I am thinking about the future structure of our organizations.
Future Diocese, Future Wider Church
Future Diocese, Future Wider Church
“No body of knowledge needs an organizational policy. Organizational
policy can only impede the advancement of knowledge. There is a basic
incompatibility between any organization and freedom of thought.”
William S. Burroughs, Ali’s Smile
At the core of a missionary Episcopal Church is a bishop serving God’s people and undertaking service and evangelism for the sake of reconciliation. The only reason to have a diocese is to help organize the mission of a particular area, and to stay out of the way of a living Church making its missionary journey. The only reason to have a wider church organization is to organize the mission for a particular region. Everything else is extra. This has been the essence of our structure and it continues to be so today. Sure, we can add a lot of other things to it. Those who are the elite power brokers in the organization will tell us that their parts are also essential. This is not true, though. It is a lie one leader tells its Church citizens in order to maintain their place in power. The Church would continue to make its way in the world without all that we pretend is necessary. Our structures have been and forever will be a utilitarian exoskeleton for the real work of God’s Holy Spirit. What we know today is that this skeleton and all its scaffolding and framework which we have so labored to construct no longer works. It no longer protects us. It no longer enables us to be agile in the culture. It no longer supports the mission efforts of our Church. The present church is organized to operate in a context that no longer exists. The same pressures that all major manufacturing companies and institutions face in this time period are the same pressures the church faces.
Companies as large organizations for a single purpose have existed to minimize transaction cost. They were created in order to buy at quantity and buy down cost of production. Their mission was to create a smoother transaction and delivery. Their massive mechanical production lines cut down on mistakes and saved time. Every cog had a wheel, every wheel had a person to man it, and the machine was well oiled, competition was low, and life in the corporate world was good. Over the last ten years though, the corporate world has been restructuring. Vision and mission work in the boardrooms have been undertaken to rethink whole companies. Mergers and acquisitions, increased resource sharing, and building mammoth organizations, were all for the sake of increased control and decreased risk. The world of business and the machine of the company have radically changed in the new world of communication and technology. The shift from manufacturing things to an information economy, and the rise of local makers in their garages, where the hobbyist competes with the professional, has changed almost everything. The legacy of the twentieth century is the last vestige of a modern machine era with companies and organizations that look like and work like the era from which they came. They have too many interests and too much capital tied up in the wrong things to make the shift easily. So these modern companies are struggling with purpose and they are not easily finding their place in the market around them. The church organization (diocesan and church wide) is no different.
Frederick Hayek was an Austrian born British economist who lived through most of the twentieth century. He argued that the centralized economy could not exist because of the impossible need to control things. Not unlike Nassim Taleb, he understood that the health of society was not dependent on large organizations that are actually more fragile, but on smaller ones that enable a better more disbursed economy. In part, Hayek simply believed in the freedom of individuals to create, market, sell and disburse goods in a much more efficient and free manner. The centralized organization and economy required too many controls over the whole economic and social state. He used a term called catallaxy to describe a "self-organizing system of voluntary co-operation" as the primary means of economic vitality. The Nobel Committee used his argument for self-organizing systems in their press statement awarding him the Nobel Prize in 1974.[i] Hayek believed in a spontaneous order within economics that was not unlike the development of language within society. Centrally planning an economy is impossible because society itself is inherently decentralized, and would need to be brought under control. While Hayek was looked at as having missed the boom in large corporations and the economic entanglement of government and business in the middle of the last century, he is now being turned to again as the new information economy and maker movements are beginning to mimic his catallaxy theory.[ii] What Hayek intrinsically knew is that the power of innovation in the hands of the people will beat the centralized organization.[iii]
We are today departing the mechanistic age that brought with it huge complicated bureaucracies.[iv] Margaret Wheatley writes, “We now speak in earnest of more fluid, organic structures, of boundary-less and seamless organizations.”[v] The Church is a whole system. It is a network of individuals who are seeking and learning – it is a learning organism. People in their basic nature are self-organizing.[vi] They do it in different ways but they connect and create society naturally because we are meant to live in community with one another. The foundations of the new infrastructure for the Church will be built upon the self-organizing, self-learning, socially structured mission context in which we find ourselves.[vii] The reorganization will be a catallaxy.
The reorganization will be brought about by a mutual adjustment of the meet-ups, un-conferences, community websites, and crowds that make up the future Church.[viii] Because of our innate ability to have our own biases within the structure, it is difficult to see this self-organizing as anything other than fringe movements. However, they are quickly becoming the mainstream. The Church will have to make a conscious shift to engage at the many levels where it finds its citizenry. The mission organization of the future no longer outsources to a structure or bureaucracy the work that individuals can do for themselves. The professional elite mission organization is now in the hands of a new citizenship that is eager to innovate for the sake of the Gospel of love and reconciliation.[ix]
The present church is just now taking its first messy steps upon the new journey that is leading to the future organization. Everyone has a part in the change. The change is happening, and as the reorganization begins the question is: how will each person act and react in the midst of variation from the norm, chaos, information overload, entrenched behaviors, and new ways of doing Church? The Church is a vessel of a wily Holy Spirit that is moving and creating. The Church is an organism characterized by probabilities and potential. It is an organization to be sure, but organizational thinking in the past has tended towards a mechanistic and deterministic strategy. In today’s culture such organizations are fragile and failing. It is weakened by the VUCA world around it. The future Church will be a Church that possesses tremendous tensile strength, a capacity to grow, to be autopoietic, and to adapt to its new mission context. It must do this because it is always and everywhere made up of people who are not living in a diaspora, but in the midst of the mission context itself.[x]
The Episcopal Church is organized by diocese, and it also has a church-wide structure. We have a way of doing mission together – an economy. Aristotle was the first to use the word economy. He used it to describe “the art of household management.”[xi] Aristotle was trying to explain the way markets worked and drew parallels between the smallest organization and the largest. Originally the term diocese itself (Gr. dioikesis) meant the economy or management of a household.[xii] In Roman law, a diocese was a geographic region dependent upon a city for its administration.[xiii] We might remember here how Ambrose was the governor of the area that included Liguria and Emilia, but he lived in Milan. This is an example of how a diocese is dependent upon its city for administration in the Roman system. Circa the end of the third century, Emperor Diocletian designed twelve dioceses, twelve great divisions, and established them in the empire, and over each he placed a vicarious or vicar.[xiv] It was into this Roman society and form of government that Christianity grew – adopting its terms and organization.
In the beginning there were no particular rules for the organization of the church. It was autopoietic in nature. It was in fact a self-organizing system of communities that were created by the movement of the Holy Spirit, and the spreading of the good news of God in Christ Jesus. The first organization we see deference to the Apostles and their successors. As the Church grew there seems to be some further deference given to the local apostles or apostolic connections. For instance, we see early on James, the brother of Jesus, who is connected with the church in Jerusalem. Most likely the first communities were connected with Jewish communities and synagogues in the cities. They would be organized as such until being kicked out sometime after 70 C.E. There were also societies and other rural movements, as we have previously discussed. The new gentile Christians created communities of their own. We see evidence of this throughout the New Testament. A new Christian might then join a neighborhood community nearby. Most scholars believe that during this nascent beginning of the Christian movement, there was not a lot of organization to be administered. An Apostle during this time or apostolic leader would have simply overseen the community life – this would have been his domain of authority. Like St. James in Jerusalem, we see Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna emerge by the end of the first century as having some organizational authority over the Christian community in these townships. At this time we still don’t have any formal authority over a jurisdiction or its administration. The diocese in these first years does not really exist. The mission of the Church is purely an act of an apostolic leader and growing community. The church is like a grape vine. Christ is the stem, the people are its branches and it is bearing much fruit. (John 15.1-8) There was a great dependence upon the Holy Spirit and its movement upon the Church of the day. We should not overly organize the metaphor that Christ gives us, because for over one hundred years the church quite literally was not much of an organization, and was much more an organism.
In the Church’s second century, as we have already seen in discussions about the Didache and the Apostolic Constitutions, there is a growing set of rules and expectations about the ministry of the Church and a natural turning to the apostolic authority (the bishop) for the oversight of how people come into faith, the administration of the sacraments, and the general teaching of the Church. By the middle of the third century each Christian community of any means had a bishop at its center. At least in the East, these places with Bishops in residence were called the diocese.[xv]
We also know that these bishops and their dioceses seem to have grown up around communities of size and in urban areas. There were bishops in the country districts as well and in smaller towns. These were rural bishops called Chorepiscopi.[xvi] They would eventually be merged into the then more formalized diocese as time passed.[xvii] In Egypt alone by the fourth century there were over one hundred bishops and jurisdictions. This was seen by the list of bishops attending the Council of Alexandria.[xviii] At the same time, the western and northern regions had fewer bishops, and they were more spread out with wider dioceses to oversee.[xix] By the fourth century (about the same time as the Diocletian changes) the diocese and its supervision more closely resembled the Roman government structure. Most cities had a bishop and a territory with boundaries. Not everyone thought this was how it should be. St. Innocent, in 415, did not share the idea that the Church should follow the exact boundaries of the state. Nevertheless by the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the local bishop operated within a diocese that closely resembled the same boundaries defined by the state. The bishop was responsible for the economy of the church for that region. When it was changed by the Roman state, the Church would respond by making modification.[xx]
After settling into this habit of mimicking state geography and organization, it (dioceses?) remained largely unchanged. The bishop was supported by a host of presbyters/priests and deacons. New churches were founded and bishops were put in place to oversee their growth and ministry. The evolution moved from every church having a bishop to the bishop having oversight of priests and deacons, overseeing the local work at the church where the bishop was not present. The role of the bishop shifted from being a leader of a single church to being a geographic apostolic representative.[xxi] It is clear, throughout the writings of the pre-Reformation period, that the purpose of the bishop and the diocesan organization were for the mission of the Gospel.
When the Roman Empire fell at the feet of the invading armies, much of the society turned to the organized Church for support. Bishops Leo I in the fifth century, and Gregory I in the fifth century, were statesmen and public administrators, raising armies, taxing, and overseeing the mission and teaching of the Church. The civil society in the east was stronger politically, and so the bishops did not take on the same powers as in the west. In the west this trend of bishops as a mix of religious and civic authority continued. In many western states the bishops served as chancellors and heads of the court. When we think of the theological education throughout this time period, it is not surprising that the clergy tended to be well educated. The Lord Chancellor of England was almost always a bishop up until the dismissal of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey by Henry VIII.
How a diocese was created, the purpose of the diocesan structure, and the administrative work of the bishop were in large part the same throughout the time of the Reformation and into the post-Reformation period. The Church of England, among other churches, sent clergy over to the new colonies to oversee the mission work and to serve as chaplains to the colonists.
Prior to the American Revolution, The Church of England in the colonies was linked to the diocesan leadership of the Bishop of London. The tradition imparted to the colonies was largely one of an established Christian culture and society where the domain and control of the bishop with his clergy was seen as an ordinary part of both religious and civic society (this being an artificial boundary that they would not have understood). The work of the church was to help govern, to oversee the moral discipline of the people, and to help generally improve society.[xxii] After 1702, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) began missionary activity throughout the colonies. On the eve of the American Revolution, about 400 independent congregations were reported throughout the colonies, with over 300 clergy – most of whom were loyalists to the British Crown.[xxiii]
After the American Revolution the English Church pulled back its mission efforts and the Church looked towards other countries for support. It is important to understand that in this time period the Church of England in the Americas almost died. Because of the varying kinds of churches that had been created across the colonies, the DNA of the American Episcopal Church was not yet set. There were small conventions that met. They gathered local congregations and their leadership together to discuss the issues of mission and organization. There were no bishops. These conventions argued over the importance of having bishops, the nature of the church, and the importance of clergy. In the end, the Episcopal Church in Connecticut elected Samuel Seabury as bishop in 1783. He sought consecration in England but because of The Oath of Supremacy[xxiv], he could not be ordained. So the Church turned to Scotland, and he was ordained in Aberdeen on November 14, 1784.[xxv] Seabury was to be "the first Anglican bishop appointed to minister outside the British Isles".[xxvi] One year later, the American Episcopal Church was ordaining its own clergy.
The fledgling Episcopal Church gathered representatives in its first General Convention in 1789, with representative clergy from nine dioceses meeting in Philadelphia to ratify the Church's initial constitution, thereby becoming the first Anglican Province outside of the British Isles.[xxvii] The Church took on governance that mimicked the new country, and ordered itself in a democratic federalist structure. The church was to be, for the purpose of mission, a constitutional confederacy of interdependent dioceses.[xxviii] It was to be called the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society and it began its first foreign mission in Texas and the West. The challenges in governance in this new era were unity in the face of major differences on liturgy, and tensions between clergy and lay authority. The new Church also struggled with the creation of a prayer book and specifically how were bishops to relate in the wider Church organization. It also faced an important goal of spreading the Gospel across the western frontier. It would resolve most of these differences becoming a strong, powerful, and influential church by the twentieth century. It was the self-organizing of the new Americans that sought to establish and continue the practices of the Church of England in this newly formed country. In the absence of a hierarchy and structure, the people gathered and organized themselves for mission.
America grew and changed over the next century, and the Episcopal Church changed with it. The industrial revolution had a profound impact upon business and corporations. It had an impact upon the Church as well. There was a mutual shared leadership between the wider society and the Episcopal Church. Membership included J. P. Morgan, Astors, Vanderbilts, Harrimans, and Henry Ford.[xxix] These were not always the best examples of Episcopal citizenry. The Church was intermingled with the largest number of leaders in business and banking across the U.S. with its influence continuing into the twenty-first century.[xxx] The twentieth century would be the peak of the Episcopal Church’s self-confidence. It focused its governance on becoming the unofficial national church-- all the while it was engaging in mission in Haiti and all over the world. It was the height of the industrial age, and so the Episcopal Church with its industrial leaders formed itself through further governance standardization. It was concerned with the work of the modern corporation that was command and control, centralization of mission and ministry. The growth of program and administrative bureaucracies would be the hallmarks of this period of organizational change. After all, the Episcopal Church had become one of the largest protestant denominational churches. Membership grew from 1.1 million members in 1925, to a peak of over 3.4 million members in the mid-1960s.[xxxi] This included the dioceses in the U.S. and a multinational mission field that stretched across the globe. In 1930s the Church went through an organizational change, and prayer book revision. The organizational change placed within its governance structures the denominational paradigm of big church with a franchise approach to mission both domestic and foreign.[xxxii]
By the 1960’s the Church had moved into a central Church Office and had a Presiding Bishop CEO model. While the church focused upon racial equality and social justice, the model of governance shifted, as did the governance structures of large successful corporations, and the state, to a form of regulatory agency.[xxxiii] Cultural upheavals, disagreements about women’s ordination, the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy, and continued liturgical revision marked this period. The end of the era, when the world listened to the Church, has meant a lot of time spent at every level continuing legislation in convention that goes largely unheard in wider cultural circles and social context. The new media environment has tended to keep the dysfunction and disunity of the Church on the front page, while the profound impact it is having in terms of social engagement and service is relegated to the back page, if covered at all.
The Episcopal Church, like every large denomination, has decreased in numbers and programs, while not drastically reorganizing for the new mission context or evolving needs of the church and mission it is meant to serve. The bishops and their clergy are inundated with organizational requirements that are artifacts of a bygone industrial era. The focus on hierarchy, structure, and governance that is modeled on a corporate reality that is now over 80 years old no longer works. There is a growing disconnect between those who lead and the grass roots movements of lay mission and service. The Church is still mired in culture wars, wringing its hands over shrinking attendance, and trying to save itself by better budgeting in the wake of shrinking resources. The present past Church organization that exists today continues to look back in an attempt to sustain aging structures, force uniformity over unity, and create diversity by legislation at conventions.
The Task Force on Reimaging the Church (TREC) was created to help guide the church through a new time of reorganization for mission. They released this statement regarding the current state of Church governance: “Yet this ‘national church’ ideal did not stand the test of time, and reductions in the centralized staff and program began in the early 1970s. Since then, The Episcopal Church (like many denominations) has sought to exert influence over congregations and dioceses through church wide regulations, even as the trust that once bound Episcopalians together across structures has eroded.”[xxxiv] TREC then posed these questions: What does a 21st century missionary Episcopal Church need from its church-wide organization? What functions and activities should best take place at the church-wide level, rather than regional or local levels? What should be funded through a centralized budget? What should be mandated for all congregations and dioceses, and what should best be left to local discernment and discretion? Who should participate in what kinds of decisions? What primary challenges can a church wide organization help The Episcopal Church address?”[xxxv]
The organization at the diocesan level and the church-wide level does not serve the new mission context well. In the Diocese of Texas, we recently embarked on a time of reflection and thinking through of our diocesan canons. The unified voice of the committee was summed up in the words of Bishop Harrison who said to our Executive Board, and to me, “The canons describe a Church I no longer recognize.”
The problem with our current situation is that we can see on the one hand that our organization does not work. On the other hand we are invested in how it works now. The problem remains that what we are most afraid of is how change will affect us as individuals, our power, and our authority. Michael C. Jackson, in his text Systems Approaches to Management, writes, "The things we fear most in organizations - fluctuations, disturbances, imbalances - need not be signs of an impending disorder that will destroy us. Instead, fluctuations are the primary source of creativity."[xxxvi] With an understanding that the church-wide organization and the diocese have always found a creative way to undertake its mission, we look from the past into the future.
Let me introduce you to the Coasean ceiling, the Coasean floor, and scalability. Every, and I mean every, organization and institution has operating costs. The church has an economy, an operating cost that is real - time, money, and energy. The Coasean ceiling is the point above which the transaction costs of managing a congregation, a diocese, or a church-wide organization prevent it from working well. The Coasean floor is the point below which the transaction costs of a particular type of activity, no matter how valuable to someone, are too high for the congregation, diocese, or church-wide organization to pursue. Nobel Prize winning economist Ronald Coase, in his 1937 paper “The Nature of the Firm” introduced the world to this key to economic viability.[xxxvii]
The Dutch East India Company was chartered in 1602. It is truly the first organization of its type to figure out how massive scale creates an ability to work between the floor and ceiling. By keeping prices managed within the market, so they are not too high for people to actually purchase merchandise, while at the same time lowering operational cost, the institution itself can increase profits and share of the economy. The Dutch East India Company did just that. They created organizational structures that managed the operational cost between the floor and ceiling.[xxxviii] As other companies followed suit, and their industry grew, new corporate models of the church went along too. Recently, I read the book by Simon Winchester entitled Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded. In it, he made a side comment about how the missionaries followed the trade industry. The growing corporation model influenced the Church, along with its missionary movement of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Accessibility, scalability, and manageability were all part of the diocesan infrastructure concerns for the church as they were with any business. Intentionally or subconsciously, the church has been, for the most part of the last two hundred years, managing to keep its diocese – its economy – within the floor and ceiling Coase describes.
Managers manage the corporate model by helping to build scalability within the organization. Scalability is when the corporation is increasing its reach while doing so at a minimum cost, thereby increasing profits. It is the way of the corporate model. We cannot imagine a Church organization that does not think in terms of managing its economy. We are consistently managing salaries, income, and service to members and to the world. We are managing the Coasean floor and ceiling. When you sit at a vestry meeting, talking about the budget with a Starbucks coffee in your hand you are an example of how this model has affected both industry and the Church.
In his book, Life Inc, Douglas Rushkoff makes the case that “corporatism” has colonized everything. The corporate DNA has saturated our language, our institutions, our non-profits, and our media.[xxxix] The Church in the mid-twentieth century with its mission expansion, growth in programing, growth in staffing and growth in average Sunday attendance was an era of scalability. It was a time when the Church, like every other organization, grew. While many will claim a lot of reasons for the shrinking size of the Episcopal Church in our time, the reason may be as simple as the fact that we have not changed our organization to match the changing missionary context, thereby keeping our economy operating between the floor and ceiling. Technology leader, lecturer, and consultant Clay Shirky points out that it is the same for everyone. It happens all the time. "[Every] institution lives in a kind of contradiction: it exists to take advantage of group effort, but some of its resources are drained away by directing that effort. Call this the institutional dilemma--because an institution expends resources to manage resources, there is a gap between what those institutions are capable of in theory and in practice, and the larger the institution, the greater those costs."[xl] Our dilemma came when we did not keep our focus on the mission, and instead shifted our focus to the organization itself. We have tried to manage ourselves out of the current situation by shrinking our budgets and doing less with less. We turned inward and tried to accomplish keeping everything the same but just doing it for less. Meanwhile the growing cost of doing business kept rising.
The nation’s economy affects everything from the salary of clergy, the giving of parishioners and the budget of the congregation. We looked at these economic effects in chapter two but it is important to have a quick review as we examine the interplay between local congregation and wider Church organizations. What we know is that an overall picture of inflation reveals an average annual inflation rate of 3.22%. This has essentially doubled every 20 years in the last 100. Therefore, an average congregation in the Episcopal Church operating between the Coase’s floor and ceiling has to maintain 64 people every Sunday and an average pledge of $2,491. It cannot lose any members (or their pledges) and it has to add one individual/family every January, which immediately pledges the average amount in order to keep up with the operating cost on a pure inflation model. If a pledging member dies, gets angry, or moves away, then the church must replace two pledgers. This is an impossible task given the shrinking average Sunday Attendance and budgets over the last 50 years. Now add to your mental picture of this difficulty the increase in diocesan and church-wide askings.
Historically, the bishop and the organization have been responsible for the administration of the Church’s mission. The local diocese and church-wide organization has not paid any attention to the congregations’ operating revenues, and their floor and ceiling. Instead they have continued to increase the cost of doing business. Yes, the money has increased, but it is inflationary. The percentages of the diocesan and church wide askings have increased too. Having built program staffs, ministries, committees and commissions, the dioceses also have faced financial crises. This has affected the wider Church organization. We have seen percentages of shared giving up to as high as 21% of income from parishes. This has drained money from the local mission field and moved it up to the wider church structures. No business continues to increase its overall revenue while shrinking the cash in hand to do its work at a local level.
Think of franchising for a minute. The franchise model works this way: You pay an upfront fee for the organization’s business strategy, marketing strategy, operations strategy, and the use of its name. That's pretty much what franchising is -- you are establishing a relationship with a successful business so you can use its systems and capitalize on its existing brand awareness in order to get a quicker return on your own investment. You are using its proven system and name, and running it by its rules. You are getting supplies with a recognizable name at a lower cost because the franchise itself manages the floor and ceiling for you. You are allowed to put your franchise in a location where the franchise believes you will do well and where will be customers. I say all of this because it is important to understand one very basic fact: the diocese and wider church are to do everything it can to make their local churches successful given their missionary context. Any organization that continues to take more and more income in the face of less and less money with higher cost of doing business is essentially cannibalizing its own organization. Since the 1960’s the Episcopal Church, and almost every other denomination, operating in the present past, has effectively mismanaged the Coasean floor and ceiling of its economy.
In order to do its work in the current mission context, it is the responsibility of the mission institution (the diocese and wider Church) to create a shared ministry model that is focused on the local Christian community and its efficient and effective mission work. Over the last 30 or more years, diocesan and wider church leadership have continuously abdicated their responsibility and scapegoated congregations as the primary reason for the failure of mission. In an Episcopal model, it is the responsibility of the Bishop in conversation with the wider Church, to lead the change needed to affect new mission revitalization. The future Church must understand its responsibility, theologically and historically, for the economy of the spiritual household, and must be engaged in a dynamic local partnership with its clergy and congregations/communities.
The future Church will invest in the mission success of its congregations. It will lead with vision and build unity by understanding the shared interests and needs of the organizations under its care. It will created process and procedures that are limited to the needs and success of the local mission context. Always remembering that the local Christian community exists purely for the sake of the reconciling mission of God, the diocese and wider Church will be there to support and help. The future Church must understand that it has to support the local community by doing those things that only the local community cannot do for itself. Many diocese and church wide organizations believe that this is an additive process. The local church cannot do something, so the diocese will do it, and we can all participate. Here is an example: The local church cannot support the program of the lollipop guild, so the diocese picks it up and supports it and budgets for it by using gifts from all the churches/communities for its underwriting. This is well and good in a program model. This is how it worked in the present past Church. The future Church will ask if the lollipop guild is necessary for the success of the mission in the local context and if it is, the wider church underwrites it, and if it is not necessary for the success of local mission, the wider church will not fund it. The future Church must understand it is responsible for multiplying and spreading efforts on the ground that effectively enhance the mission of service and evangelism. If the ministry does not directly enhance the local mission, it will not be taken on by the wider diocese and not funded.
The future Church will be fully aware of the trends we have been talking about and will focus on creating Christian communities that engage the amplified individual. The structures and the governance of the overall organization will be attuned to the trajectory of the “personal empowerment” trends.[xli] The customization that all individuals are used to will be the same customization the diocesan structure must be attentive to. There will be an expectation that a one size fits all program model is not acceptable. The future diocese is aware that interactive media (from Facebook to games like Call of Duty), conscious economic social power (online giving and tweet donations), new commons for shared experiences (foreign missionaries and flash mobs) are all key ingredients to the new amplified church citizen’s world. Just as they are constantly placing themselves and their experiences out in the world, they too expect the organizations they are part of to give them space for mass conversation that participates in organizational direction. These are qualities that are expected from the organizations they interact with - both big and small.[xlii]
The qualities that have emerged in our discussion about the culture and mission context are: self-agency, self-customization, self-organization, and self-learning. We are clear that we are in midst of a massive shift from digital vs. physical, to the digital and physical becoming enmeshed. We know that everything will be tagged so that amplified individuals will be able to find and discover the world around them. These digital natives are our parishioners and our neighbors.[xliii] We know that The Occupy movement and the Arab Spring are only two examples of how amplified individuals and super connected communities will mobilize for the common ideals in the future. Self-organizing mobs are going to become more and more common. Whether networking for politics, to raise disaster relief funds, clean up the community, build something, or discuss a book. Such connectivity will bring with it the power to shape economic markets, politics, and relationships within real-time communities.[xliv] The future Church organization will be accustomed to dealing with how the amplified individuals meet-up and accomplish tasks and set goals. The future Church will know that regular swarms and mobs are the new teams. It will be immersed in and uses the crowd list/friend list and has discarded the Rolodex. It must be aware of how quickly “dark mobs” might emerge and move against the best interest of the organization; therefore, it will be prepared to deal with this eventuality through communication strategies that link the diocese, parishioners and their broader networks together. The Church will understand that such eventualities are an opportunity to be grasped and not something that can be prevented. These are going to happen and the Church must be ready to use these as a teaching moment. The future diocese will engage in the merger of art, gaming, and social structures across physical and digital space – using this as only one of the many mission contexts in which it dwells. It will be involved in creating navigation tools for the complex media environment, personalizing technologies of cooperation and networking, and leading/pushing communication of information and knowledge. Community commons building and connections to any place, any time, learning hubs will be part of the diocesan work.
The church hierarchy in the present church will be challenged to understand that people are directing their own gatherings, and that they are not necessarily going to show up because a program is offered. Gathering is now an option that comes when like-minded individuals create a common space to achieve a common goal. The future church will have to grasp the idea of ministry with people instead of to people. The future diocese will aid congregations to become savvy swarm and mob builders, intimately linked to the broader community and the community conversation. With new technologies evolving, the future church will take the opportunity to better network around skill sets, gifts, and leadership traits across friend’s lists. The future church will returned to an era of being a link, a connection, and a bridge, in a society which values connecting interests with real world tasks and needs.
The future Church must take advantage of the new networking potential of a socialstructured world in order to catapult itself forward into the new missionary age. Yes, like every other modern organization, our economy has been disrupted. The prime cause is the new advent of a self-organizing world – the same thing that is our link to the future. The socialstructured world changes everything, and it changes the possibilities - redefining floor and ceiling of our household economy. Social tools drastically reduce transaction costs. The new tools will be used by the future Church to capitalize on loosely structured groups, to build cohesive strategies where it can no longer afford to have oversight by the full-time ordained.[xlv]
In other words the future Church will beat the Coasean floor by allowing loosely structured groups to self-organize without the transaction cost associated with the large program church of the past. By harnessing the interest of its membership, the future church must figure out that it can structure and govern itself more effectively, thereby leaving dollars in the local context for mission. It can do this by having clear boundaries around the community and the mission projects. It will make joining and participating in the work of the church easy, ensuring that the work that is being done is providing some form of personal value for the individuals involved. The future Church will use these self-organizing groups across the community, building cells of support for congregations and communities. This subdivision and multiplicity of small working mission groups increase the antifragility of the overall organization. Shirky says, "In systems where many people are free to choose between many options, a small subset of the whole will get a disproportionate amount of traffic (or attention, or income), even if no members of the system actively work towards such an outcome. This has nothing to do with moral weakness, selling out, or any other psychological explanation. The act of choosing to spread widely enough and freely enough creates a power law distribution. This explains, among other things, the dynamics (and ultimately the success) of tools like wikis where there is a disproportionate amount of participation by an extremely small percentage of the overall users, while the vast majority contribute little or nothing.”[xlvi] Essentially what the future Church will do so very well is to build an overall collective intelligence in every area of mission, such that there is energy, innovation, and collaboration across the whole network of members and neighbors, thereby harnessing the power of a large group of individuals.[xlvii]
The future Church will have, diocesan leaders, structures and a church wide support system that are essentially built upon the people’s interests and talents that it seeks to serve. The network of the baptized and their neighbors is the network that undertakes the ministry of organization. James Surowiecki points out, in his book The Wisdom of Crowds, that “large groups of non-experts are capable of coming up with wiser solutions that small groups of experts.[xlviii] We, as Episcopalians, believe in the movement of the Holy Spirit and the ministry of all people to work together to accomplish God’s mission. This is a piece of our non-negotiable understanding of what it means to be an Episcopalian. Surowiecki’s research reveals that in fact this belief is not simply a unique Episcopalian-ism but is the very nature of society. Study after study reveal that “naïve” or “unsophisticated” individuals can and will organize in order to accomplish complicated, jointly advantageous goals, though in the beginning they may not be unified or have clarity about the goals themselves. Human beings, regardless of background, can gather and self-organize and move towards a common goal adeptly and quickly.[xlix] The future Church must believe this to be true theologically and must enact it throughout its structure and governance. Holding on to one of the most essential DNA ingredients to our Episcopal way of undertaking our mission – the collaboration of the people of God, the future Church has undermined the specialist theology now gripping the church, and will free itself to once again take on the work of God’s people together.
Did you know that over 10 billion people participate in the creation of a “living earth simulator?” The idea of Swiss scientist Dirk Helbing, the simulator uses the wealth of crowd support to understand how the world works and avert potential crisis. The project website (http://www.futurict.eu) states: “The ultimate goal of the FutureICT project is to understand and manage complex, global, socially interactive systems, with a focus on sustainability and resilience. The living earth simulator uses information from scientists, techno files, and others to build a real-time understanding of the world.”[l] This is one of the most amazing projects I have encountered in my research, and it illustrates how complexity is not limited by crowd participation. The better-known Wikipedia uses about 150 people and thousands of volunteers to build its database. Yes, as it has problems with facts, its accuracy continues to grow and its wealth of information is astonishing. These platforms are creating projects and hubs within the wider information network that engage and enable greater participation by interested people. They reach far greater numbers of people with their participatory commons. These creative commons, Gorbis writes in The Nature of the Future, enable organizations to be guided by their leadership and those who are members of the community in ever-new ways.[li]
The future church will depend upon its leadership, and whole community, to help minimize transaction cost of planning and coordinating activities, by using crowds. These crowds will have some particular qualities to them. The crowd structure will be made up of friends of Jesus, and collectively united around the Episcopal Church vision. The future Church will be technologically savvy. It will develop a standard of quality that reflects the context standards of the day. The future Church will be engaged in helping manage supply chains. It will be collaborative in all things. The future Church structures will be an enmeshment of hardware, software, and people – it will be amplified like its users. It will be characterized by antifragility through a structure that is at once unified, but more often characterized by the diversity of networked communities. It will be focused tightly on the ability, need, and goals of the local congregation. The future Church will be reflective and continually seeking knowledge about its performance and how it can improve its mission support at the local level; and, where it is in error, it will reform itself. Finally, it will have the characteristic of affiliation rather than obligation.
There really are only a few things that a future church will need from its diocesan or church wide structure. The local Christian community will need support for their clergy and leaders to help them lead and undertake their mission locally. The local mission will need the unifying voice of the wider Church to help produce and expand the vision and mission of the Episcopal Church, so that seekers may find representative materials that direct and connect individuals with communities. The local mission will need the purchasing power of the wider Church. The local congregations will need client support for basic business services. Local leadership will help in navigating health, wellness, and insurance in a new age of health care. The wider Church will keep resources locally by spending appropriate resources on governance and structure.
The structures of the future will be judged based on how well they support the local leadership – clergy and laity. The wider church structures will be tasked with making formation at every level accessible, shareable, and useable. Formation is a lifelong process for every person. In the self-learner world, the church must recognize that it needs infrastructure enabling the self-learners to discover more about God, themselves, and the Episcopal community around them. The diversity of types and sizes of communities across the Church will mean that it will be the Church structure’s responsibility to help build the technological infrastructure for this work.
Accessibility for all members and their neighbors will be essential. The information must be shared freely. The present past has certainly been characterized by an age of suspicion and a lack of desire to share widely. The future Church is not only known for its ability to find good quality information but is also known for its willingness to share with others. This will require pushing the edge of translation and provision of information about our church in multiple languages. Useable information at the local context is essential for the first two ingredients to be of any use. The present past church is consistently looking at providing information it believes is important to share. Frequently, this is not the kind of information people need and it is rarely laid out in a way that is useable. The future Church must build a useable fount of information which can be searched, sorted, and retrieved, and of a high quality so that it is desirable to share. No single church can provide this platform; therefore, it falls to the structure of the local diocese and wider church to provide it, because it is essential to everything – service, evangelism, stewardship, and connection. You can see this already at work in the LOGOS project. (http://vimeopro.com/epicentervideos/logos/) The future Church will have more of these projects built and organized for church wide use.
The future diocese will lead in communication strategy. The present past diocese and church wide structures spent money on program ministry offices and groups, the future diocese and structure use the lion’s share of their dollars to fund communication. They will be the leaders in software and network tools. They will be the leaders in providing Internet driven means for pushing information and shaping stories. They are also watching for the cutting edge in communications. The diocese of the future is constantly testing new communication tools and seeing what will work the best for individuals. It will provide training in communication and will help the amplified members of its congregations become better communicators. Money must be spent on front facing websites and technologies that will help connect seekers to local congregations.
The future Church will be responsible for creating training for its clergy and leadership that meets the characteristics above. It will be the leadership’s responsibility to make training available for all people in accessible languages for the raising up of a crowd of Church workers who are eager to take on the mission of God in their local community. The future diocese will be responsible for helping fund, and hold accountable the training organizations and institutions that prepare ministers. Where there are none, it will work with crowds to source and create needed training. Where it exists, the future Church will hold it accountable to producing clergy and leadership at the local level. Resources will shift quickly over the next ten years to an investment in local training of every kind. It is the future diocese and the wider church’s responsibility to provide localized clergy training, so that time and energy are not taken out of the mission field. Moreover, the training for the laity on how to do the work of the church will be essential. The future Church must have: in its tool bag videos and online classes on how to be a pastoral visitor, a lay reader, Eucharistic visitor or chalice bearer, how to run small groups of various kinds, how to serve on a vestry, vestry best practices, how to start up a service ministry, and a host of other raw materials that take the pressure off the local congregation when it comes to providing quality training. This will free up time at the local level to do ministry and allow further lay involvement in the teaching and sharing of the Gospel at every level.
We have talked about the work of unity and having a unifying vision of the future Church and its beliefs. A key piece of the work is for the wider Church and the local diocese to construct platforms for the sharing of this information. It is the wider church’s responsibility to nurture the network nodes and hubs, for better crowd and self-organizing tendencies of the new mission context. Gorbis wrote, “Organizations are: building social production platforms to reinvent themselves, extend their capabilities…expand[ing] internal pipelines, generating engagement, reaching out to new markets and audiences”[lii] The future diocese and wider Church structures will figure out how to crowd source everything from discernment for future leaders, placement of future congregations and communities, to planting of new service ministries. The future diocese especially will use the vast wealth of energy, talent, and on-the-ground information to guide its mission strategy. No longer is it a bishop, or maybe a priest, looking out and seeing that something needs to be done. The future Church will multiply its ability to move and grow and respond by increasing participation on a grand scale. The present Church has spent the last decade building connections. The future Church must harness those connections for the purpose of God’s mission.
The operating costs of doing present past church are far beyond the ceiling, and stewardship no longer covers much of what we can do, so we have turned inward. Outer mission of service and evangelism has all but dried up in the present past Church. Today new life and many new models of community are beginning to emerge. They are using different capital and budget processes to fund mission - bring down the cost. It is the work of the future diocese to create further an operational economy for the business side of the mission model. This means that the future diocese will build purchasing cooperatives for electricity, office products, technology, and computers. The future diocese will ensure that every parish is plugged in with touch screens and high tech cable optics to provide accessible online connection between church leaders, communities, and resources.
The Rt. Rev. Brian Prior, of Minnesota, did just that in his diocese, working out a grant process and deal with Best Buy (a locally owned corporation) to wire the diocese. Every diocese of the future will be released from people’s cast-off 5-year-old computers, and will use the most up-to-date cloud technology and hardware to present material and resources to their people and neighbors. The diocese of the future will figure out new economic models for starting congregations, allow for bi-vocational planters, and find more diverse community start up strategy. We know what the future looks like in terms of church plants. It is the future diocese that will take those models and create easy to use plans, strategies, and step-by step manuals. Every community can begin another community. Small batch communities will spring up all around as our churches are freed to do mission. Every community can begin a service ministry with their neighbors. Every community can rethink its connection to the community. The future diocese provides the guiding support for this work. The diocese will bridge the gap for the start-up’s space needs: by negotiating for the new community public space usage, finding office space and build-to-suit leasing options, by decreasing the cost of erecting a first building (like the new model church in the Diocese of Texas which costs $500,000 and seats 190 people), and by networking diocesan-wide crowd funding. The future diocesan and church wide structures will use their collective power to buy down operating cost for the purpose of increasing mission dollars.
The future diocese will be a clearinghouse for congregational leadership support regarding business services. The cost of doing business, and the complexity of business with banks and auditors, are expensive. Meanwhile, transparency and higher standards of reporting will increase. It is my belief that in the future, the Church will have to prove its non-profit status to the government for purposes of showing that it contributes to the community. We already see these battles taking place. On an annual basis in Texas, hospitals have to show that their community benefit is equal to or greater than their tax relief in order to maintain their nonprofit status. I think the same types of reporting will increase across the country for any organization wishing special options regarding tax status. Fraud within the non-profit community is also raising standards, and even Congress is concerned about governance issues within the non-profit sector. The future diocese will provide client services to its member churches and communities by building capacity through shared business service applications. It will build banking templates for budgeting a congregation’s finances. It will negotiate and build unified accounts with payroll companies that ensure all employees are paid through the same service at a cheaper rate. It will create unified investing co-ops, enabling larger, more complex investment strategies for large and small endowments. It will deploy a unified audit so that congregations of different sizes can have excellent governance regarding their funds. The future diocese will centralize services for banking, and deploy advocates from diocesan centers that can help run the business part of a local church’s operations. It will provide coaching that is provided online, via real-time video, and onsite that will improve the best business practices of any given congregation. This will free up time and money at the local level for mission work. Fund management is one of the most vulnerable places within the overall financial system of the Church, and the smallest congregations are some of the most vulnerable. Liability and legal counsel will be part of the service work of the wider Church, as will disaster response and crisis management. Similar to the financial client service packages, these too, will be areas where collaborative networking of resources will benefit the whole organization, if successfully underwritten by the whole and then shared.
We already do joint health insurance coverage on a diocesan basis. The last few decades have been marked by the increase in the cost of health care. Most of the focus has been on providing inexpensive coverage to clergy and their families. This has been done, in large part, by sharing cost with the clergy, and building larger pools of the insured in order to diversify the actuarial tables and create a less vulnerable health care cost pool. The future diocese must recognize that tinkering with formulas and money are not the only way to have a healthy and effective clergy and leadership team. Therefore, the diocesan-wide structures will work to create well communities of clergy, their families, and all individuals under their care. Church wide leadership has to help the individuals it employs to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This will mean advocating for rest, time off, and sabbaticals. It will mean working to ensure regular check-ups, exercise, and nutrition.
The future diocese and church wide structure will also deal with the issues of governance. The present past church is heavily invested in governance. In my opinion, too much money, energy, and time is spent on ineffective governance and outdated structures of the church. We spend an inordinate amount of time passing resolutions created by a few people, and then voted on by a few people, which in the end has little or no effect in the halls of government. Our governance is today ineffective at bringing about social change at the highest levels of our society, and we continue the masquerade that these resolutions that impact social change. Meanwhile, we have abdicated our real work at the local level of service and evangelism. Regardless of how much we like winning legislative debates, these debates and the policies and unfunded mandates that often accompany them, do not create changed hearts. In fact they make more fragile systems with a false sense of uniformity. They don’t serve the mission of reconciliation well.
We have the best scientifically managed system of governance that you can buy - if you live in the nineteenth century. The last reform of our governance structure was undertaken in 1930 under the leadership of Episcopalian George Thurgood Marshall - and it failed. Robert Haas, former CEO of Levi Strauss, describes the potential of our world of governance as an opportunity for change. With semblance of hope he offered, in a 1990 interview, “We are at the center of a seamless web of mutual responsibility and collaboration, a seamless partnership, with interraltionships and mutual commitments.”[liii] To do governance as a seamless partnership is to undertake the true Episcopal ideal of mutual and collaborative work on behalf of our neighbor. This is to do real justice work hand in hand with others, around shared and potentially transformative service ministry. Sir Isaac Newton’s science, and later the Industrial Revolution, created an opportunity for entrepreneurs to give birth to a governance structure that mimicked what they saw in the mechanical innovation of their time and in the science of their age.[liv] Wheatley writes, in her book The New Science, “Marrying science with the art and craft of leadership was a way to give more credibility to this young and uncertain field. (This courtship continues today in full force, I believe from the same motivation.)”[lv] Wheatley believes that the new science of quantum theory teaches us that the self-organized system is one that is playful and free. It is a system where everyone has a chance to participate and have a voice. Self-organization is a key ingredient to all life. Yet, instead of creating chaos, organisms have a peculiar kind of life together that is mutually supportive and communal. Humanity can work the same way – its governance structures can work the same way.[lvi] This is of course the model for an antifragile style of governance. Gorbis in The Nature of the Future writes, “Our technology infrastructure, the new levels of data and information at our disposal, and our urgent need to create new patterns of governance in line with today’s level of scientific knowledge make it possible…to restore the democratic process to ‘we the people,’ to make the policy process more deliberative, more democratic, and more transparent.”[lvii] The task for structures in the future will be less about command and control and more about invitation and making space for freedom and creativity. Success will be gauged on how well the structures return the work to the people at all levels of the organization – broadening participation. Future Church governance will have been transformed from the work of the few on behalf of the many to the work of the many.
[i] .” Nobelprize.org. September 10, 1974.
[ii] Anderson, 143.
[iv] Wheatley, New Science, 15.
[vii] Gorbis, 210.
[viii] Gorbis, 210. Hayek’s means are listed by Gorbis in The Nature of the Future. The nature of Catallaxy used here is from Hayek’s work. Hayek, F.A. Law, Legislation, and Liberty, Vol. 2, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 108–9.
[ix] Gorbis, 210. Adapted from Gorbis’ thoughts on the new economy and organization.
[x] Wheatley, New Science, 15. Adapted.
[xi] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans J. A. K. Thomson, (New York: Penguin Classics, 2004) 32.
[xiv] Real-Encyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, s.v. “vicarious” (Stuttgart, 1903) V, 1, 716.
[xv] Op cit. “The Apostolic Canons (xiv, xv), and the Council of Nicæa in 325 (can. xvi) applied this latter term to the territory subject to a bishop. This term was retained in the East, where the Council of Constantinople (381) reserved the word diocese for the territory subject to a patriarch (can. ii). In the West also parochia was long used to designate an episcopal see. About 850 Leo IV, and about 1095 Urban II, still employed parochia to denote the territory subject to the jurisdiction of a bishop. Alexander III (1159-1181) designated under the name of parochiani the subjects of a bishop (c. 4, C. X, qu. 1; c. 10, C. IX, qu. 2; c. 9, X, De testibus, II, 20).”
[xvi] Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. "Chorepiscopi" (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1913).
[xxii] Dwight Zscheile, “Episcopal Church in context, Episcopal structure in Context, Rethinking Church wide organization in a New Apostolic Era, ” doi http://www.provinceiv.org/images/customer-files/ZscheileSynod.pdf
[xxiii] David Hein and Gardiner H. Shattuck Jr., The Episcopalians (New York: Church Publishing, 2004), 52.
[xxiv] An American, Seabury was not willing to take an oath to be loyal to the king.
[xxv] Robert Prichard, History of the Episcopal Church (New York: Church Publishing, 1999), 88.
[xxvi] Arthur Carl Piepkorn, Profiles in Belief: The Religious Bodies of the United States and Canada (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), 199.
[xxvii] Episcopal Ministry: The Report of the Archbishops' Group on the Episcopate, (London: Church House Publishing, 1990), 123.
[xxix] Peter W. Williams, America’s Religions: From Their Origins to the Twenty-first century (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2008), 264ff.
[xxx] B. Drummond Ayres Jr. "The Episcopalians: an American elite with roots going back to Jamestown,” The New York Times. December 19, 2011.
[xxxi] Prichard, 313.
[xxxvi] Michael C. Jackson, Systems Approaches to Management (New York: Springer Science & Business Media, 2000), 77.
[xxxvii] Ronald Coase, “The Nature of the Firm,” Economica 4, no 16 (1927): 386-405. As quoted in Gorbis, 32.
[xxxviii] Ibid, 33.
[xxxix] Douglas Rushkoff, Life Inc: How Corporatism Conquered the World and How We Can Take It Back, (New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2011). As quoted in Gorbis, 33.
[xl] Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody, (New York: Penguin, 2009), 21.
[xli] 2008-2018 Map.
[xlvii] Gorbis, 30.
[xlviii] James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds (New York: Random House, 2004). As quoted by Gorbis, 30.
[xlix] Surowiecki, 137.
[l] Gorbis, 110.
[li] Ibid, 113.
[lii] Ibid, 30.
[liii] Robert Howard, “Values Make the Company: An Interview with Robert Haas,” Harvard Business Review, Sept.-Oct. 1990, 133-144.As quoted in in Wheatley, New Science, 158.
[liv] As quoted in by Wheatley in NS, 159. Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs and Margaret C Jacob, Newton and the Culture of Newtoniansim (New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1995).