Thanks to Joe (JR) for pointing me to research that gives a name to the type of organization that we are part of. The researcher, Josh Packard, is studying organizations that resist the natural tendency to institutionalize. He calls these types of organizations “Resistant Organizations”.
This is how Josh describes his research:
My organizational interests focus on people who attempt to construct organizations which can manage to coordinate complex and repeated activities, such as worship services, without becoming institutionalized or relying on taken for granted patterns of thought and behavior. I call these organizations resistant organizations. Organizational theories suggest that as an organization grows or persists over time, its activities and structures will gradually come to resemble those of the dominant organizations in the field. I argue that it is possible to resist institutionalization by intentionally utilizing specific structures, organizational processes and developing ideologies which guard against the establishment of taken for granted patterns and routines. In the course of identifying these specific strategies and mechanisms I work toward a theory of organizational resistance. The result is a more accurate understanding of the range of organizational possibilities.
But, how does a church maintain organization without becoming institutionalized? Josh has some suggestions about that as well. He says the church should work through “the labor of the willing“:
Activities and events were not organized or put on by the church staff for the congregants, but rather the congregants organized events and gatherings for themselves. A labor force of the willing consists of three distinct components. First, activities are initiated by the congregants. Second, the activity is maintained without interference from the official church staff. Finally, in order to avoid institutionalization, the activity is allowed to end or dissolve when there is no longer sufficient interest from the organizer. In other words, relying on a labor force of the willing means that programs are not continued because “that’s the way things have always been done.”
While we haven’t had a name for it (until now), this is the way that we’ve tried to organize as a church. We encourage people to serve God and serve others using the gifts and opportunities that God provides. We as a church – and as church leaders – offer support and encouragement. We, as leaders, do not decided which program we will do as a church. Instead, the church decides how God wants them to serve. We, as leaders, are not responsible for making sure that everything happens. Instead, the church is responsible for serving God.
This has offered some great opportunities that the leaders never would have imagined. We have seen people serve in their workplaces, in their neighborhoods, in low income areas, in nursing homes, in nutrition, in health, in hospitality, in so many ways. And, the people were excited about what they were doing because it was “their” service. When the opportunity ended, then the “program” (for lack of a better term) ended as well. The people involved would then look for another way to serve God and serve others.
We’ve also had a few people who wanted to serve through “traditional” programs. We’ve had Bible studies, children’s Bible studies, and even a children’s choir. But, again, its the people who decide how they want to serve. The leaders do not choose methods of service and then try to recruit people to do the service. In fact, the leaders are also responsible for determining how God wants them (the leaders) to serve.
This method of service has led to some interesting conversations, especially with people who “visit” us from more traditional churches. Do you have children’s programs? Do you have youth programs? Do you have a visitation program? We then explain that we encourage people to serve however God has gifted them and in whatever opportunities God provides them. The church then offers support, whether it is training, financial, resources, etc. So, if someone wants to start something for children or youth or evangelism, then we would support that. This explanation is usually met with confusion.
Believers are not accustomed to deciding for themselves how to best serve God and serve others. Instead, they’re more accustomed to their leaders telling them how to serve God, and the trying to fit themselves into slots of service provided by the church. They are accustomed to leaders who function more as cheerleaders and recruitment officers than as fellow servants.
Yes, it is a different form of organization. But, it is a way to organize. And, like the researcher suggested, we’ve found that this form of organization and leadership helps the organization stay away from institutionalization.