the weblog of Alan Knox

How much organization is necessary?

Posted by on Mar 19, 2009 in community, fellowship, gathering | 13 comments

According to WordNet, the word “organization” carries a broad range of meanings:

  • A group of people who work together
  • A structure for arranging or classifying
  • The persons (or committees or departments etc.) who make up a body for the purpose of administering something
  • The act of organizing a business or an activity related to a business
  • An ordered manner; orderliness by virtue of being methodical or well organized
  • The activity or result of distributing or disposing persons or things properly or methodically
  • The act of forming or establishing something

As I’ve said on this blog many times, whenever two people get together for any reason, there is a type of organization. This type of “organization” is related to the first definition above: “a group of people who work together”.

When it comes to the church, when God’s people get together there is organization (per definition 1 above). The question, however, how much organization is necessary? As my regular readers probably know, I suggest that group of people use as little organization as they can. Why? Because organization and structure tend build on themselves, such that the organization and/or structure becomes the primary factor. In other words, as organization grows uncontrolled, the people can become lost – commodities – resources to be distributed or disposed of (see definition 5 above).

So, how much organization is necessary for the church?

For the last four years, three couples that we know very well have been meeting together. They get together almost every week – usually on Friday, occasionally on Thursday or Saturday, and sometimes not at all. Sometimes, they intentionally invite other people to meet with them. Sometimes people drop in on them unexpectedly. Our family has both been invited to join them on occasion, and dropped in unexpectedly and unannounced on occasion.

Each week, they meet at a different location – usually one of their homes. They have different plans each week. They usually eat together, although different couples provide the food each time. Sometimes they have a full meal together; sometimes just dessert.

In the description above, it is clear that organization is involved. The organization includes when to meet, where to meet, what to do, what to eat, who will cook, etc. But, here’s the thing, there is no overriding organizational plan or model. They make these organizational decisions together based on who is available, what they’re available to do, and when they can do it. They purposefully choose not to set these decisions down in organizational stone because they want to be flexible enough to adapt to the changing needs of the people involved.

If someone can’t get together on Friday at 7:00, they change the time to 8:00, or they change they day to Thursday. The people are more important than the plan or organization.

In a few weeks, we’re planning to begin meeting with a group of people for fellowship, Bible study, meals, etc. We’re planning to meet on Saturday nights at 6:00, and we’re going to alternate meeting locations. We’re planning to study Scripture together. We’re planning to invite other people to join us whenever they can.

We realize that all of this involves organization. But, we also realize that there will be times when Saturday night at 6:00 is not a good meeting time. We realize that there will be times when we have to change meeting locations. We realize that there will be occasions when we need to change the Scripture passage that we’re studying.

The question that we must ask ourselves is how much organization is necessary for this group, and at what point will organization begin harming the group?

We’ve determined that there is something more important than organization: communication. Communication and organization are related, but not equivalent.

I believe, because of the increased ability to communicate today, less and less organization is necessary for the church to function. We will be using telephone, email, facebook, and other methods to communication information about our Saturday evening meetings.

We want only enough organization to help us maintain community, but not as much organization that it begins to hinder community. This may be a fine line.

What do you think? How much organization is necessary? At what point does organization (too much or too little) become dangerous to the church?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 3-19-2009

    I promise I will try to keep this short.

    The point of “gathering” is to spur “one another” to love and good deeds. To edify, build up the church.

    When we meet we focus on the call to:

    1Cor. 14 Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation.

    Col. 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

    When there is no one or two “leading” the discussions, picking the topic or choosing the books, it leaves us open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. It is then you check yourself with the passages of scripture cited above.

    Most of us are hauling around baggage from current church culture. It is far too easy to sit back and let the “leaders” lead the meeting. We confuse what a leader is and does, from a “see my life up close and personal? follow me as I follow Christ” to, “this is what this means, now go and do it.”

    When people first heard of what we were going to be doing, the objections leaned to the idea that if we didn’t have a leader then we would be in danger of becoming a cult or in major error. All the cults I could think of or all the churches in major error, started with a leader and a group of supportive elders.

    If the Bible wasn’t sitting in nearly every one’s lap, if the large majority of the people meeting were not professed Christians with discernible fruit, gathering in His name, then yeah, lack of organization beyond who is bringing the wine, may very well be dicey but then, is that a gathering of the church?

    The fear of possible chaos oughtnt to cause us to go against what Scripture calls us to, or it oughtnt to cause us to quench the Holy Spirit.

    Well I may have broken my promise. And it may be disjointed and vague but I hope it isn’t.

  2. 3-19-2009

    I move that this post be open for discussion on the floor.

    Does anyone second this motion?

    All in favor say I.

    OK, now we are free to discuss organization for awhile… until someone moves that this discussion is closed. 🙂

    (forgive me if I got the lingo wrong – I’m not an expert at the legalities how church meetings sometimes function.)

  3. 3-19-2009

    I find this a fascinating post, Alan, because it would lead towards church being a lot more relaxed and informal and necessarily on a smaller scale than the current tendency towards church success being seen in larger numbers gathering in auditoriums. That’s just an observation.

    I can see why communication to sustain community would take priority over organisation that snuffs out real intimate community. There are some developments where I am that will see these principles put into practice and I hope to keep you informed as to how that progresses.

    Thanks for the thoughts and words in action.


  4. 3-19-2009

    how much organization is required to get family together? yeah you have to make plans including date, time, location and so on, but when your together there is no format to what you’re going to say to each other or how you will interact. organization on a where and when level seems reasonable but beyond that it seems to create a fake environment with fake fellowship.

  5. 3-19-2009

    I guess the overarching question is, does increasing organization help or hinder fellowship? As my view on this have changed, I have to say that it has been my experience that in general more organization, more hierarchy, more institutionalization raises barriers to fellowship.

  6. 3-19-2009

    I suppose it all depends on how large the group is. A small group such as you are describing has much more flexibility than a church like mine which is made up of 5,000 families.

  7. 3-19-2009

    If I may, I would just say ditto to Dan and Author’s comments.

    I was going to use the family reference, but Dan already did a good job of that.

    Granted I still see the church in smaller groups being a better scenario in order to avoid too much organization. When you get to big then there is the tendency for more organization to the 2nd degree. It then becomes a company like a corporation instead of a family reunion.

  8. 3-19-2009

    Sorry Athur, I misspelled your name sir.

  9. 3-19-2009

    I think I recently wrote this on my blog, but if I didn’t I know I’ve been thinking it a lot. It’s not directly in response to your overarching question, but these thoughts encourage me to answer your question in this way: not a lot.

    We are in the Kingdom of God. It seems everything is upside down in the Kingdom. I think that for the Church to be “big” it has to get small. I think we’ve turned church into something the world would create, not what God gives.

    Small groups are where Christ-likeness gets played out. And it is where discipleship happens.

  10. 3-19-2009

    Love this line:

    “as organization grows uncontrolled, the people can become lost – commodities – resources to be distributed or disposed of”

    so true, it’s pretty disheartening to wake up one morning and realize you’re more like a cog in a machine, than a member in God’s eternal family. But, then again, if I hadn’t experienced that feeling, I don’t know if my eyes would’ve ever been opened to God’s true design for His Body…

  11. 3-19-2009

    I am kind of confused at some of the experiences that you guys have had at church. That is completely not my experience despite being in a parish which is incredibly large.

  12. 3-19-2009

    “How much organization do we need in the church?”

    I would agree with your “bottom line” assessment Alan. I put it like this.

    I liken it to the systems in the human body… WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THIS SUMMARY?

  13. 3-19-2009

    Hey everyone. Sorry I haven’t been able to respond tonight. I read everyone’s comments, and I appreciate the interaction with this post. Unfortunately, we just returned home, and I need to do a few things to prepare for tomorrow.