While we were in India, several times the main leader we work with there (who has seen hundreds of thousands of people baptized this year in his network), mentioned that the key to the growth they have seen was the building of infrastructure before they needed it. Since then, Tony and I have spent many hours discussing this.
According to Wikipedia, "Infrastructure is the basic physical and organizational structures needed for the operation of a society or enterprise, or the services and facilities necessary for an economy to function. The term typically refers to the technical structures that support a such as roads, water supply, sewers, power grids, telecommunications, and so forth."
So the question we have been asking ourselves is this: What is the basic infrastructure needed for a sustainable move of God? By this, I mean what are the unseen (and therefore receiving no glory), practical factors that facilitate a move of God?
Our Indian friend was primarily referencing the leadership training they have had in place for several years. They recognize six levels of leadership and training.
- Working at a grass-roots level by starting a house church
- Leading a cluster of house churches in a block of 150 villages
- Leadership of several clusters of house churches
- Master trainers at a district level
- Master trainers at a state level
- Master trainers at an international level
Each level is responsible for training others, so for example, the master trainer at a state level is responsible for training those at a district level who is in turn responsible for training the leaders of the clusters of house churches in his area. There are more than twenty key subjects that everybody is trained in although at different depths according to their function. These twenty key subjects are basic but with a very missional emphasis. Everybody is brought together for several days of training per year. Even an illiterate woman leader is able to expound on these subjects including chapter and verse.
My sense is that this level of organization is probably not good in an American context with our propensity for control and competition. What does anyone else think?
So what would infrastructure look like here in a Western context?
Infrastructure enables growth and communication. We share some infrastructure with the secular world in the shape of the Internet–websites, blogs, twitter etc. that enable communication that can have a profound spiritual impact. Groups such as CMA produce great resouces (go to a Greenhouse training if you haven't yet been to one. You can find details here). We are in the process ourselves of resurrecting our Luke 10 courses too. We have one planned for a weekend later this month. Details about future ones will come out in the House2House e-letter.
Here are some other areas that infrastructure might cover:
- materials that enable growth such as DVDs, books
- shared resources, finance
Any other ideas?
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11 replies on “What does the Infrastructure of a Movement Look Like?”
Great subject and tons to think about. The training aspect of an infrastructure is very important. You have got to have leaders who are grounded in the Word.
One thing we keep in mind in Brazil is whether or not our methods and materials are reproducible. We strive to keep it simple. We look at the amount of knowledge one must have to reproduce a teaching. We look at how much it costs to reproduce material, as some of the folks we work with are very poor.
I also wonder about other areas in which infrastructure is needed. How does communication flow throughout the network? Is the networked so inter-related that an urgent prayer request from one place could reach everyone in the country? What is the relationship between the national level leaders and the leader of a single house in a village?
It looks like I have more questions than answers.
Blessings – Stan
If you have any training, you are welcome to post information on it on the Evangelical Training Directory at http://www.trainforChrist.org/english. Click on “Register your training organization, and then fill in the information. This will then be available world-wide through many sites. Thanks.
The International Missionary Training Network
World Evangelical Alliance Missions Commission
I’m really glad that you (and Tony) are keeping this issue of infrastructure before us. Seems to me that one of the first questions that must be asked is – are we talking about the infrastructure of a spider (centralized) or a starfish (decentralized) organization? Both have infrastructures but they function very differently. (See “The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations” by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom)
From what you’ve told us about India, it sounds like their model is closer to the spider model. There is a hierarchy (from international level down to house church level). The content (20+ key subjects) is largely controlled from the center (or top). In many ways this is similar to Cho’s model with cell churches. Clearly, this approach has many benefits and has produced much fruit. However, it is also important to identify possible drawbacks to the spider model. One of these is, as you mentioned, that it might not be appropriate in the American context.
On the other hand, conversation and experimentation about the infrastructure of a starfish type organization would also be very helpful. For instance, one starfish principle is: “an open system (starfish) doesn’t have central intelligence; the intelligence is spread throughout the system.” One structure that this leads us to is called “a community of practice” where the teaching/learning is from within the organization. In other words, everyone is teaching everyone else. (See “Supporting Pioneering Leaders as Communities of Practice: How to Rapidly Develop New Leaders in Great Numbers” by Margaret J. Wheatley) You can readily see how different this infrastructure is from the master teacher approach in India.
Another characteristic of a starfish is that there is constant experimentation. Currently, within our organization (called LK10.com) we are beginning a three month starfish-type experiment with apostolic leaders in at least seven locations (Chicago, Abilene, Denver, Guadalajara, Mexico City, Albuquerque/NM, Houston. Still waiting to hear from Hawaii and Boston and New Zealand.) Called the MRT Experiment, this involves only two things. First, a weekly meeting of at least two church planters in that location where they engage in two simple spiritual practices. Second, participation in the larger community of practice.
Lots more to be said about the infrastructure of a starfish organization. I would love to dialogue further with anyone who is interested in this approach.
LK10 – a community of practice for church planters
Interesting post and good comments from readers. This is one subject that definitely needs more attention. In our own case we have suffered from not having a healthy understanding of the kind of structure needed to sustain an emerging movement of simple churches. The “glue” that has kept us together so far has been training. But much more needs to be done in our own context if we are to begin to break out of the lower levels and move into more of a sustained and growing movement.
I think that the Internet could be used much more for support of Western house church movements. The approach initially can be anonymous and therefore no control is possible. Then when trust is build a closer relation can grow and more personal contact will be possible. The site(s) should have a community character and all the media you mentioned before should be available for free. When it is not for free, then again there will be a shipping address and possible control.
The word chaotic is used. What to us seems chaotic, can in fact be a plan of God. When we let ourselves be led by the Holy Spirit, we will not know always where he is leading (like the wind) but there is a plan behind it that makes sense, not always to us, but it does to God. This can be key in the West people that are afraid of control. In stead of trying to organise things and control others, we should learn to surrender to Him.
John White mentioned the spider/starfish idea. Organisations and organisms can both have structures that are more or less centrally managed or fully distributed. But I don’t think we should see this as an either/or situation. Rather, there is a continuum and most organisations and organisms have elements of both. Both have advantages, both have drawbacks.
But John didn’t explicitly mention the Church of Two (CO2) concept. It seems to me this is invaluable as an element of infrastructure in church life. Read about it at http://storiesfromtherevolution.blogspot.com/
Thanks for the great comments everyone! This is worth more blogposts
There has been a contrast made between the starfish systems that are springing up in the West and the master-trainer/spider-type approach in the East.
Another interesting contrast is that in the East, many simple organic churches were intentionally started amongst people who beforehand did not know Jesus, whereas the ones we have referred to in the West are people who heard from God independently (christians?) and began meeting in an organic way!
Does this have any bearing on the discussion?
Christians hearing from God through the Spirit and responding by meeting organically may be an entirely different thing to Christians intentionally planting the gospel across whole nations and people groups resulting in rapid church planting movements amongst indigenous peoples.
How do these differences bear on any discussion concerning infrastructure?
Interesting thoughts, Pete. We are dealing primarily with more mature Christians with many years of teaching. We are also dealing primarily with a literate culture as opposed to the oral culture of India. (Having said that, an increasing number, especially of younger people, are oral learners by choice.)
However, I suspect that part of it is the Western (American) propensity to package and market, and then base our success on numbers (dollars, people and real-estate). Maybe the Lord is deliberately going counter-cultural with this.
Your comment that “We are dealing primarily with more mature Christians with many years of teaching” reminds me of another possible insight about the unique nature of church in America. It may be that there is a significant similarity between our situation and that of the Jews in the first three centuries.
Rodney Stark (“The Rise of Christianity”) tells us that in the first century there were about 60 million people in the Roman Empire. Perhaps as many as 6 million were Jews and 5 million of them lived outside of Israel (ie, the diaspora). By 300 AD there were 6 million Christians. How can this be explained?
The first factor is that a great many Jews and “God fearers” (uncircumcised Gentiles who worshipped with the Jews) were increasingly discontent with “church” as they had known it. The wanted to worship Yahweh and study Torah but were less and less interested in circumcision, the dietary laws, etc. This was especially true for the 5 million outside of Israel.
The second factor is that a great many of these Jews were already familiar with the home as the center of spirituality. Robert Heidler (“The Messanic Church Arising”) says, “Because of the Jewish tradition of family worship, it was normal for almost any believer to feel comfortable leading in prayer, worship, and the discussion of God’s word. This provided the early church with a large pool of potential leaders. When 3000 people were added to the church in Acts 2, most of these men and women came into the church already accustomed to taking spiritual leadership in a “home group” setting.” (p. 61) The early church exploded across the Roman Empire because there was already a huge pool of spiritual moms and dads ready to start and lead spiritual families (house churches).
Possible parallel with America today… We have a huge pool of potential spiritual moms and dads who are saying, “We love Jesus but we just can’t continue doing church the way we have in the past. There must be something more.” (I hear that phrase from someone almost every week.) Considering the rapid growth of people in house churches in the last 10 years (from close to 0 to 7%), perhaps we are seeing something similar to what happened in the early church.
Is this true? If it is true, what are the implications?
Great insights, John. I think we could easily be dealing with parallels with the scattered Jewish communities of the first century. I’m also pondering a comment that Kate Baker made in response to this post on facebook about a “holy infrastructure.” She also made the point that discipleship is part of infrastructure.
It will be very interesting to see where this conversation goes.