Are you an Apple church or a Samsung church?
What is the Church? Most modern Christians I know would give the answer, the body of Christ. I would agree with that statement, but oftentimes problems arise when the organization tries to take it to the next level – however you might define that – by buying buildings, producing programs, hiring pastors and so on. This is what I will be examining. There is a church cycle like there is a business cycle. Ideally, the church will be growing over time with ups and downs. No one argues this point, but the question is, how should a church best organize to accomplish this?
The company Apple was founded by Steve Jobs on the idea that the consumer needs to be shown what they want. This is illustrated by a famous Steve Jobs quote when he said, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them,” or as portrayed in the movie bearing his name, “How can someone tell you what they want if they have never seen it?” This type of organization is one that produces a vision and then creates products in line with their vision. Ideally, their market will purchase it and the business will grow.
This is probably the most common church organization. It has an elder board, like a board of directors, that works with the pastor to create the vision and then see if the members buy in. If they buy it, then in theory, the church will experience growth. If not, then they will contract and be forced to examine their vision or eventually be no more. I recently had a conversation with someone from one of these types of churches who told me that the members of the church did not have a vote in church decisions but could only “vote” with their dollars and with their feet by getting up and leaving.
The company Samsung is famous for reacting to the signals that the market sends. For years they have designed phones that are based on consumer preferences, many of which can actually be programmed. As the consumer preferences change, what they offer changes with it.
This is a much less common version of church organization. It can have an elder board, which in many respects looks the same as the Apple church. The difference lies in how they find out what to be passionate about. They rely more on what the members in the church have as strengths and interests and then play on those. Recently I had a conversation with an individual from this type of church who told me that their church had gained a passion that they had not intended to gain because of an organic type of growth from the passions of their members.
Authoritarian growth vs Organic growth
Truly what this boils down to is the old argument that has been going on for many generations. Who has the knowledge? To paraphrase the economist Thomas Sowell in A Conflict of Visions: Knowledge is either viewed as highly fragmented or highly concentrated. If it is highly concentrated, then the decisions should rest in the hand of those who are in charge. If highly fragmented, then it should rest in those who are being governed. The term for the vision which prevails when the knowledge is highly concentrated was dubbed “the vision of the anointed”, while the other is called “the tragic vision”.
The authoritarian structure can be very powerful and some of these types of things have endured for many generations. The problem is that they do not do two things well: identify and adapt to changing circumstances. Consider the havoc that Amazon has wreaked on the brick and mortar stores, many of which have not been able to see or respond to the changing consumer demands fast enough. As Victor Hugo said, “Nothing can stop an idea when it is time.”
This is the specialty of the Samsung church. They are able to quickly see and identify the passions and talents of their members and move on them before they simply leave and go to another church. Use it or lose it, right?
There is actually an economic rule at play here. It’s called Opportunity Cost. The idea is that the real price of anything is the price of the thing you have to forgo in order to have it. In the church example, the authoritarian church gets structure and organization and pays for it by trading off the ability to move fast and grow in the organic way I described before. Of course, the question is what do you want? There is a fear in leadership, which may go back as far as the middle ages, that people are not to be trusted with truth. Could this be holding back the church?
As a pragmatist, I like the nimbleness of the Samsung Church. I also have an affinity for “the tragic vision”. It puts the choice in the hands of those who are most affected by that choice. In viewing the landscape, I see that the old system is having major problems keeping up with the ever more rapidly changing environment.
It is really a question of trade-offs, which each of us has to decide for ourselves.