ORGANIZATIONAL BEHAVIOR & My Guide to How Org. Size Affects Organizational Behavior, Structures & Management

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 6/29/16.

To lead an organization, you must first understand how the organization “behaves” and then begin to “manage” the “organizational behavior.”  Here are comments about church organizational size, behavior and management edited together here from my writings.

Organizational Behavior & Structure

To lead an organization you must begin by analyzing how the organization behaves.  It is like a child, you adjust your parenting as they grow and behave differently.  So, to lead a church effectively you must first step back and watch how the organization behaves.

The first step in doing so is to look at how the church is made up of many smaller groupings.  Some of these groupings are small groups (around 12 people, but they can get larger), clusters (groups of 20-75 with an extended family focus) and sub-congregations (group of 30-150, notice the overlap) that function as tribal group focusing (usually) around celebrations.

Three Organizational Structures in Most Churches

Small groups:

  • Size: around 12 people, but they can get larger
  • Focus: intimacy, accountability
  • Ministry: UP-IN-OUT (typically):
    • IN = strong
    • UP = moderate
    • OUT = weak

Cluster:

  • Size: groups of 20-75, usually a cluster of formal (or informal) small groups
  • Focus: an extended family feel of interreliance and task orientation.
  • Ministry: UP-IN-OUT (typically):
    • IN = moderate
    • UP = moderate
    • OUT = strong

Sub-congregations:

  • Size: group of 30-150, notice the overlap
  • Focus: function as a tribal group (Dunbar Group) often focusing around celebrations
  • Ministry: UP-IN-OUT (typically):
    • IN = low
    • UP = strong
    • OUT = moderate to strong

 

More Details About Small Groups, Clusters and Sub-congregations

Small Groups

See these articles on small groups: https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/?s=small+groups

Clusters:

The St. Tom’s Example:

In fact, Mike Breen (former rector of St. Tom’s Church in Sheffield England where cluster terminology developed) told me in a personal conversation that “Clusters are like the movie: My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  That is because the cluster is made up of many nuclear families, which we call small groups, and this network of nuclear families creates an extended family feel – that’s what we call a cluster” (personal conversation, Peak District, UK, May 2005).

In Mike’s mind you could think of the small groups as each a circular grape, and when you get a bunch of small groups together you got a “cluster” (often sized 30-75).  So, a cluster is a network of small groups linked by a tribal or extended family identity.

But, Mike and his colleague Bob Hopkins felt the key to healthy clusters, is to “missionalize” these clusters is by addressing three elements.

Online you can find the book by Bob Hopkins and Mike Breen titled “Clusters: creating midsized missional communities” (3DMinistries.com and Alderway Publishing).

Dunbar’s Number:

An Introduction to Dunbar’s Number (from Whitesel’s Facts & Trends interview):

“Churches are taking advantage of Dunbar’s number,” says Bob Whitesel, a professor at Indiana Wesleyan University and church growth expert. Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist, found humans can comfortably maintain only around 150 stable relationships. Beyond that, says Whitesel, “relationships don’t seem to have much depth.”

This is why he believes many churches stall around this plateau. “Once it gets bigger than that, people stop inviting others because they no longer know everyone else at church,” he says.

It’s incumbent on large church leaders to capitalize on smaller groups that organically emerge in the church. Whitesel calls these “sub-congregations,” and they mirror other numbers Dunbar found in his research. Groups of 50 can unite around a task, such as the music ministry or preschool volunteers. Small group gatherings of 15 have the feel of an extended family, and groups of five are intimate connections.

These numbers have been seen not only in sociological research but also in church history, Whitesel says. “In the Wesleyan revivals, every leader had to be involved in what they called ‘Band Meetings’ of five individuals. Larger groups of 15 were called ‘Class Meetings.’”

Sub-congregations

Defined:

A sub-congregation is a group within the church, that functions, in Asbury Professor George Hunter’s words, as “a church within a church.” (For a definition of a sub-congregation, click HERE)

Explained:

…I have noted in some of my other wiki- postings (CLICK HERE), that sub-congregations form as a natural “organizational behavior” and that we must recognize them if we are to “manage” their behavior. Thus, I think many students have found it helpful to look at their emerging sub-congregations (which are currently of small group size) so they can manage them into growth and eventually a full-fledged (and larger) sub-congregation.

The idea of sub-congregations is found in church organizational writers such as in my books (2000:25-30; 2007:50-71) as well as:

Eddie Gibbs (I Believe in Church Growth, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1981: 276-280),

Pete Wagner (Your Church Can Grow, Oregon, Resource Pub., 2001:101-102 ),

Larry Richards (A New Face for the Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan 1970: 34-35)

George G. Hunter (The Contagious Congregation [Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press] 1979:63) of which Hunter said that every congregation is a really “a congregation of congregations” (p. 63).

Many non-consultant leadership writers are largely unaware to this because they are students of leadership but not necessarily of organizational behavior.  Most management scholars believe that you must first understand an organization’s “behavior” before you try to manage it.  Thus, while working on my Ph.D. at Fuller I had Kent Miller of Michigan State as a professor (he is a Professor of Strategic Management there). Dr. Miller stressed that church leaders often fail at leadership because they don’t first analyze and understand the organizational behavior they are trying to manage.  All that is to say is that the writings on this are not massive (but they should be).

The student also wrote, “But I also notice that the sub-congregations that I do have (boomer’s and GenX) seem to be moving together well – at what point do you beginning looking at their inherent differences and start strategizing for it?’”

SUB-CONGREGATIONS & How To Use Them to Grow a Small Church in Just 6-Steps  Take a look at that posting.  Also, here is a quick synopsis:

1) Locate emerging sub-congregational cultures in the community.

2)  Mentor an indigenous leader from the culture you identified in Step 1 who will bring together a small group for Biblical discipleship of this indigenous culture.

3) Get the existing small group to plant another group like themselves. Don’t try to force them to divide. Rather, encourage them to reach more people by starting another group like themselves at another time or place. This is called “seeding” a new small group, where a couple leaders and a few people volunteer to start this new small group.

4)  Cluster or network your small groups at least once a quarter. By this I mean get your small groups from the same emerging sub-congregation together at least once every three months for unity building.

5)  Create more small groups as new ones approach 12 in attendance.  Use the small group “seeding” strategy of Step 3 above.  And, use Step 4 to keep these new small groups “clustering” once a quarter with other small groups of their cultural sub-congregation.

6)  Once you have a total of 50 people in your small group network, or cluster, create a new and regular worship encounter for them. This then becomes the new worship encounter for this emerging sub-congregation.  (Notice that like John Wesley, small groups [class meetings] are created before big worship gatherings [society meetings].)

I am usually stretching students with ostensibly non-traditional strategies, but the typical strategies (making everyone melt into an indistinct grey-green cultural goo) is not working.  And, the strategy I outlined above is working in churches that are growing amid disinterested and unfriendly cultures, such as St. Thomas’ Church in Sheffield England (http://www.sttoms.net ).

Size How it Affects Organizational Behavior/Structure

McIntosh Typology:

Gary McIntosh in “Taking Your Church to the Next Level: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.”  In the book and conference he outlined Church levels as such:

The Relational Church: 15-200 worshippers
The Managerial Church: 200-400 worshippers
The Organizational Church: 400-800 worshippers
The Centralized Church: 800-1,500 worshippers
The Decentralized Church: 1,500-plus worshippers

Whitesel Typology = McIntosh + Dunbar

Gary McIntosh has helped by delineating different types of churches. But he knows that I disagree with him on one aspect. And that is that you don’t have to have that number of worshipers to be that type of church. In other words, some of us have seen churches that are overly organized in the 150 range. And we have seen churches that exhibit all the hallmarks of the centralized church in the 300 range.

What I think is a key is that churches can be “decentralized” much before they’re up to 1500 worshipers. What Gary is saying is that churches typically are decentralized once they get over 1,500 worshipers.

But, I have seen many churches that are over 1,500 worshipers which really are structured like an organizational church. Gary knows I disagree with him and that is because I tend to work with more different varieties and sizes of churches. But I think the personalities of these five churches are valid … but just not that these personalities are limited to these size ranges.

Now, why is this important?  It is important because the “decentralized church” is for McIntosh the goal of churches.  And, I agree.  I just think you can be “decentralized” for health and growth much earlier … even around 100 attendees.

Read more here.

Also, McIntosh’s “relational church” is really the “sub-congregation” or “cluster” model we are talking about. And the relational church’s size (less than 200 according to Gary) is really defined by the Dunbar number and is usually unhealthy above 125.

McIntosh’s “managerial,” “organizational” and “centralized church” models are various ways to manage organizational behavior that are organizationally centric. These are usually unhealthy ways to try and grow an organization because the organization takes dominance over the importance of people.

Thus, I agree with Gary that the “decentralized church” is the goal.  But, I disagree with Gary’s implication that you have to grow to 1,500 to become this.

I have seen that you can do it even with a small church. Many of us know small churches that may only have 60 or 75 in the morning worship the 30 or 40 youth coming on Sunday evening. According to McIntosh’s definition that would be a “decentralized church” … but it doesn’t have 1,500 worshipers and it may not even have 150.

The Alliance Church is an effective goal, for it creates growth through culturally contextualized partnerships.

So I would say, “follow Gary’s five models,” only “don’t wait until you are near 1,500 to start becoming what George Hunter calls “a congregation of congregations” (George Hunter, 1979, p. 23).

You also might want to Google the “Dunbar number” and then “Mike Breen” and what he says about “mid-sized missional communities” or “clusters.” Also, check out my postings on the equivalent term I prefer: sub-congregations. This will throw light up upon the importance of becoming a decentralized church.

More on Church Sizes & a Comparison (a leadership exercise)

…let’s look at some popular size designations for churches (CLICK TO ENLARGE the attached comparison from Whitesel, 2000, p. 29).  I like to use Lyle Schaller’s designations (1981, pp. 17-63).  But, I also appreciate Gary McIntosh’s emphasis various designations for church size (1999, pp. 17-19).

CHART Cong. Size Differences HD Fig 1.7 p.29This exercise only requires four to eight sentences.

Each person adds a few lines about effective leadership traits, abilities and/or skills (Northouse, 2009, pp. 1-3) for one or two size ranges.  For the size(s) you choose, participants will give us a couple lines about leadership characteristics that will keep the church at this size, and a few lines about leadership characteristics that can grow it out of this size.

The following are the size ranges of Sunday morning attendance.  Just cut and paste the ranges (in your postings if you are a student) and add your insights.

Fellowship size (40 or less, relational base):
> Keep at this size by ….
> Grow out of this size by ….

Small size: (41-100, one big family):
> Keep at this size by ….
> Grow out of this size by ….

Middle size (101-175, maintains adequate ministries):
> Keep at this size by ….
> Grow out of this size by ….

Awkward (176-225, doesn’t recognize it is a “congregation of congregations,” Hunter 1979, p. 63):
> Keep at this size by ….
> Grow out of this size by ….

Large (226-450, functions as a congregation of congregations):
> Keep at this size by ….
> Grow out of this size by ….

Huge (451- 700, administration consumes most time):
> Keep at this size by ….
> Grow out of this size by ….

Mini-denominational (701+, a network of congregations, each with its own identity):
> Keep at this size by ….
> Grow out of this size by ….

That’s it.  Take a couple of these sizes and add a couple lines about leadership characteristics that will keep it in this size range, and then a few lines about leadership characteristics that will grow it out of this size.

Here is an example:

Small size: (41-100, one big family):
> Keep at this size by ….  Pastor makes all major decisions her or himself, creating a bottleneck of decision making.
> Grow out of this size by …. Pastor apprentices gifted laypeople in ministry, supports publically their decision making, but may offer confidential critique.

References

Hunter, G. G. III (1979). The contagious congregation. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

Northouse, P. G. (2009). Introduction to leadership: Concepts and practice. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.

McIntosh, G. L., (1999). One size doesn’t fit all: Brining out the best in any size church. Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revel.

Whitesel, B., & Hunter, K. R. (2000). A house divided: Bridging the generational gaps in your church. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

Speaking hashtags: #Dmin #SmallGroups #ChurchSize