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.

Continue reading

CLUSTERS & Why One Growing Church Pastor Believes Most Conversions Take Place There

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 9/22/15.

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.

Students often notice that in small to mid-sized churches (with long histories) the church “clusters” can often be focused around an extended family dynasty in the church.  Here is what student said:

“(Our) adult clusters are comprised of large families, including the Thomas family, Morris Family, Smith Family and a few smaller families (names changed). Each family has either a matriarch or patriarch that has led their family to the ministry.  Membership has grown on the basis of the family head, leading their extended family to the house of God.”

Now that certainly is a cluster.  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. Let me explain.

Online you can find the book by Bob Hopkins and Mike Breen titled “Clusters: creating midsized missional communities” (3DMinistries.com and Alderway Publishing). In that book you will find that a healthy cluster needs four elements. The following is from page 43.

REFLECT:

If some of you have existing adult family clusters, then analyze how you think your family clusters are doing at each:

“#1 A place of identity, belonging and ownership… Containing elements of wholeness and maturity.

#2 A point of gathering… In fact a gathering together a small groups in a wider community.

#3 A context of training… The opportunity for all to raise to their capacity beyond the small group.

#4 And lastly embryos… embryo church plants though by no means all will be or should be. This is still intrinsic to the vision.”

LEADERSHIP EXERCISE:

Do you have family dynasties in your church?

So, how are your family groups doing in these four areas?

In which are they weak and what will you do about it?

And tell three (3) things you will do to change this.

You see, I believe God has put family dynasties into our churches to give us health and longevity. And I have seen many of these dear saints go to extra ordinary lengths for Christ and His cause. But, I also believe over time they can stray from God’s call and strategies into protectionism (for good reasons of course). Thus, the job of a leader is to gently and slowly restore these families into fellowship, community and mission.

SMALL GROUPS & Should You Close Small Groups? Not unless absolutely necessary.

by Bob Whitesel Ph.D., 7/9/15.

A student after studying my chapter and chart on “Missteps With Small Groups” in Growth by Accident, Death by Planning (Abingdon Press) said, “I believe we should re-assess all of our small groups and find out if they are truly needed and if not then we should transition people into different groups.”

This statement was a red flag for me.  Let me explain why.

People in small groups like to stay in their small groups.  It is their accountability and small community group.  You must be careful before you “transition people” into other groups unless they really, really need this.

ClustersBookIt has been my observation that when groups have change thrust upon them in the name of innovation, most of the time the innovation doesn’t occur and people are only hurt because they’ve lost the small group community that meant so much to them.  And, over the years I’ve not seen small groups as the place where we innovate.  Instead, they are where we commune. Thus, if at all possible don’t eliminate small groupings.

Instead, you can combine 2-3 small groups together once a month for outreach. This is called “clustering” small groups (see Bob Hopkins and Mike Breen, Clusters: Creative Mid-sized Missional Communities (3dm Publications).  Clustering lets the groups remain together, but when they join with a few other groups once a month they then have enough person-power to do effective social action ministry in the community.

So …

  • Add small groups (so more people can be in small groups)
  • Cluster small groups (so more social action can take place via a cluster of small groups)
  • But don’t split or close a small group (for this is their spiritual community) unless, absolutely necessary.

I hope these reflections help you pause before you close a small group.

Speaking hashtags: #StLizTX #StMarksTX

DUNBAR NUMBER & Don’t Believe Facebook; You Only Have 150 Friends #NPR #GoodResearch

By National Public Radio, 6/5/11

According to Acording to “Dunbar’s Number,” human beings can maintain a network of only about 150 close friends.

Most of Dunbar’s research … is based on the idea that human beings can hold only about 150 meaningful relationships in their heads. Dunbar has researched the idea so deeply, the number 150 has been dubbed “Dunbar’s Number.”

Ironically, the term was coined on Facebook, where 150 friends may seem like precious few.

“There was a discussion by people saying ‘I’ve got too many friends — I don’t know who half these people are,'” Dunbar says. “Somebody apparently said, ‘Look, there’s this guy in England who says you can’t have more than 150.'”

Dunbar has found 150 to be the sweet spot for hunter-gatherer societies all over the world. From the Bushmen of Southern Africa to Native American tribes, a typical community is about 150 people. Amish and Hutterite communities — even most military companies around the world — seem to follow the same rule.

The reason 150 is the optimal number for a community comes from our primate ancestors, Dunbar says. In smaller groups, primates could work together to solve problems and evade predators. Today, 150 seems to be the number at which our brains just max out on memory…

…Dunbar says there are some neurological mechanisms in place to help us cope with the ever-growing amount of social connections life seems to require. Humans have the ability, for example, to facially recognize about 1,500 people. Now that would be an impressive number of Facebook friends.

Yet the problem with such a large number of “friends,” Dunbar says, is that “relationships involved across very big units then become very casual — and don’t have that deep meaning and sense of obligation and reciprocity that you have with your close friends.”

One solution to that problem, he adds, can be seen in the modern military. Even as they create “supergroups” — battalions, regiments, divisions — most militaries are nonetheless able to maintain the sense of community felt at the 150-person company level.

“The answer has to come out of that,” Dunbar says, “trying to create a greater sense of community.

“In a way, Americans are lucky in that respect,” he adds. “There’s this long tradition of commitment to ideals that binds Americans together. That isn’t always true elsewhere.”

While modern society does make it hard to hang on to friends who aren’t geographically close, Dunbar says, his research shows family is different.

“Friends, if you don’t see them, will gradually cease to be interested in you,” he says. “Family relationships seem to be very stable. No matter how far away you go, they love you when you come back.”

Read more at … http://www.npr.org/2011/06/04/136723316/dont-believe-facebook-you-only-have-150-friends

Speaking Hashtags:  #StLizTX

FELLOWSHIP & Why Is Robin Dunbar Killing My Church!? #DunbarNumber

by Bob Whitesel, 4/4/14

One thing Donald McGavran emphasized is that we should not be shy about applying the sciences to our study of church health and growth. And the Dunbar Number can explain why many churches plateau in size.  Here Is how I explained the Dunbar Number at the request of a colleague of mine Dr. Gary McIntosh at Biola University:

The Dunbar number is a sociological theory (based in physiology) that people can best relate to an extended group of about 150 individuals. By keeping this in mind, factories have been created with under 150 employees where unity and self-identity are higher. This of course has ramifications for the church, and explains in my mind the cohesiveness of these church-style Dunbar groups:

> missional communities (3dm ministries and Mike Breen)

> sub-congregations, such as venues, multiple sites, campuses, Whitesel and Hunter in A House Divided (2001).

> clusters (St. Tom’s Church of Sheffield, see Whitesel “From Gathered to Scattered: St. Tom’s Church,” a chapter in Ryan K. Bolger, Gospel After Christendom, Baker Academic Books, 2010 (http://www.amazon.com/The-Gospel-after-Christendom-Expressions/dp/0801039436).  The proliferation of Dunbar-sized “clusters” seems to be an explanation for St. Tom’s rapid growth after losing their large venue, The Roxy in Sheffield, UK.

Thus, church growth may be helped by the the multiplication of Dunbar groups within a congregation.  Wikipedia has a good article on the Dunbar Number

Also, read this good overview in an article on the “Dunbar Number” by National Public Radio, titled: “Don’t Believe Facebook, You Only Have 150 Friends.”

Here are some quotes:  “MARTIN: The factories were capped at 150 people, and Bill Gore found things worked better. People knew each other. They worked better together. DUNBAR: Everybody had the same label on their jacket that said GORE-TEX Associate, and that was that. Everybody knew who was who – who was the manager, who was the accountant, who made the sandwiches for lunch. ”

A student of mine once responded:  “I can see how having multiple services to create community for groups of 150 people is necessary.  What I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around is how you avoid tensions and problems between the different community groups within the church.  In the example above the GORE-TEX associates knew who the manager was and the accountant was and so on…I wonder and I’m just guessing here, do problems arise because the multiple services leads to multiple ‘managers’ which leads to conflicting ideas and different needs that need to be met?”

Here is my response:

Hello (name); Yes, you are right, there is tension. But, by keeping people as part of the same church organizational structure you work out our differences.  The problem in most of today’s churches is when conflict arises we don’t address it, we just bless them and send them out to start a new church to their liking. This creates conflict-avoidance. Thus, churches become enclaves of unified, but uni-cultural people.  And as thus, many people can’t relate to our fractured nature.

The key is to have diversity, within one organization which then creates unity or E pluribus unum.  To obtain this, see the “Exercises for Unity” in The Healthy Church (2012)