August 16, 2008

Group Dynamics

The continuing conversation over at Peter Kirk's blog reminded me of something I read a year ago. In a 2003 speech called "A Group is it's own Worst Enemy", Clay Shirky said: "Constitutions are a necessary component of large, long-lived, heterogeneous groups." Judging purely from Shirky's statement, we might suppose Constitutions are NOT necessary in the following types of groups:

1) Large, short-lived, heterogeneous (Big AND different? Boom.)
2) Large, short-lived, homogeneous (This happens during Retreats.)
3) Large, long-lived, homogeneous (Not this side of heaven, I suspect.)
4) Small, short-lived, heterogeneous (Uh, why are we together? Bye.)
5) Small, short-lived, homogeneous (Uh, why did we ever break up?)
6) Small, long-lived, homogeneous (Tiny, happy special interest clubs!)
7) Small, long-lived, heterogeneous (For most people, this is your family.)

By the way, I almost cut #3 because I can't think of anyone that got Large AND Long-lived without creating a great deal of rules and structure for themselves. But I suppose if people were like-minded enough, size and time could grow irrelevant. Still, this just shows how much these terms, "large/small" "long/short-lived" and "hetero/homogeneous" are all very relative.

So, for the sake of argument, go ahead and set your own limits on all this. But here's my question: Which, if any, of these Eight categories do you think sounds most like the church?

(And why?)


Peter Kirk said...

Good question, Bill!

Well, I would say that the worldwide church is indeed large, long-lived and heterogeneous, but is it a group, in Shirky's sense? If it isn't a group, but simply an informal fellowship of groups, then it doesn't need a constitution.

As for local churches, I would suggest that like families they are, or should be, small, long-lived and heterogeneous. Maybe not all that small, but maybe also fairly homogeneous.

Anyway, I would not accept that Shirky's worldly standards need to be applied in the church, where members should relate to one another in a quite different way.

Bill Heroman said...

Good thoughts, Peter. You may know I was part of a small house church for some time. We never got above 25 people, so I guess that's my definition of "small"!

Families, like our little house church, have a mix of sameness and differences. I always beleived if our commonality was the Lord - in experience - we'd manage the rest of it. And generally, we did. Actually, they're still meeting these days. I'm the blockhead who left (family reasons). While there, however, I definitely learned to respect group dynamics, and what Hobbins meant on your comments by 'hell'. ;)

In that light, if I had to label Lithia Springs, I'd say we were a mixture of categories 6 & 7.

But I think Shirky's principles just say that the bigger and more diverse you get, the greater potential for conflict over time, and thus the greater likelihood of eventually laying down rules. Christians who try to start all over naturally face these same issues. Their group category number (on my scale) may only show what kind of challenge the Lord (in them) is in for!

Still, I'd love to get more perspectives on the list.

Practical issues are what I prefer talking about, when it comes to church life.

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