Think Local. Act Global.
Central’s multi-site strategy embraces what I’ve referred to as ‘the metanational mentality.’ The phrase ‘metanational’ was burned in my heart back in the early 2000’s as I stumbled across a book written by Doz, Santos, and Williamson. I have no idea why a book from Harvard Business School entitled, “From Global to Metanational, How Companies Win in the Knowledge Economy,” stuck with me as it has. It wasn’t the easiest read, but way before I’d ever be involved in a multi-site church, that book inspired me to believe that organizing mission around local campuses and their accompanying leadership teams was something that merited further investigation. That search has led me to cherish the capabilities that exist in the ‘lower reaches’ of the church. It brought me to appreciate the value of setting leaders free to follow Jesus’ lead rather than giving them a bag full of predetermined scripts. The book set me on a path to embrace the value of organizing the church to “think locally and act globally,” not the other way around. I recognized that we’d never reach the end of the world by staying in our street but we could reach the end of our street by journeying to the end of the world.
As we build up to the launch of our Water’s Edge Network, which is the name we’ve chosen for our Central’s multi-site strategy, I am going to outline some of the thought changes we’ve had to embrace as an organization. There are at least six other subtle shifts in thinking that we’ve had to make over the last two years.
We’ve been willing to replace the idea of projecting home-grown formulas with the goal of resourcing local leaders. Empowering local (indigenous) leaders is going to be a hallmark of mission in the days ahead. Churches and denominations are somewhat slow in figuring this out. We repeatedly focus on centralized solutions to local problems (e.g. prioritizing the sending of western missionaries rather than the equipping of indigenous leaders). I believe that leadership at its finest is localized. By that I mean that strong leaders are action-oriented and look around them for solutions. Weak leaders are also action-oriented but they look to the center (or the top) for solutions. Strong organizations empower locals to lead. We’ll make the biggest ‘kingdom’ impact not by gathering lots of people at a fixed location but by scattering as His people. As religious a community as Holland is, I’m told that 47% of people have no connection with a local church. The only way to change that statistic is not by bringing lots of people in but by sending lots of people out. The power of Christ in the world is in the scattered church. Over the last two years we’ve had to be willing to embrace a mindset that refuses to allow the center to become the solution. The center is there to guide, direct, assist and mentor NOT determine, dictate and demand. In our Water’s Edge Network, the dictates flowing from the center are limited to critical elements required for ministry synchronization and mission fulfilment.
We’ve been willing to break free of historic and geographic roots as well as traditional patterns of ministry. Local leaders embracing local knowledge alongside local people will likely lead to expressions totally unlike anything that Central has ever seen. It’s tough for a well-oiled machine like Central to localize leadership. Doing so creates new ways of thinking and we’ve seen ministry expressions arise in places we’d never have expected them and unlike anything we’re used to. Grand Rapids, La Roca and South East Asia may be just the beginning.
We’ve been willing to embrace the world as learners. A church can only exploit the potential for local innovation when her senior leaders are committed to learn from the world in which they live. Leaders who believe they will succeed on the basis of what they know will end up being organizational liabilities not assets. Leaders who thrive in a complex world are those that maintain a hunger for learning. We’ve been able to get this far because we’re a group of people who believe that it is possible to ‘teach old dogs new tricks.’
We’ve resisted the temptation to coax local innovation out of an organizational system that wasn’t designed for the task. We’ve all heard the saying, “A square peg doesn’t fit in a round hole.” It’s no good empowering local people if the systems needed to support them aren’t there. Empowering leaders demands reengineering support systems. That’s the part of leadership that many pastors transitioning a church find the most challenging. It takes so much time to develop new support systems. The constant, ‘We’ve never done it this way before” retorts are such a drain on the emotions that pastors often short-change the structural reengineering process. As hard as it is for us pastors to think ‘systems,’ we have to.
We’ve realized that ministry innovation goes hand-in-hand with organizational boldness. Where ministry innovation exists, organizational boldness is needed to make such innovation work. Jim Clifton, in his book, “The Coming Jobs War”, fleshes this out in more detail: “The precious connector between innovator and customer is the almighty entrepreneur: the person who envisions a value and a customer and then creates a business model and strategy that create sales and profit.” In ministry terms that means: “the precious connector between local leaders and people who not only need Jesus as savior but as teacher and Lord are those who create the support systems for lifelong discipleship.” Too many great ideas fail to make disciples not because they didn’t start well but because they ended too soon. Our commitment to support local thinking and global acting mandates that we shift our organizational thinking to supporting the next steps. We exist to equip and support ground-level ministry endeavors ensuring good beginnings have every opportunity to end well.
We’ve resisted the temptation to believe that the greatest risk to our localized mentality is a campus going rogue. There’s a risk in going as local as we are: a campus going it alone. We believe, however, that the biggest risk of all is not divergence from ‘our’ mission but disobedience to ‘His.’ I have come to see the biggest risk for a multi-site church is not a campus going rogue but Christians not getting involved. We have lots of people attending but how many people are serving as sent ones? My reading of the Scriptures is that even the early church struggled to go. It took sovereign acts of God (Acts 8 and 10-11) and persecution for the church to truly embrace going. The biggest risk is not found in those who go and remain (don’t come back), but those who never go.
Jesus said, “If you want to gain your life, lose it.” Not only did Jesus say it, he modelled it. Embracing the thinking locally and acting globally strategy through our multi-site church invites those of us who serve at the center to be willing to lay down our lives for the sake of those willing to go. These obedient members of our church family, whether individual believers or campus leaders, deserve prayer and support. With so many believers staying at home, I’m thanking God for every person who’s willing to show some get up and go.