This is an idea out of my upcoming non-fiction book release.

Many are familiar with the Starfish and Spider concept on organizational development by Ori Brafman. Alan Hirsch and Mike Frost took the concept and placed it within the organic/missional church context in their book, “The Shaping of Things to Come.”

The idea to recap: spider organizations are centralized structures that are not suited for innovation or replication. They are run in hierarchy, and if the central system is lost (the head of the spider) the entire organization grinds to a halt and eventually fails.

Conversely, starfish organizations are different. Starfish organisms can replicate quickly because each appendage develops the capacity to start a whole new starfish organism. Translation to church context? Organic systems that are lead in a decentralized system and develop a culture where all the people hold the necessary pieces to be disciples who disciple lead to replication.

But there’s a problem when organizational theory becomes practice. Starfish churches or networks are not growing exponentially. In fact, many (most?) get stuck early in the process. They are certainly to embrace innovation easier, but lack the means to maintain longevity and have widespread impact.

For their part, Spider organizations (the average institutional church), struggle to move the bureaucracy out of status quo and therefore lack the impetus to embrace innovation. However, they are well resources (typically) and have the most people.

An idea to help the Western church to not only survive, but thrive, in a post-Christian context requires the collision of both models. 

I’m advocating a model of church organization called: SpiderFish.

Spiderfish organization aims to collaborate the established institution and innovative pioneers. The two need each other. The institutional church is dying, but it’s not disappearing tomorrow. It still retains people and significant resources. Those resources in turn can help address a problem in the institution–it’s hard for engrained culture to change. They can only accommodate incremental changes at best, and that’s too slow to address the crux of the matter–the church exists in age of overall disintegration (in the West).

In response, it’s not prudent to overhaul a spider organization. You risk destroying the whole thing. Instead can we leverage the assets from institutional to address their weaknesses? We can by collaborating.

Just like businesses that start a new division under the umbrella of the parent, institutional churches can develop systems to release innovators at arms-length. These pioneers will then make the attempts the institution couldn’t do on their own. In return, the starfish organization receives much needed longevity in resourcing, the potential of attracting the right people from a larger pool, and other support. The other benefit to the spider organization is the intel from the attempts.

We’re at a time when we need to release more people to live out their callings and gifts, not a single form of traditional church planting. But in order to accomplish this we also need some method of bankrolling the attempts.

SpiderFish organizations address needs in both worlds. Big churches can start right away by noticing the bright spots in their congregations–those who are already doing different things without permission. Building into the existing activity is a quick way to realize some early gains.

Ultimately, this is only an idea for churches who have a self-awareness to realize the church is in decline and growth has largely stopped. That’s mostly because Christians still operate like we’re in Christendom, when the church had power and prestige. If sharing the gospel in a language outsiders can understand is of interest to you, then developing a SpiderFish system is a method to maintain the institution while simultaneously creating space for new innovation.

I expand on this concept in my forthcoming book. I’ll let you know when I have an idea of release date. Thoughts on this model?