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Mar '05

Viral Church: Part Deux

The concept of Viral is one that I whole heartedly believe in. I am however having a hard time fitting some of the concept of it into a church context. There are 6 principals to viral marketing that I have discussed here before. It is not those 6 principals that I am having problems with it is applying those principals to a leadership structure.

For example we have just started our church with a group of people that we have relationship

with and would love to help out with this plant. As I talked about in Viral Part 1 they are an incredibly diverse group of people. One of the most diverse I have ever worked with. The problem comes when I start to try to identify the “leadership team” in the group. There are a good group of people but not everyone of them would be a “leader.” Most if not all of them will be one day but right now some are not.

In trying to determine what the leadership structure in a viral church looks like I am having a hard time identifying what all the parts are. In a traditional church structure you have a pastor who is usually looked at as the “CEO” of the church. Below him are the church board. These can be given a number of very biblical sounding names but in reality the are just a board of directors in the very traditional sense. Below them are sub-groups, support personnel, ministry leaders, etc. In a viral church there is no top down structure. The role of “the leader” in a viral setting changes. Not only does the role of the leader change but the role of all leadership changes. If you remember the six principals of Viral then you will remember that things are kind of organic. I was looking over the six principals and began to come to a realization: No organization can truly eliminate top down leadership. You can change the way that leadership treats everyone and you can change the values that leadership operate by, but you cannot eliminate top down leadership completely.

Before we get totally into this, let’s review the six principals:

1. Gives away products or services
2. Provides for effortless transfer to others
3. Scales easily from small to very large
4. Exploits common motivations and behaviors
5. Utilizes existing communication networks
6. Takes advantage of others’ resources

As I sat and read through the principals something began to strike me as interesting. “Gives away products or services…” who determines what products or services are going to be given away? Who determines the system that will be scalable? Who decides what common motivations best suit the project? The only answer I could come up with was the very top leadership. Maybe it is the fact that my thinking is still steeped in “modern” structures, but how do you structure a Viral church? I am beginning to think that how a church structured is not nearly as important as the values it holds.

Let me explain. In a traditional church structure the top level (we’ll call this level 1) would be held by the pastor. In the secondary level you would have either a board or pastoral staff. This may vary depending on what kind of church and denominational background but for the most part one of the two of these would be on level 2. In level three you would find subcommittees, ministry leaders, small group leadership or just the lay leaders of the church. The fourth level would be made up of average congregants. This is a very simplistic structure but you get the point.

How does a viral church structure itself so that the six principals may be employed? Easy…However it wants to. I am beginning to see that viral would work in any structure. The only thing that Viral depends on is a culture that sees Viral as the best way to propagate. If a pastor has to have his hands on every step down the line and get constant progress reports, Viral would be stifled. But a reluctance to “let go” of the process is an attitudes issue not a structural one. Viral would be easier to implement in a true team structure, but could work just fine in a traditional top down structure as long as the top leaders (levels 1 and 2) have a common DNA that values team, empowerment and flexibility. The top leaders must see the “Intelligence in the Leaves” principal as a necessity. “Intelligence in the Leaves,” is a principal that takes the power and responsibility out of the hands of the clergy and gives I to the individual believers. Think of it as the difference between a traditional mainframe/node computer set up and the Internet. This value is the only necessity for any church structure to implement Viral.

Over the next few days I am going to begin trying to figure out what structures would most easily support Viral.

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