Why Our Church Uses Holacracy
This post was contributed by Jeremy Martin. He’s is the founding pastor of Downtown Faith, a community of faith in the heart of downtown Las Vegas.
If you live around downtown Las Vegas you’ve probably heard the word Holacracy. You might even have an opinion on the idea. And you also may work in an organization that operates using Holacracy.
If you study business and/or read organizational books and articles, then you might also have some understanding of this term. It’s relatively new. It’s certainly controversial. Some would say it involves a new level of human consciousness. Others could be critical and even downright against it. Either way, the system known as Holacracy is making waves.
So, what is it?
According to the HolacracyOne website, it is simply described as…
“A complete system for self-organization.”
In a longer description I would say it’s an alternative way to organize humans that encourages and implements self-management, personal growth, purpose, team, and empowerment. It’s complex and nuanced while also providing simplicity and clarity. It’s a sort of “interpersonal software.” It’s functional and personal. It involves enhancing the work and the people doing that work.
Holacracy is relatively new and a bit contended. But it’s also one of the most biblical ways of organizing church leadership that I’ve ever experienced.
Church, in reality, is a gathered group of people. In Christianity this group gathers to celebrate and worship Jesus. In other religions and faiths people gather around some other shared belief, teaching, or figure. Church is people. It’s a who not a what. And people need to be organized. So, it is an organization and the Bible describes how the early “Christian” church organized itself.
Some people believe that every church should organize exactly like the early church. They believe in a “prescribed” order given in the Bible. Others believe the church has key things that must exist, but that largely, the Bible “described” the organization of the early church. There’s freedom here to create and innovate the structure necessary to grow each local church.
From the earliest moments of Downtown Faith I searched out better ways to organize a church. I have been in so many churches. I’ve experienced the negative aspects of abuse of power, political inner-workings of leadership and influence, as well as exclusivity and ostracizing. Yes, these things exist in the church. They exist in all organizations.
Many of you reading this may greatly desire change within your business or some other organization that abuses through hierarchy.
For me, Holacracy is a chance to get it right more often than getting it wrong. And this matters to me because we are trying to help people. No doubt we’ll get it wrong. But people matter. So, why not explore, innovate, and experiment with new ways to get it right and “win” with people.
- Driven by Purpose not Personality. The idea of “purpose-driven” churches has been around for a while now thanks to the wonderful, visionary leadership of Rick Warren. This is similar but different (and would work wonderfully within that system). We were able to define our mission, vision, and values for Downtown Faith, and then articulate them in a “purpose” statement. This statement drives our organization. The last few years have seen the demise of many high-profile church leaders. “Personality” driven churches get a bad wrap and probably, rightly so. Leaders mess up. They fall. Big personality is a gift from God, but if not monitored, ego can begin to drive the person and their church. I recognize the dangers and my personal temptation to lead this way. Holacracy gives our team a tangible way to prevent a one-man takeover, or even micromanagement from a select, top-tier group.
- Distributed Authority not Delegated Authority. What’s the difference? Delegation tends to maintain a hold on the decisions made, whereas distribution allows for decisions to be made freely without the “trump card” of management. Distributing authority also shows trust while giving ownership. This empowers people. This gives other leaders a chance to shine, fail, and voice their thoughts, feelings, and ideas. It’s a system that values people and the work they do in a unique way. It doesn’t mean every role within the organization is equal in importance. But it does mean that every person is valuable and capable. With many church startups the lead pastor/planter tends to take on the bulk of the work and has almost every decision run through them. This is overwhelming and dis-empowering to the rest of the team. Distributing authority has been the number one factor in my personal health and success as a church planter.
- Clear Rules not Ambiguous Expectations. I’ve worked with several churches and other organizations that were so ambiguous, people operated “on edge” at every level. People were driven to manipulate relationships to garner answers. Or they worked hard never fully knowing if their boss was happy with their results. My biggest pet peeve was random changes that involved no one but the top person or group. The ministry I “led” had to change course without any input from the people actually doing the work. This causes all kinds of problems, especially for a growing organization. With Holacracy there are clear rules and expectations. There’s a format for meetings, changes, and alterations. People know when and where they can voice concerns and how to be involved in necessary decisions. It’s a system of “rapid iterations” in an ever-changing world.
- Incredibly Biblical in Wisdom and Practice. Church organizations span the spectrum of corporate, CEO organization to hardly no organization at all. It truly boils down to a leader’s understanding of what matters most according to the Bible. I’ve seen church boards, congregational rule, committees, and “plurality” of elders. Each church implements these systems of authority based on their preferences and biblical conviction. Each system has success stories and failures. Mainly because each system operates with humans! I chose Holacracy because as I read and studied the concept of self-management I couldn’t help but see Biblical wisdom and practice. Some authors even used scriptural metaphor and direct quotes. I couldn’t get away from this. I couldn’t escape the idea that I could inspire people to lead within a church and give them the tools to really do so. Ultimately, it’s a system I see enhancing biblical principles more than any other system.
If you know me, you know I love creativity, innovation, and rethinking tradition. I think we are the only church in the world operating around this system. But this isn’t the “why” behind our adoption of Holacracy. Sure, it’s creative and innovative. Yes, it does challenge traditional church organization. But being different is never a reason to do something new.
We aren’t the “anti-church” even though we do things differently. Everything we do is carefully and meticulously approached. What we do matters. How we do it matters. So, we’re looking for best not just good.
If you’re interested to know more, we’d love to discuss it with you. If you’re a church leader wondering how this might look in your context, hit me up! We want to “win” with our community, and we want other churches to do the same. Join the discussion!