Strategy and Structure

Originally posted on, January 2007.  Reposted here in response to comments posted to The Secret Ingredient for Church Planting.
Structure and Strategy are intimately related.  In fact, structure determines strategy.   If the objective is to capture a mountain, then this determines the troops and equipment required.  One wouldn’t request wheeled vehicles to take a mountain.  The vehicles would deliver well trained ground troops to overcome the obstacles of the rugged terrain on foot.
Because structure determines strategy, one tool does not fit all situations.  If an army has only tanks, then it is limited to when and where tanks can operate.  For this reason armies are varied and flexible where structures are concerned.  Urban warriors are trained differently than are dessert warriors.  Those who work at sea are trained differently that those who fly above the earth.
In recent articles about church planting there is a lot of talk about structure.  Debate rages between organic (house church) structures and institutional or traditional (mega church) structures.  There are churches structured around communities.  Others are structured around programs.  Still others focus on knowledge.  Some like small groups.  Others prefer worshipping in a large crowd of like-believers.  And some think all of this talk about structure is nonsense.
Most seminaries, bible schools, and churches train their personnel to plant churches that mirror their own particular style or structure.  Mega churches plant more mega churches, or at least churches that should become mega churches.  House churches plant only house churches and sometimes teach that all other structures are inadequate or even evil. When it comes to church planting, to focus on the structure of the sending church is like an army that focuses on one kind of tool to take all objectives.  Sometimes the army may be able to win because their limited structure and strategy are right for the objective.  But, most of the time it would be defeated.  A battalion of tanks cannot take an objective that is made up of marshes, lakes and rivers.  No matter how well they are trained, and no matter how motivated and committed they are to the mission, an army of tanks would fail in any attempt to take wetlands as an objective.
You see, the strategy of using tanks is only effective where heavy armored vehicles fit the structure of the objective.  It is the structure of the objective that determines the strategy, not the structure of the tool to accomplish the strategy.
In most church planting the focus has been on the structure of the church (the tool) that is doing the planting, not the structure of the community where the planting is to be done.  If one limits him or herself to the structure of their sending organization or church in order to start new churches, then the process is doomed to fail most of the time.  It would be like using tanks to take wetlands or mountains.  One does not choose battles based on the structure.  One chooses the tools of battle based on the structure of the objective.  Structure determines strategy.  If one only has a single strategy, then success will be limited.  I think this is the reason most church planting efforts fail.  The army doing the work is focused on the structure of their tool instead of the structure of their objective.
An urban society is going to require different strategies than a rural society.  The structures are different.  A tribal society is going to require a different strategy from a nomadic society.  The structures are different.  Can one start a church using a building if the society is nomadic?  Can one use democratic church polity if the society is tribal?  Only by changing the structure of the society, which is a much more complicated and difficult task than starting an appropriately structured church, can one move people from their home structure to the structure of the church planter.
When I first went to India almost 20 years ago, a very wise worker said to me, “You can’t change Indian culture; you have to fit into it.”  In the beginning I thought this was about my culture stress related to learning new language and culture.  Now, I know it was about much more than how I talk, eat, or go to the bathroom.
The structure of church required to self-replicate in India is determined by Indian cultural and community structures, not by the structure of church with which I am comfortable.  As a matter of fact, it is almost impossible for me to determine the structure that will work.  My strategy, therefore, must be flexible and determined by what the local people require in order to continue functioning within their community structures.
This means that some places will require open air congregations in order to grow and multiply.  In other settings, small house groups may be required.  Still, in other circumstances very organized building based churches may be the best fit for the community.
Determining the structure of a community is called a Worldview Study.  This instrument allows an outsider to get a good idea of the social and community structures before a strategy is developed.  Wise church planters understand the objective before putting any strategies in place.  Varied and diverse communities require varied and diverse strategies.  These strategies are best when local workers are engaged in strategy development process and at some point take the lead in strategy development.
Some have made the observation that CPM has only been seen in rural societies.  I think this is because rural societies are much less complex than urban societies, and just a few strategies are needed to start churches in these rural structures.  When I look at the urban churches in our work, they are among village people who have moved to the city.  So, basically, the same rural strategies are being used in the city and are reaching migrant populations, but not traditional urbanites.  The tradition, pre migration, structures in the urban setting will require us to develop new strategies.
This means the CPM-like church planting we have seen in some cities is really not CPM.  It is a byproduct of rural CPM methodologies that are working among rural peoples who have migrated to urban settings.  There are few strategies in the urban setting that have been intentionally designed to start self-replicating churches in the varied communities of a mega city.  These complex structures remain unaddressed by church planters and therefore we are seeing slow to no growth in urban settings. 
Mega cities are extremely complex.  There are literally thousands of community structures in a large city.  No single strategy or small group of strategies is up to the task of reaching a major city.  Church planting in a complex mega city will require thousands of strategies in order to be successful.  Every kind of church known to man, plus more, will be required to meet the varied preferences of urban dwellers.  We will have to allow new structures (communities) the privilege of coming up with new styles of church and worship if we are going to meet the needs of the post modern city’s troglodytes.
It is the structure of the community that determines the kind of church to be planted and the strategies to be used to reach the community.  If you believe in only one kind of church, or if you understand only a few styles of church and allow these tool structures to determine your strategies, then you will fail more often than succeed in church planting.  Success will be found in creative and intentional diversity of strategies and churches.  This creativity will come from within the structures themselves, not from outsiders who have little understanding of the complex structures.
1Co 9:22-23
I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.  23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Structure and Strategy
 A few thoughts on how this impacts church planting By David L. Watson January 31, 2007  San Antonio, Texas

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