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Catalyst Communities | Tom McGehee

Collaboration is a concept, a network is a structure, and a movement is result.

Many pastors today are talking about movements, and many churches and ministries today are participating in, or trying to operate through networks. However, success will only be achieved if they understand and fully embrace real collaboration. Collaboration is not connection, nor is it coordination, nor even cooperation. Each of those concepts focus on the addition of elements, where real collaboration results in multiplication. Simply put, collaboration is the ability of multiple entities to do more together than any one of them could achieve by themselves.

Networks are a structure that enables collaboration for two main reasons:

First, a network’s strength is in the sum of its parts, not any individual part. Success is shared by all and conversely If any part of a network suffers the entire network's ability is downgraded.
Second, networks are poly-centric and based upon “centered set” thinking rather than “bounded set” thinking. Centered set thinking establishes a core set of values, principles or agreements, and allows a multitude of expressions as long as they align with the core thinking. Bounded sets create specific limits that define operational and organizational models, and even culture. Bounded sets grow by replication within a standard pattern (consider a fast food franchise), whereas centered sets grow through innovation in a similar direction. 

If you desire real collaboration and greater impact through network participation, there are several questions you should consider:

How well do you collaborate internally? If your church operates in silos, or only though programs, then trying to operate differently with another church or organization outside your church will never really fit. It will always have to be treated differently, be seen as additional effort, and take additional time to manage. Churches, like any organization, each have their own culture. I’m not talking about theology or denomination, but rather the way things get done. Working with other organizations (like members of a network) may seem like a good strategy, but if it doesn’t fit with the operating culture of your church it won’t work. Remember the old saying “culture eats strategy for lunch”?

How do you measure success? Collaboration is about the multiplied power of the whole, not just the increase of each of its parts. Many today talk of “Kingdom impact”. But, do the metrics you use measure impact of the whole, or mostly of yourself? Metrics are the most powerful behavior lever. ‘You get what you measure” as the saying goes.
How do you define risk? If collaboration multiplies impact, then it also has an associated collective risk.

What is the view of time? There is an African saying “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.”

How you answer these questions may help you understand how well your church is positioned for collaboration. This can be difficult for many churches due to their current operating model or culture. For example, the traditional US mega-church is the antithesis of collaboration. It is focused on its own impact through its own growth, and in its own way. It is a “one stop shop”
for all things pertaining to evangelism and Christian growth.

By definition a movement incorporates both the concept of collaboration and a network structure. Movements multiply impact and develop in a non-centralized way. So, if you want to see movement, you need to be comfortable in operating within a network structure, and that requires that you both understand and embrace true collaboration.

NewThing is a great example of a centered set network with a truly global vision. As such they are very well positioned to help create church planting movements. For over two decades I have worked with organizations to provide a process of collaboration to help them achieve greater results. Through partnership with NewThing, we have created “Catalyst Communities”, a scalable collaborative approach to help launch networks that lead to movements.