Cole's Church Models (2010)

Neil Cole – born and raised in Los Angeles, CA, an encounter with the Good News of Jesus Christ while a student at California State University, Long Beach, inspired his career.  An author (The Organic Church, Church 3.0), founder of Awakening Chapels in Long Beach California, and founder and Executive Director of Church Multiplication Associates (CMA), he served in a mega church and local community church before developing his model for small rapidly multiplying organic churches.

Cautioning that models must be considered as descriptive, not prescriptive (93), Cole builds upon William Evan’s four types of interactive configuration of networks (1972). After eliminating the first, the Dyad, he describes the other three.
* Chain network – connecting one unit to the next in a series – is the most decentralize
* Hub Network (also called all star) – has all units connecting from a central unit
* All-channel Network – the most fragile to create because of its reliance on a shared cause, belief, idea or passion, it is the most table once created because every unit connects to every other unit in the network

Church Multiplication Associates has developed a process for growing all-channel network faith communities based on their common understanding of and relationship through God’s “DNA”
* Divine Truth – God-given, revelation, best seen in the person of Jesus Christ
* Nurturing Relationships – we are relational as God is relational (Trinity)
* Apostolic Mission – sent to make disciples of all the nations

These communities are more like a starfish than an octopus. The octopus is a delicate creature, sensitive to environmental changes, and somewhat adaptable; if its tenticle is cut off, it will regrow.  However, if its head is cut it will die.  In contrast, the starfish can survive almost any environment and is so adaptable that not only will severed arms regenerate; the severed piece will grow another starfish! Cole suggests that cell-based churches are like octopi that cannot survive in hostile environments. Slower to reproduce, cell groups are the ministerial outreach of a church.  Organic house churches, like starfish, recreate themselves as contexts change and conditions are challenging. Each unit is its own church and they reproduce rapidly  

Framing Questions (Taken from Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom’s The Starfish and the Spider)

  1. Is there a person in charge?
  2. Are there headquarters?
  3. If you thump it on the head, will it die?
  4. Is there a clear division of roles?
  5. If you take out a unit, is the organizatuion harmed?
  6. Are knowledge and power centralized or decentralized?
  7. Is the organization flexible or rigid?
  8. Can you count the employees or participants?
  9. Are working groups funded by the organization or are they self-funding?
  10. Do working groups communicate directly or through intermediaries? (Cole, 118-119)


Centralized Decentralized
Better communication,
Slower Reproduction
More rapid reproduction,
Weak communication
Faster regional impact,
Higher cost to maintain
Less cost of maintenance,
Dispersed resources
Pooled resources,
More obvious human ingenuity
Faster global impact,
slower regional impact
More visible in community,
more vulnerable to persecution
God gets more glore for it,
Shorter church life span
Greater longevity,
More vulnerably to heresy
Resistent to persecution,
Less visible in community
Feel part of something bigger, Slower global impact Resistant to heresy, Less connected to sense of larger experience

Organic Church Starts Small, focused and develops a network of networks. They start with Life Transformation Groups, God designed groupings of people, groups of 2 or 3.
* Family is 12-15 people that develops when multiple groups of three join together. 
* Greenhouse training for preparing up to 72 disciples in one setting. Over 22,000 trained since 2000.
*Network has 150 people – size by which we can be related – generally into Chain or Hub.
* Gathering is 500 people.
*Leadership team is 5 (Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd, Teacher)

Neil Cole, Church 3.0 (San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010) and Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens(San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005))
NOTE: It would be good to compare Cole’s model with organizational analysis offered by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom, The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, (Portfolio Trade, 2008)


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