To centralize or decentralize...is that really the question by tim catchim
To Centralize or Decentralize…Is That Really The Question?
By Tim Catchim
Karl Weick, in his book Making Sense of the Organization, says, “…whenever you have what
appears to be successful decentralization, if you look more closely, you will discover that it was
always preceded by a period of intense centralization where a set of core values were
hammered out and socialized into people before the people were turned loose to go their own
‘independent, ‘autonomous’ ways.”*
Weick is pointing out an important ingredient here when it comes to organizing for missional
movement. As much as we would like to see the church scattered into every cultural pocket of
the city, we cannot successfully de-centralize for mission until we first go through a period of
centralization where the necessary foundations for movement are embedded within the
This is exactly what we see taking place in the life of Jesus, the revolutionary founder of a global
movement. For 3 1/2 years Jesus centralized a group of 12-72 people around himself so that he
could effectively train them in the foundational practices of movemental life and leadership in
the kingdom of God. During that time of centralization, Jesus modeled for them what
discipleship, community and mission really looks like. When it came time for the disciples to
launch out into a decentralized mission of disciple making and mission, they had the necessary
training and tools to lead the movement.
C comes before D
There is a certain order we need to pay attention to here. You can’t see the kind of movement
we see in Acts without first passing through the gospels. And you can’t make it through the
gospels without passing through discipleship. The reality is, Jesus did not expect the 12 to know
how to be or make disciples, live in community, or be on mission with God until he had
modeled and trained them to do it.
Trying to catalyze a decentralized movement without laying a good foundation of discipleship is
just trendy new-speak. In fact, if you try to decentralize without first going through a period of
centralization where the core practices of being and making disciples along with living as an
extended family on mission, you will not end up with movement at all. You’ll end up with a
fragmented group of disillusioned people with no point of reference for how to move forward.
To put it another way: Decentralization before discipleship equals diaspora.
Decentralization after discipleship equals movement.
Imitation as the Missing Link
Most churches find themselves stuck in a stage of centralization, but it is not the kind of
centralization Jesus has in mind. Instead of centralizing around the core practices of being and