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Rob Westbrook

Rob Westbrook

Rob Westbrook

Missional: Movement vs. Institutionalism

June 7, 2011, by Rob, category blog

Missional: Movement vs Institutionalism

To recover a missional vitality of the early church, we have to reawaken a movement ethos in our organizations. Most churches have lost any remnant of the type of ethos they had when they started or when their denominations were founded. This is because along the way networks developed into organizations, and organizations developed into institutions. Institutions develop incrementally and are set up to maintain a certain expression by developing rites, rituals, a professional ministry class, buildings, creeds, etc., and to pass them on to succeeding generations. The intentions are usually very sincere, but the net effect often results in a controlling, high-conformity culture that tends to reject efforts to disturb the status quo. Thus, renewal is a difficult process, fraught with the possibility of failure. We do believe that in the end, institutionalization is to some extent inevitable, but we also think it can be held at bay if we are clever about it. Maintaining a movement ethos is one sure antidote to the dangers of increasing institutionalism.
– From The Forgotten Ways Handbook by Alan Hirsch and Darryn Altclass

I don’t think any of us would intentionally choose the “institutional” model for our churches. But for the majority of church leaders, this is all we’ve known. And for any of our people who have a background in church, this model is what “church” is for most.

So how do we break away from the institutional model? How do we lead people to see the alternative? What does it take to begin a “movement” that breaks free from the institution?

These are questions I’m wrestling with. What do you think?


  1. Matt |

    Maybe we just need a culture of constant correction and evaluation. Specify times to rethink why we’re doing what we’re doing and if a sacred cow needs to go down.

    • Rob |

      I think you’re right, Matt. What would you say is needed to build that kind of culture?

  2. Matt |

    hmmm. I’d say one way is to keep teaching that it’s ok to recognize we could be doing better. I feel like we have this almost fatalistic mindset that whatever we’re currently doing must be God-ordained so we shouldn’t question it. Does that make sense at all? It’s late in the afternoon!

    • Rob |

      Makes sense, even this late in the afternoon! And that, I think, is what Hirsch refers to as protecting the “institution.” One of his suggestions to break out of this is to make decisions as a group. I can see where this might be good in a smaller group setting, but I’m wondering what it would look like in a group of 100 or more.

  3. MarkEn |

    Disturbing the status quo is the subject of a new book by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch called The Faith of Leap. The authors believe that the church needs to eschew its comforts and securities and begin taking risks and living life adventurously if it is to survive. Here’s a link: http://dld.bz/Z5ba. Breaking away from institutionalized church will take people who are willing to engage the culture by taking risks in reaching out to communities and letting go of control of outcomes.

  4. robwestbrook |

    @MarkEn Looking forward to getting that book. Alan Hirsch is, in my opinion, the voice of the next wave of the church. I’m heading in that direction now. Breaking completely out of my pre-programmed view of church is difficult but I think I’m about to find my way.

    There’s an extra period at the end of your link. Here’s the corrected link: http://dld.bz/Z5ba


So, what do you think ?


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