Can Holacracy Save the Church?

Just as in bowling, the headpin can cause all the pins to fall.

Just as in bowling, a wobbly headpin can cause all the pins to fall.


If the Survival of the Church Depends on Change
Change Must Come at Every Level

Four previous posts lay the groundwork for a discussion on Holacracy. (Links at the end of this post.)


Some focused on how the ideas are not foreign to Christian ideals—we just got stuck on hierarchical thinking and haven’t been able to budge.


The Reformation gave the Church a powerful nudge which corresponded with the discovery of the New World. The ideas of the Reformation became colorful threads in the tapestry of religious life in the New World. Makes sense—all the little frontier towns were well removed from the European centers of religious power.


But things have been static now for a long century.


We have drifted back to hierarchical thinking.


Mission relies on constant change, constant tension.


Hierarchy resists both.


The concepts of holacracy, formalized for business barely a decade ago, could help us crawl out from the rut.


Let’s look at holocracy. Here is a white paper published online by HolacracyOne, LLC, of nearby Spring City, PA  (


Holacracy starts with the supremacy of purpose. Churches might substitute the word “mission” for “purpose.”


It defines purpose with the questions: What does this organization want to be in the world, and what does the world need it to be?


Sounds a lot like the exercise all churches go through in creating a “mission statement”!


So far, we are on the same page.


A cofounder of HolacracyOne says:

“Holacracy is not a governance process ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’—it’s governance of the organization, through the people, for the purpose.”

Early adopters mention that they were drawn to this organizational model as their companies grew. They noticed workers becoming less  effective with size. Hmm. Maybe that’s why most churches are small!


A characteristic of the model is the embracing of tension. Tension is the catalyst of change. I’ve never belonged to a church that was afraid of tension. They were more likely to fear the consequences if the regional body sensed tension.


I can’t tell you how many times in Church life I’ve seen important questions put to a Robert’s Rules of Order vote on a stage set for animosity. When leaders work for a majority they tend to stop caring about the minority. In their minds, they consider them the “enemy.” Getting out the vote opens the door for manipulation. The issues are lost. Church life becomes about winning.


In hierarchical structure, leaders have two advantages. They control the pulpit and church press. They also have access to every member.


Church leaders have serious disadvantages. They know only what very few people (usually pastors) tell them about a congregation.


Let’s say the local leader uses advantages to rally a vote and wins a controversial motion by a 51% majority. That leaves 49% of a congregation unhappy. They may be the hardest working 49%. Outside leaders don’t know that. It’s a numbers game to them. The less involved who show up for the vote will predictably return to the shadows. The biased vote was a sweet victory in the moment. But the whole congregation is now torn.


The Church is now divided Winners and Losers—Friend or Foe. And those labels tend to stick!


Holacracy uses the word “gaps” to describe “tension.” The gap is between how things are and how they could be. The gaps can be problems or they could be dreams looking for a foothold. The important thing is that holacratic structure embraces them when they are proposed—not after years of planting seeds, hoping someone will notice. It bypasses those rigged votes and levels the playing field.


Holacracy calls it “processing.” Here is the six-step process.


Keep in mind that holacracy calls for peer interaction—and peers include pretty much everyone. Executives and managers relinquish the roles of directors. A project can be proposed by anyone seeing a need or opportunity. Since no one is “giving orders,” all are open to finding ways they can help—possibly filling multiple roles. Authority is given to the person proposing the project. If the role proves too demanding it can be broken down into sub-roles, but the person accepting the responsibility for the sub-role has the authority for that role.


HOLOCRACY describes a 6-Step process.


PROPOSAL PRESENTATION An idea is proposed. No one is permitted to interrupt the proposal except by invitation of the proposer.


CLARIFYING QUESTIONS Questions are then allowed. No reactions or dialog. Just questions. The proposer answers them.


Reactions are sought. Anyone may react, but discussion is not yet open and the proposer may not respond.


At the end of the reaction period, the proposer is invited to clarify or amend the proposal taking into account the reactions.


The question is asked: Do you see any reasons why adopting this proposal would cause harm or move us backward? Objections are welcomed without discussion. If there are no objections, the proposal is adopted.


If objections remain.The final step is integration.
Each objector, one at a time, may engage the proposer to resolve tensions.

How does the Holacracy Organization Chart look?

Well, it’s kind of a mess, much like modern life.holacracy circles2

This visual is from the above linked white paper with some notes about how this might look to a typical church.


That’s all for now. It’s a big bite to chew. If this topic interests you read the white paper and visit, which offers trainings.


Here are links to previous articles in the series:

  • In Post 1: The principles of holacracy, an organizational model that is growing in popularity, is compatible with the founding principles of the Protestant movement.
  • In Post 2: Church structure as we have known it for hundreds of years might incorporate holacracy.
  • In Post 3: Holacracy is not a new idea to religion—just an abandoned idea.
  • In Post 4: The typical hierarchical organizational chart is reviewed.


photo credit: strike! via photopin (license)