Distributed parking, distributed leadership

Our family doesn’t always visit a brick and mortar church, but when we do, my wife and I have a system to handle the parking conundrum. You see, we typically go to one of the many megachurches in the area and parking is predictably a nightmare. So what we generally do is ride around the parking lot scowling at people who are walking slowly back to their cars. We do this for a few minutes before we give up and agree to have my wife take the kids into the nursery while I finish the task of hunting down a parking space.

Hunting down a parking space at a large church on Sunday morning is harder than it sounds.

And yet, as silly as it sounds, this exercise helps illustrate something I believe the church in general could stand to learn.

You see, for most of the time during the week it is easy to find a parking space at most churches, large and small. The demand for parking places only spikes occasionally, usually on Sunday mornings between 11:00AM and 12:00PM.

I work with high performance computing systems a lot and I believe the principles used to solve the problem of crunching a large amount of data can be brought to bear in solving the problem of church parking.

When Toys R’ Us first launched their ecommerce website in 1999 they quickly found out that their servers were no match for the load that awaited them from a pre-Christmas rush. The next year, they decided to entrust their ecommerce store to another company that was able to solve the problem of handling large amounts of traffic.

Today there are several companies that have developed what is commonly called “cloud computing” systems. In brief, a cloud computing system is when you take a lot of servers and hook them up so that they cooperate while processing a large load. That load could be crunching through a lot of data or handling a lot of web requests. Most of the time its a combination of both.

Cloud platforms like Amazon are built to handle the surge of Christmas traffic. But this creates a problem similar to what most churches face with regard to their parking lots. There is a lot of wasted capacity since, for the most part, the resources meant to handle the surge in demand sit idle.

To get more use out of their cloud, Amazon and others like Google started offering parts of their cloud to others. The idea being that you could develop a website, deploy it on their system, and if your site gets really popular it can expand to more of the cloud platform to handle the load. Amazon calls their solution elastic computing.

The key to large scale computing is to find ways to carve up the problem domain into small, manageable, bite-sized chunks, and then find a way to have many mouths devour those chunks.

Many churches, when they start to grow and face issues of scale, attempt to solve the problem initially by offering multiple services on Sunday morning. This often works well if the church is able to effectively cut the demand per service in half. This is not much different than attempting to solve large computational problems by utilizing larger servers. This is known as scaling vertically and is the preferred tactic of many smaller churches. However the problem is that it produces waste in terms of under utilized resources when there is no load (ie. the other 6 days of the week) and eventually a hard vertical limit is reached.

Many churches are coming to realize the importance of distributing the load when it comes to discipleship. But when it comes to teaching, most still operate in a centralized fashion.

There are many reasons the church needs to embrace a more distributed leadership model. Here are a few:

  • Having multiple teachers to handle the task of teaching believers is a Biblical concept.
  • If more churches were to implement it as the model of leadership, it would also have the added benefit of alleviating the enormous and unnatural pressure placed at the feet of one man or a very small group of men.
  • Having multiple leaders serves as an encouragement for others to grow. It would help solve the problem of unmotivated church members.
  • Having multiple leaders makes single points of failure, especially of the moral variety, less prominent and less devastating.
  • Having multiple leaders provides an excellent means of continuous error correction.

Along with the spiritual reasons, there are other organizational benefits:

  • Having multiple leaders means buildings can be more fully utilized. Groups can be scheduled to meet at various times throughout the week, distributing the load, instead of causing the load to spike on one day and hour.
  • Higher utilization of resources means less waste.
  • Distributed leadership means fewer and lighter crowds. This means visitors are more likely to find a place and are more likely to become intimately involved with a group of believers.
  • Distributed leadership means leaders are free to specialize. This, in turn, translates into higher quality teaching and a more educated congregation. This would also mean more believers would be better equipped for evangelization.

And finally; distributed leadership would mean my family and I would have a better chance at finding a parking spot on Sunday morning.

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One response to “Distributed parking, distributed leadership

  1. Pingback: Today’s interesting reading so far.. « Epignosis

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