Table of Contents
Title Page
Copyright Page
Table of Figures
List of Tables
The Task of Sustaining the Present
The Task of Addressing the Future
McChurch or Mac Church?
The Age of Design
The Design Process
Life by Design
An Artist’s Tools
Meaningful Content and Intentional Structure
Interacting with White Space
Finding Your Style
Style and Time Frame
Appreciating Texture
Form and Shape
How Are You Shaped?
The Need for Soul Care
Two Spheres of Community
Discovering Microcommunity
Emerging Community Issues
Consequences of an Unarticulated Theology
Marriage of Church and Culture
A Time for Change
Remembering the Paradigm Behind Us
Considering the Paradigm Before Us: What the New Worldview Is Demanding
An Inside-Out Place to Begin: Who Versus Why
Who Is God, and How Does This Affect the Meaning and Mission of the Church?
Experiencing God’s Person
Are We Listening?
Engaging God’s Character
Encountering God’s Kingdom
Becoming Communitas
The Leader’s Role in Community and Communitas
Microcommunity Embracing Macrocommunity
Prayer: The Qualitative Difference in Releasing Communitas
For Whom Does the Church Exist?
The Story of Ethne
The Nidus Way: Nurture and Release
Macrocommunities and Neighbor-Spheres
The Emerging Value of Collaboration
Understanding the Concepts
People Group
What Is Microculture?
Three Kinds of Relationships to Cultures
Getting to Know a Culture: Exegesis
Cultural Guides for the Journey
Emerging Issues
Cultural Connections
The Jesus Microculture
Bounded Sets and Centered Sets
Creating Internal Cultures
Cultural Investments in the Eternal
Emerging Issue: Leadership Role Shifts
Church Organizing Principles
Experimenting with Models: Allan’s Story
The Protean Model
Values Congruency for Churches
Congruency Around Your Big Idea
Financial Realities
Cultural Considerations
Defining Our Scope
Understanding the Process
Designing from the Inside Out
Creating Better Organizations
Aspects of Church Life
Design Wisdom for Organizations
A New Way of Seeing
A New Metaphor for Organizing
Qualities Associated with Living Systems
Lessons from an Ancient Forest

Table of Figures

List of Tables

More Praise for Church Turned Inside Out
“This book was incubated over decades of trench work—observing, questioning, thinking, and synthesizing. In profound and gracious ways, Linda Bergquist and Allan Karr expose church design flaws, fuzzy thinking, and systemic blind spots. As coaches they insist on freedom to create the future; they celebrate distinctiveness; and they bring a practitioner’s clarity about the process of great church design. . . . Far from simplistic, this highly accessible book will ignite your imagination for what Christ’s church can be in our complex and ever-shifting culture.”
Carol Davis, cofounder, catalyst, coach, LeafLine Initiatives
“This brilliant book speaks wisely and uniquely on so many levels—artistically, intellectually and practically—to the current church planting scene. I highly recommend it. . . . Church Turned Inside Out is a concise and poignant guide to starting churches in this new century.”
—Andrew Jones, mission catalyst, Church Mission Society; director, the Boaz Project
“Linda and Allan give us practical and theologically innovative tools for rethinking church from an inside-out, upside-down, backward-forward approach. They challenge us with a clean slate that is Christ-focused for building an effective church model by taking us several steps backward before strategy, before values, before vision, and even before mission to identity.”
—Margaret Slusher, president, LeadPlus


The Blogging Church: Sharing the Story of Your Church Through Blogs,
Brian Bailey and Terry Storch
Church Turned Inside Out: A Guide for Designers, Refiners, and Re-Aligners, Linda Bergquist and Allan Karr
Leading from the Second Chair: Serving Your Church, Fulfilling Your Role, and Realizing Your Dreams, Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson
The Way of Jesus: A Journey of Freedom for Pilgrims and Wanderers, Jonathan S. Campbell with Jennifer Campbell
Leading the Team-Based Church: How Pastors and Church Staffs Can Grow Together into a Powerful Fellowship of Leaders, George Cladis
Church 3.0: Upgrades for the Future of the Church, Neil Cole
Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens, Neil Cole
Off-Road Disciplines: Spiritual Adventures of Missional Leaders, Earl Creps
Reverse Mentoring: How Young Leaders Can Transform the Church and Why We Should Let Them, Earl Creps
Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church: Mandate, Commitments, and Practices of a Diverse Congregation, Mark DeYmaz
Leading Congregational Change Workbook, James H. Furr, Mike Bonem, and Jim Herrington
The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community, Hugh Halter and Matt Smay
Leading Congregational Change: A Practical Guide for the Transformational Journey, Jim Herrington, Mike Bonem, and James H. Furr
The Leader’s Journey: Accepting the Call to Personal and Congregational Transformation, Jim Herrington, Robert Creech, and Trisha Taylor
Whole Church: Leading from Fragmentation to Engagement, Mel Lawrenz
Culture Shift: Transforming Your Church from the Inside Out, Robert Lewis and Wayne Cordeiro, with Warren Bird
Church Unique: How Missional Leaders Cast Vision, Capture Culture, and Create Movement, Will Mancini
A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey, Brian D. McLaren
The Story We Find Ourselves In: Further Adventures of a New Kind of Christian, Brian D. McLaren
Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church, Reggie McNeal
Practicing Greatness: 7 Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders, Reggie McNeal
The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church, Reggie McNeal
A Work of Heart: Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders, Reggie McNeal
The Millennium Matrix: Reclaiming the Past, Reframing the Future of the Church, M. Rex Miller
Shaped by God’s Heart: The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches, Milfred Minatrea
Missional Map-Making: Skills for Leading in Times of Transition, Alan
J. Roxburgh
The Missional Leader: Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World, Alan J. Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk
Relational Intelligence: How Leaders Can Expand Their Influence Through a New Way of Being Smart, Steve Saccone
Becoming an Externally Focused Church: A Practical Guide for the Transformational Journey, Eric Swanson and Rick Rusaw
The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence, Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and Ken McElrath
Beyond Megachurch Myths: What We Can Learn from America’s Largest Churches, Scott Thumma and Dave Travis
The Elephant in the Boardroom: Speaking the Unspoken About Pastoral Transitions, Carolyn Weese and J. Russell Crabtree

Since 1984, Leadership Network has fostered church innovation and growth by diligently pursuing its far-reaching mission statement: to identify, connect, and help high-capacity Christian leaders multiply their impact.
Although Leadership Network’s techniques adapt and change as the church faces new opportunities and challenges, the organization’s work follows a consistent and proven pattern: Leadership Network brings together entrepreneurial leaders who are focused on similar ministry initiatives. The ensuing collaboration—often across denominational lines—creates a strong base from which individual leaders can better analyze and refine their own strategies. Peer-to-peer interaction, dialogue, and sharing inevitably accelerate participants’ innovation and ideas. Leadership Network further enhances this process through developing and distributing highly targeted ministry tools and resources, including audio and video programs, special reports, e-publications, and online downloads.
With Leadership Network’s assistance, today’s Christian leaders are energized, equipped, inspired, and better able to multiply their own dynamic Kingdom-building initiatives.
Launched in 1996 in conjunction with Jossey-Bass (a Wiley imprint), Leadership Network Publications present thoroughly researched and innovative concepts from leading thinkers, practitioners, and pioneering churches. The series collectively draws from a range of disciplines, with individual titles offering perspective on one or more of five primary areas:
1. Enabling effective leadership
2. Encouraging life-changing service
3. Building authentic community
4. Creating Kingdom-centered impact
5. Engaging cultural and demographic realities
For additional information on the mission or activities of Leadership Network, please contact:
Leadership Network (800) 765-5323 client.care@leadnet.org

by Alan Hirsch
Mission, by its very nature, calls us into risky engagement, and because it does that it requires constant vigilance, relearning, adaptation, and unrelenting adjustments in the life of the organization. Therefore, missional church (the church that organizes itself around the mission of God in the world) by its very definition must call into question many of the inherited ideas that underpin the prevailing forms and ideas of church. If left unchallenged, institutionalized dimensions of church life will inevitably pull the church into a vortex that will not only suppress the message but in the process destroy the spiritual legitimacy of the church itself. Emil Brunner was right: the church does exist by its mission—we are a message tribe, after all. So, if the church’s built-in missional impulse fails to challenge the status quo, progress itself would be impossible. The biblical teaching on the Kingdom of God is predicated on the idea that we have not yet reached the ideal yet. The best is yet to come, and we must all lean into the task of participating in God’s dreams and desires for our world. There is much work to be done, and much of it involves change.
However, we would be less than biblical if we were to do this work divorced from a lively sense of theology, history, and tradition. Our very identity, our culture, our worldview are formed by the stories that have shaped, sustained, and enabled us to get to this very point in time. History and tradition are important guides to genuinely biblical thinking. To find this balance between the conservative forces of tradition and the progressive forces of mission is as rare as it is difficult, because by nature the imposing Kingdom demands constant repentance while our living sense of identity requires remembrance and conservation of the ideas and events that have shaped us.
This being said, both Linda Bergquist and Allan Karr do precisely that; they are radical traditionalists. They play out their vision of the church right at the intersection where the future meets the past in the present, and in so doing they challenge the status quo of contemporary forms of church while at the same time being very respectful of its relative successes and the faithfulness of our evangelical tradition.
Most churches in the evangelical wing of the church sincerely long to have an impact on their world, but they are somehow stuck in the same systems story that binds them to past practices. I believe the strategic battle for the mission of the church in our time will be won or lost at the level of imagination. It is a matter of how we conceive the church, of what image of the church dominates our thinking. If we fail to get to reconceive the church missionally, then we can expect more of the same (diminishing) results that we are currently achieving. What I like about this book is that it is not just about good ole American pragmatism. It blends theology, biblical imagery, and metaphors from culture and creation to offer up a fertile vision of what the church must become; it provides respectful ways to look at adaptation and change. This is a book that will help mainstream evangelicals move forward to their own next steps and nurture leaders who find themselves yearning to be more faithful to the missional cause of Jesus’ church.
Both authors have long-term experience in guiding established churches as well as in church planting and networking. They are missiologists, theologians, and practitioners, and it is the combination of these ministries that legitimizes what they say. As far as I am concerned, this is a well-researched, genuinely intelligent, missiologically fertile book—and a good piece of writing to boot. It is a valuable addition to the newly burgeoning assortment of books on missional church.
Well done, Linda and Allan. May God bless and use this work.
Alan Hirsch is the author of The Forgotten Ways, reJesus, and The Shaping of Things to Come; the founder of Forge Missional Training Network; and cofounder of shapevine.com.

To Kathy
My patient and faithful partner in the journey,
Who inspires us all daily with encouragement—Allan
To Fred Jappe
My friend and teacher,
Who first introduced me to the living Christ—Linda

This is a design book. It is also an ecology book, a philosophy book, an organizational book, an art book, and a church book—with a little biology, mathematics, physics, and history thrown in. Why not? It seems like a good way for churches to reflect the never-changing, ever-transforming, all-knowing nature of God. One reason we chose to write from the perspective of multiple disciplines is that it is something we as authors simply enjoy doing. Learning from many arenas of God’s world is part of what it means for us to “delight in the Lord.”
A story from the life of Henry Ford helped inform the direction of this book. Ford reinvented transportation by designing an efficient, lightweight engine that made automobiles affordable. Always a populist, he wanted all his factory workers to be able to own a car. His innovative ideas about mass production catapulted his dream to such an extent that at one point the Ford Motor Company manufactured more than half of the automobiles on American roads. Perhaps Ford’s most unique idea, however, was to share the profits with the employees. On January 11, 1914, the New York Times reported the “good to great” story of Ford’s journey to fame. The headline that day read: “Henry Ford Explains Why He Gives Away $10,000,000; Declares That He Is Dividing Profits with His Employees, Not Paying Them Higher Wages, and That Workers as Partners Will Give Increased Efficiency.”1 As amazing as Ford was in both product and process innovation, he also had his blind spots. In his autobiography he wrote, “In the future we were going to build only one model, that the model was going to be ‘Model T,’ and that the chassis would be exactly the same for all cars.”2 Ford added: “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.”3 Ford was so focused on his goal of reproducing cars for the masses that he made an intentional decision not to be innovative in other arenas of automobile production.
Sometimes, Christians think that only our own brand of “Model T church” ought to be produced. Sometimes we are so focused on mass production of new churches and new Christians that, in the name of biblical reproduction, we forget that God doesn’t paint in just one color. Not everyone agreed with Henry Ford, and of course eventually the Ford Motor Company produced hundreds of kinds of cars. This book invites readers to think like designers, and remain open to many new kinds of expression of the body of Christ.
We have taught and lived the content of this book for years but never thought to write about what we learned. Two stories (one from Allan and one from Linda) served as a-ha moments that led us to record our experiences. Allan calls his story the “Zwingli Crisis.” It happened in Switzerland while Allan, his family, and some students were visiting church planter Corey Best and assisting him with the new church there. One day, the group visited Grossmünster, a historic church in Zurich where the sixteenth-century reformer Ulrich Zwingli was once pastor. A tour guide introduced them to a side of Zwingli they never knew.
Apparently Zwingli opposed nearly everyone: the Catholic Church of Switzerland, which he sought to demolish; his contemporary, Martin Luther; and the radical reformers, who included his former students. He was particularly incensed by two of his own students, Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz, who believed that the Bible taught believer baptism rather than infant Baptism, and as a result he presided over the death of several of them. Even though Zwingli helped initiate change in Switzerland, he frequently persecuted those who disagreed with him. The power structures Zwingli represented could not accommodate the designers, refiners, and re-aligners of his own day. Allan decided he didn’t like Zwingli very much, and the experience served to ignite in him a passion to help the next generation of leaders find their place in the new story of what God is doing in the world today. The episode and its outcome eventually led toward this book.
Linda’s a-ha experience happened when her daughter, Kristina, became a student at San Francisco’s Lick-Wilmerding High School (LWHS), which calls itself a “private school with a public purpose.” Every year, LWHS selects a group of incoming students not only on the basis of individual strengths but also on how the group seems to form some kind of diverse and balanced whole. After selecting students, the school works with families and extends scholarships, as needed, from its endowment fund. Tuition includes everything, so that families who send their children to LWHS do not have to plan for any additional expenses, and every student is able to participate in all activities. Not only that, but families are invited into the life of the school. As part of a first-semester family, Linda was invited to co-chair a major committee, not because of social connections or wealth (her daughter received generous financial aid from the school), but because of her prior experience.
Education at LWHS means learning to use head, heart, and hands for a greater good. Students and faculty alike are deeply involved in the life of the community. The school began the Lick-Wilmerding Center for Civic Engagement, which “marshals and leverages our community’s knowledge, networks and resources to benefit the common good. We do so, in part, by creating meaningful service learning opportunities and convening service-related conversations among teachers and students at LWHS and across the country.”4
The school began one program to help tutor urban middle school children and another to give scholarships to high school children from less advantaged schools. It also initiated a learning service project with a destitute school in Senegal, and more. Everything from the green architecture to the unique learning experiences resonates fully with Lick Wilmerding’s values and beliefs. LWHS is a beautifully designed organization, much like the beautifully designed churches that Linda imagines.
Although we have taught the content of Church Turned Inside Out for years, writing it down made it fresh again. Everything, like these two stories, became an incredible new learning experience that helped us think differently as well as care differently. In some ways, though, this book found us along the way. We thought we knew how its story would end, but it is really still unfolding. Many ideas surfaced that, until now, we had been content to keep tucked away in our minds. We may have never dusted them off, but that seemed too indulgent. Some of those ideas were never spoken aloud except between us as coauthors. They seemed raw and new, even to us. We also knew God was shaping us through many people in our lives, but we didn’t realize how many there were and how deeply we love and appreciate them.
Additionally, we thought we understood teamwork. After all, we both teach about it; but one of the great experiences of writing this book was the teamship we learned to share with one another. Through this process, we discovered more about our own selves and about what it meant to value and appreciate one another. In many ways, we are quite opposite, with different genders, ages, writing and work styles, thought processes, personalities, and spiritual gifts. Neither of us could have written nearly as well without the other because it took both of us to make this book complete. But as you read Church Turned Inside Out, you will discover that, in the end, learning and being together is what it’s all about.

“That’s the effect of living backwards,” the Queen said kindly: “it always makes one a little giddy at first—”
“Living backwards!” Alice repeated in great astonishment. “I never heard of such a thing!”
“—but there’s one great advantage in it, that one’s memory works both ways.”
“I’m sure mine only works one way,” Alice remarked. “I can’t remember things before they happen.”
“It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,” the Queen remarked.
THIS IS A BOOK ABOUT DESIGN. It is about conceiving, birthing, and conceptualizing. It is also about experience and emotional attachment, utility, and appreciation. The chair that you love is comfortable and good for your back. It is well suited for the particular space you call home, and it is uniquely your own. It serves your mission of relaxing in the evening while you read or watch television. Whether your spouse agrees or not, this chair is your own designer original.
The idea of design in this book takes in all of these kinds of ideas. In some ways, you might call it “interior design” because we start with the inside (you, your beliefs, and your values). This is the exact opposite of how many people use the word design because they think design is about outer appearances, like making something pretty or giving it a finishing touch. In the church world, there is a great tendency to improve or fix things on the outside by adding or subtracting various programs or methodologies. Here, the process is reversed and intentionally more systemic. It introduces the church to a whole new design experiment.
In 1803, after negotiating the Louisiana Purchase, Thomas Jefferson commissioned Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to lead an expedition to explore the newly annexed territory. The president was hoping to discover the existence of a waterway to the west coast. With no roads and no maps, the expedition, known as the Corps of Discovery, had to work from the inside out, creating something where nothing they knew about already existed. They forged a crude route from Saint Louis to the Pacific, returning two years later. When they began, the explorers knew only the path from St. Louis to as far as they could see up the Missouri River, but by the time they finished they had charted a pathway for the United States to span its settlement from ocean to ocean.
Allan often asks his students to consider what it would have been like if Congress had required Lewis and Clark to draw a map of where they were going before they left. What if they had speculated a journey, developed a strategy, and drawn a map based on traveling a waterway nobody knew was actually there? Any plan to adhere to this kind of scheme would have alienated Congress, disheartened the team, and failed hopelessly within days after the expedition began.
As you read this book, we are asking you to abandon your maps and lay aside your preconceived ideas, plans, strategies, and models related to the churches you care about. We want you to think from the inside out, starting with some concepts you may have never considered important. As you move through the chapters, with God’s help you will eventually be able to draw a relevant, realistic, and thoughtful kind of map. We believe this will be your experience as a result of having dealt with some new, different, or defining issues.
At the end of the Corps of Discovery, Clark presented Jefferson with a series of amazingly detailed expedition maps that noted rivers, creeks, significant points of interest, and even the shape of shorelines. These maps helped future explorers continue probing the western territory. As you embark on your personal “corps of discovery,” we hope you will glean insights on your journey as a church designer, refiner, or re-aligner. Perhaps the maps you draw will also be helpful to future travelers who are preparing to define new territory for God’s people.
Amid some of the most rapid change humanity has ever experienced, we have written this book out of a conscious decision to live well in a gap that connects the present to the future. This gap represents the two great tasks for the church in North America today. The first of these is predictable and in the present: the church must do everything it already knows how to do, as sustain-ably as it can, so that as many people as possible begin to follow Christ obediently, become involved in authentic Christian communities, and multiply disciples. The second great task of the church is oriented toward the future: the church must also commit to the adventure of figuring out how to reach the growing number of people who are resistant to the gospel as it has been expressed in past generations.

The Task of Sustaining the Present

The church knows a lot about reaching people who adhere to a fuzzy faith in God, who already believe that the Bible is true, and who are open to the idea of church, but who need to hear the call of Christ and to make changes in their hearts, attitudes, and behaviors. There are millions who will hear about the four spiritual laws, and learn how to discover steps to peace with God, and how to have an abundant life. Hearing, we hope they will believe, and by believing become involved in a church, live better, and go to heaven when they die.
In many places in North America today, this is still a primary need. The Association of Religion Data Archives shows that more than two-thirds of people in the United States have no doubt that God exists, believe in heaven, and believe that being a Christian is very important or fairly important. In the same survey, only one-third of respondents say they have ever had a born-again experience. Roughly speaking, this means that approximately one-third of all people living in the United States are not born-again Christians but may be quite open to this kind of an encounter with Christ.2 Others come to know Christ in different ways, such as Ruth Graham, the late wife of America’s favorite evangelist, who cannot ever remember a time when she did not feel close to Christ.
Children who grow up in homes where Christ is real, and where parents pray for their daughters and sons, are more likely to follow him when they are old, but those kinds of homes have become rare. San Francisco is one example of a city where there has been a gap in the type of historical Christianity to which we refer. It experienced what is often called postmodernity forty years before most people ever heard of the term. Not realizing what they were up against, local churches retreated and failed to make their practices relevant to the culture in which they found themselves. Most became increasingly ineffective, and many grew weary from trying to implement new methodologies that seemed effective in other American cities but that failed in San Francisco. Decades passed, and San Francisco became a radically unchurched city whose beautiful old church buildings stood nearly empty.
When the Billy Graham Crusade came to San Francisco in the late 1990s, it served more of a seed-sowing purpose than a harvesting purpose. It was a novelty, and perhaps even an honor, that the world-famous evangelist chose San Francisco. However, the crusade did not have an impact on the city or its churches in any real way. Many Christians dismissed it: “Nothing works in the spiritual battlefield of San Francisco. Let’s go instead where God is working.” Translated, “go where God is working” sometimes means “go to some large, rapidly growing, homogeneous, suburban, preferably politically conservative population base where a congregation can quickly become numerically successful.” This misinterpretation of the church growth movement and its principles has left hundreds of thousands of today’s urban dwellers without even a memory of a relevant gospel message.
A few years ago on Easter morning, a church planter named John sat outside a community center in the Haight district of San Francisco, which forty years earlier was the center of the Jesus Movement. John seized the quiet moment, and strummed his guitar as he worshipped God. A neighbor poked his head out of the four-story house next door. “Come on up here and play some Jesus music for us,” the man requested. John obliged, and after a few songs the household asked John a serious question: “Can you tell us what the meaning of Easter is? We’ve been asking people all week, and nobody remembers.”
Nobody remembers the meaning of Easter! The present-day task of the church is clear. Christians must continue to do everything they already know how to do to reach the most receptive people, now in places in North America that still hold historically positive images of Church.

The Task of Addressing the Future

Because the number of those who simply need the gospel story clarified and committed to heart before coming to Christ is fewer than we dare realize, the second great task is very important. A growing number of North Americans are not at all responsive to the story the way we have learned to share it. They do not believe that the Bible is true, or even useful. In their worldview, it is important that a spiritual tradition be able to help people know how to live together on the planet in such a way that we do not destroy one another, and do not destroy the prospects of future generations. They see Christianity, in its seeming exclusivity—with its core belief that the only way to God is through Jesus—as more detrimental than helpful in seeking these global outcomes. It seems there is no acceptable place in this new world for people who believe their group alone has a corner on truth, or who try to enlist others to believe and practice as they do (evangelism).
Others simply find the Christian story archaic and irrelevant. They wonder why we persist in taking our old Book so seriously. They could care less whether humans are saved by grace or by good works. In the midst of this upheaval, we find this second great challenge of the church in North America today. The church must learn to be and do what it does not already know. With all of our hearts, we must address the future together.
It is said that Beethoven, who was a wildly successful musician in his own day, began at one point in his career writing pieces that were so unlike his previous works that his friends were astonished and asked, “Ludwig, what’s happened to you? We don’t understand you anymore!” According to the story, Beethoven, with a studied sweep of the hand, replied, “I have said all I have to say to my contemporaries; now I am speaking to the future.” His later works, including his Ninth Symphony and the string quartet Grosse Fuge, became some of the most important musical pieces ever composed.3
Our aim is similar. We wish to speak to the future. We hope to slow down the depletion of the church’s present assets so that they do not become tomorrow’s liabilities too quickly. We also want to help future perspectives become present practices in authentic, practical ways. We must ask ourselves what is here for the long haul, and what needs an overhaul or a reconstruction. We will be talking about design, as a process and mind-set that can help everyone who cares about these issues of present and future move forward. Our design process turns thinking processes upside down and inside out. Our readers should not be surprised by such an approach, though we imagine that it will irritate some in the same way that Jesus irritated religious leaders with His countercultural, inside-out ideas: to be rich you must be poor; to be first, you must be last; to live you must first die; to gain you must lose; and it is by giving that you receive.
“Inside-out” thinking is what we are after. We hope to help our readers think about church in ways that are good for them and the people they lead. Designers do not start with existing models and paradigms, and neither will we. Instead we begin on the inside, with you and the people who are journeying with you, and we work our way outward toward a paradigm or way of understanding church. Our approach is both reconciliatory and revolutionary and does not necessarily mean starting over; nor does it require disassociation with historic faith. In his book Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants, Daniel Williams describes the disconnect between the contemporary church and historical faith traditions as “amnesia.” He says that the real problem with amnesia is that “not only do you forget your loved ones, but no longer remember who you are.”4 It is possible to love and respect the church even while calling for change.
Here is a picture of what we mean. When the Bergquist family purchased their 1931 Mediterranean home, it came with a classic bright pink and black tiled bathroom. If they had built the house themselves, they would have chosen some other tile and designed the bathroom differently (design). If enough money were available, they would have made several remodeling decisions, including finding old authentic replacement tile in another color (re-align).
With neither available, they opted to accessorize with complementary modern colors (refine). The result is that they were able to find a way to integrate colors and style so that the look is both contemporary and classic, respecting both the home’s character and the Bergquists’ tastes. Nothing about it seems either mass produced or unintentional.

McChurch or Mac Church?

McDonald’s and Apple are household names. Their products, such as Big Macs and Macintosh computers, are iconic representations of America’s success. Although some may prefer the two not be mentioned in the same breath, there are actually a number of similarities in the corporate cultures of these industry giants. Both are fast-paced companies that have their own operating systems. They like to control the entire consumer experience, or what Steve Jobs calls “the whole widget.”5 Both are intentionally rooted in consumer accessibility, and both turn out new products with regularity. However, even though both companies have designed many new products, McDonald’s is known as the all-American franchise-in-a-box, while Apple is known for its innovative out-of-the box thinking.
These Mc and Mac stereotypes offer symbolic language for our conversation about church. A few popular models dominate the church landscape. Like McDonald’s and Apple, these models have many fans and many critics. A few have worked exceedingly well. They weren’t always models; they began with a design. Somebody thought or prayed through a beautifully complete, systemic design process and implemented it faithfully. In our culture, whatever works well is usually imitated, perfected, and reproduced over and over again, often with some predictable rate of success. We’re calling this phenomena “McChurch.”
In the last few decades, as the church learned to reproduce and perfect certain processes, it has become more effective than ever at reaching the declining number of people who are attracted to existing formats of church. But the church cannot continue to depend on cherry picking forever. To overcome this nonsustainable practice, it is necessary to engage prayerfully in a new missiological orientation that takes design thinking seriously.
This new orientation, which Allan and Linda call “Mac Church,” would be different in creating churches with fewer assumptions about how church “ought” to look, what it takes to be effective or productive, and what is good for people’s spiritual health. Instead of looking for solutions that fit the masses, it would take individuals’ needs and preferences more seriously. The church must learn to do something that is paramount to building an airplane while in flight; it cannot stop what it is already doing to experiment with new approaches. Thus, some must refine and re-align on the basis of already existing models while others, the designers, find ways to radically rethink church.

The Age of Design

Bruce Nussbaum, managing editor in charge of innovation and design coverage at BusinessWeek, is acknowledged as one of the world’s forty most influential designers. A leading advocate of organizational design for more than twenty years, he calls design thinking the “new Management Methodology,” justifying its rising popularity when he says, “There are moments in history when the pace of change is so fast and the shape of the future so fuzzy that we live in a constant state of beta.” Nussbaum recognizes the unnecessary tension this brings up: “There is a nice little war going on in the US between those design educators that want to stress strategy and those which focus on form. It’s a silly argument to me. Design should not give up its special ability to visualize ideas and give form to options. Design should extend its brief to embrace a more abstract and formalized expression of how it translates empathy to creativity and then to form and experience. . . . Do not deny the powerful problem-solving abilities of design to the cultures of business and society.”6
The church accepts this same challenge when it not only admits its growing despair in addressing the future but also blesses diverse, God-inspired design attempts to do something about it. In these times of transition, it is imperative for the church’s change agents to ask tough questions about the underlying assumptions and mental models that have created the dilemmas we must address. Albert Einstein said problems can’t be solved within the mind-set that created them.7 Even Charlie Brown agreed: “How can you do ‘new math’ problems with an ‘old math’ mind?”8 If they are correct, it is necessary to consider the inside workings of some of our current church systems.
There is a theory that people in systems, including church systems, often have good intentions but end up producing the opposite of what they intend. This phenomenon is being studied in fields as diverse as business, the food industry, education, and medicine, all of which are reexamining their systems in light of a new era of information. In medicine, the term iatrogenic is used to refer to conditions or complications that are a result of the treatment, the facilities, or the participants of the healing team. For example, George Washington almost certainly died as a result of a well-intentioned physician draining many pints of his blood rather than supplementing it. Though a customary practice of the day, bloodletting was the tragic opposite of what Washington really needed.
Sarah Mondale and Sarah Patton explored this notion in their PBS film “School: The Story of American Public Education.” It seems that early public schools were often built for the children of factory workers. The goal was to create environments that would produce the best possible next generation of factory workers. Public school was the perfect preparation for a structured, bureaucratic society where work was routinized, authority respected, rules obeyed, and where acquisition of basic skills and competencies was more valued than raising up eager learners. The result was a tendency toward broad mediocrity that still infects our public school systems more than one hundred years later.9
In a 2005 speech to the National Governor’s Association, Microsoft founder Bill Gates said that now “America’s high schools are obsolete. By obsolete, I don’t just mean that our high schools are broken, flawed, and under-funded—though a case could be made for every one of those points. By obsolete, I mean that our high schools—even when they’re working exactly as designed—cannot teach our kids what they need to know today.”10
Churches founded in this era, during the growth of public education, spread most quickly among people who worked in factories and whose children attended the new public schools. The churches modeled their systems after these same educational organizations. This should not surprise those of us who recognize that many churches and denominations today learn organizational practices from business organizations. But what if, despite our good intentions, we are actually propagating church systems that in our own day are creating the opposite of what we want?
A few years ago, while attending an educational convention, Linda heard a presenter ask the group a provocative question: What kind of educational system would we dream up if we were trying our best to produce people who were not learners? The answers made her think that people in churches might respond similarly if they were asked what kind of religious system they would dream up if they were trying their best to produce people who did not grow spiritually and if they were trying to create barriers to other people coming to know Christ. She put this question to a class of seminary students. Here are some of the answers describing such a system:
• The chief activity that people would do together would be indoctrination through absorbing information.
• Information gathering would be valued more than practical application.
• More attention would be paid to slots in the organization that needed to be filled than to the strengthening of people’s abilities.
• Participants would be rewarded for agreeing with what they were told and punished for exploring new ideas.
• When people met, they would sit silently in straight rows and listen to just one person’s ideas.
• Language would be created to help distinguish group “insiders” from those who were outside the group.
• People in the group would spend so much time together doing things that helped the system that they would have no time left to spend with those outside the system.
• Acceptance would be linked to performance.
• People would be valued for what they contributed to the organization and to what they could do to build it up.
• Freethinking would be discouraged, especially asking questions considered disloyal.
• Freedom of the press would be eliminated.
• Families would be divided up into activities so that they couldn’t function as practicing communities during the week.
• People would be valued for what they know more than what they do.
• The message would be that the organization is more important than its people.
When we saw these results we cringed. Ouch! These qualities come a little too close to describing the way a lot of church communities operate, even if they do not necessarily add up to a negative result. Still, it is important to investigate the possibility of our own “illness”-producing practices, and to consider whether our particular traditions of churching are effectively producing the kind of Christian, in the kinds of Christian communities, that most honors our Maker. Although the field of education has spent decades researching and redesigning its systems, the church, in our opinion, has been remiss in finding its own Spirit-led ways to research and design anew.