Clay Shirky in Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations (pp. 29-30)

Running an organization is difficult in and of itself, no matter what its goals. Every transaction it undertakes—every contract, every agreement, every meeting—requires it to expend some limited resource: time, attention, or money. Because of these transaction costs, some sources of value are too costly to take advantage of. As a result, no institution can put all its energies into pursuing its mission; it must expend considerable effort on maintaining discipline and structure simply to keep itself viable. Self-preservation of the institution becomes job number one, while its stated goal is relegated to number two or lower, no matter what the mission statement says. The problems inherent in managing these transaction costs are on of the basic constraints shaping institutions of all kinds.


  • Churches cast a vision/mission statement. This can often be handled in two ways: 1) They spell it out very specifically for the congregants through steps, action plan, etc. 2) They leave it open, allowing for the creativity of the congregants to carry out the vision/mission as they see fit.

  • Dillema: If the church doesn’t spell it out, and wants the congregants to be creative, the church needs to cut off the “choke point” that is usually created by layers of bureaucracy and hierarchy, giving freedom to the people. Or they need to spell it out, give marching orders, but in the process they cut off people’s creativity and the participation of the congregation.

  • In the end, the church has the choice to be self-preserving by maintaining control, or really pursue its mission/vision by opening up.