Science in Christian Perspective



The Sociology of Religious Organizations

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From: PSCF 39 (June 1987): 95-104.

Organizations have a clear advantage over individuals in achieving goals. They can mobilize resources, coordinate the skills of their members, and both direct and motivate them to achieve a unified action towards delineated goals. Some of the disadvantages of organizations include the tendency for them to expend a great deal of effort to grow for the sake of growth, then to slowly lose sight of their original goals and purposes. Their focus gradually changes to serving the needs of the hierarchy as opposed to either its members or higher goals, such as altruistically serving outsiders. Another problem is that organizations tend to take on a mystical quality and at times are viewed as sacred entities. This trend is especially common in religious organizations popularly known as cults. It is also true of organizations which tend to feel that they have God's exclusive blessing, or serve a major role in God's plan.

Religious organizations, both so-called cults and the mainline denominations, have received much criticism lately by the news media, scholars and others. Although much research exists about the various functions of religion and the human needs it satisfies (see Zaretsky and Leone, 1974; Meissner, 1966), much less has been written on the functions, purposes, and problems of formal organizations formed to facilitate religious goals.

Church organizations are not necessary to carry out many of the functions of religion. Any individual can study the sacred scriptures of a religion, read its devotional publications, and even perform most religious rituals such as prayer, meditiation, and communion. For this reason, many persons question the need for formal religious organizations. This attitude is reflected in statements such as, "You do not have to belong to a church to be a Christian" or "I am not against religion, only organized religion." A major problem with most organizations is that:

arge-scale institutions, be they economic, religious, or governmental, take on a self-serving mentality that may ... be antithetical to the needs of the people they supposedly serve.... Niebuhr discusses this fact as he accounts for the rise of left-wing radical churches of the disinherited in eighteenth century Europe. "There is present," Niebuhr argued, 11 the actual exclusion of the poor from churches grown emotionally too cold, ethically too neutral, intellectually too sober, socially too aristocratic to attend (to those] ... who suffered under the oppression of monotonous toil, of insufficient livelihood and the sense of social inferiority." (Roberts and Kloss, 1979:9)

Many who are religious in the traditional sense prefer not to formally involve themselves in "organized religion" (Gallup and Poling, 1980). Polls consistently show about ninety-five percent of Americans believe in God, eighty percent consider themselves "religious," yet less than fifty percent attend church at least three times per month. Hertel et al. (1974:14) concluded from their analysis that, 11 while candor in expressing disbelief appeared to be on the rise in America by the late 1960s, the proportion of Americans who continue to believe in the major tenets of Christianity is not changing dramatically." Since the 1950's, the attendance of many mainline denominations has steadily declined, but that of conservative churches hasincreased (Eitzen, 1974; Kelley, 1977; Gallup, 1985). Although some use this data as an indication that the beliefs of those churches that grew or lost members are true or false, the focus here is on organized religion as an institution, with a specific focus on the advantages and disadvantages of various types of organizations in relationship to the general goals of most religions.

The Sociology of Organizations

Part of the reason for the existence of large, bureaucratic organizations today is that both our lives and our
society are vastly more complex. Organizations are for this reason more functional today. Historically they
were often not practical, since the population was widely scattered and most people lived in the country,
often miles away from central church centers. The average early Greek and most pre-industrial European
Christians were primarily preoccupied with raising food and caring for their families. Survival was fore
most, not church activities. "Mechanical Solidarity" was the glue that held their society together; people
were unified because they did similar work and had common problems, goals and values (Shepard, 1981).

The manifest function of organizations today is primarily to facilitate a wide variety of specialized
goals and needs which were not dealt with at all, or not in the same way, by people until after the industrial
revolution. Organizations also exist particularly in response to our modern need for incredible specializa
tion. The glue of contemporary society is thus "Organic Solidarity.- a unification necessitated by today's labor
division which forces us to rely on a wide variety of highly trained separate specialists, from doctors to
lawyers to auto mechanics (Shepard, 1981).  At one time, a priest would deal with medical, psychological,
spiritual and other concerns. Today we train ministers,  psychologists, and medical specialists of many types to
  fill this formerly single role.

An organization is a formal group of persons with specific goals and objectives, as opposed to a social group which may or may not be planned, such as a street corner gang. An institution refers to a specific type of organization which is established to achieve a set of given, often formal, ends. Educational or correctional entities are examples. A bureaucracy in modern usage is a system that organizations use to maximize their goals. It stresses primarily a control hierarchy, formal procedures, role specialization, and objective measurement of achievement.

All organizations involve the formal cooperation of many individuals, most often a dozen or more. Formal structures, procedures, policies and roles designed to achieve the organization's goals are developed early in its existence. It is apparent to most observers that no matter what groups of people aspire to accomplish, organizations most often have a clear advantage (Etzioni, 1964). Helping the poor, carrying out research, solving medical problems, establishing colleges or hospitals, or even convincing the public of the validity of a belief structure are all usually accomplished more effectively by some type of a formal organization (Towns, 1972). This means that, with growth and time, a division of both labor and power occurs. With this follows deliberately planned communication channels designed to enhance the realization of the organization's goals. Armies, church denominations, charity organizations, schools and colleges, hospitals, prisons and the like are all organized to achieve specific group-agreed-upon goals, and those who join usually agree with them. The members of an organization often have certain goals that they individually want to achieve, but these are usually similar to the general goals of the organization.

Jerry Bergman holds a Bachelor's degree with the equivalent of a major in Psychology, Sociology, Education, and Biology, a Master's degree in Education and Psychology, and a Doctorate in Evaluation and Research, all from Wayne State University in Detroit. He also has a second Master's in Social Psychology and Corrections, and is currently completing his second Doctorate in Sociology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. His last academic position was as Associate Professor at Spring Arbor College in Spring Arbor, Michigan. He has over 300 publications, including 20 books, monographs and book chapters.

Organizations are also characterized by the presence of one or more power centers that control the activities of their members and insure that their efforts are directed toward achieving the organization's goals (Etzioni, 1964; Wagner, 1979). Feedback and a means of removing unsatisfactory persons (those not properly performing their tasks or impeding the goal activity of others), are both necessary (Meissner, 1965). These mechanisms include firing, forced retirement, vertical (or, more commonly, horizontal) promotion into a position in the organization where the individual will cause fewer problems. However, for religious organizations, in contrast to most others, the organization's practical needs and the implementation of typical organization goals sometimes conflict with the values most religious persons espouse. The business-related need to maintain formal rules, treat everyone alike, promote according to seniority, and pay salaries oblivious to the workers' personal circumstances are all behaviors which may conflict with the Christian mandate to forgive, help those with problems, and show concern for people as a whole.

The Formal Functions of Organizations

Most organizations serve several functions, each of which will be discussed in reference to religious organizations. First, they typically establish guidelines to direct and focus their activity. Toward this end they evolve rules that force them to focus attention on areas designed to achieve their specific goals. If the denomination determines that an important goal is the establishment of schools and colleges, unified effort from the top down will be expended in this direction. The church's resources (money, time, people, et cetera) will be used to help insure that goals in the areas selected are achieved (Hoge and Roozen, 1979).

Second, individuals need pressure to act, even if they agree that the behavior the organization wants is desirable. Research has shown that "over 90 percent will not attend [union] meetings or participate in union affairs; yet over 90 per cent will vote to force themselves to belong to the union and make considerable dues payments to it" (Olson, 1965:86).

The organization itself is a source of legitimacy that justifies its goals, activities and the pressure that it puts on members. Much of our behavior will be acted out only if it has a source of legitimacy. Most of us primarily do what we assume is expected which, generally, is to behave in conformity to the norms established by the social structure and that are backed by sanctions. We attend school, go to work and, especially, attend church partly because of the local social structure and also social pressure from significant others. Little social pressure exists to coerce the population to do volunteer work in nursing homes, hospitals, or in the court system, thus few people volunteer. The social structure and society usually do not expect or coerce us to involve ourselves in these activities unless they are part of our formal work assignment.

The Use of Goals

Goals are functional in motivating workers toward achievement. Whether the goal is to build so many hospitals, raise a certain amount of money, or some other activity, all organizations encourage their members to live up to the expectations the hierarchy has formulated (Meissner, 1966). Among Jehovah's Witnesses, for example, their headquarters sets a goal of a certain number of hours of "house-to-house" proselytizing per month, and if the congregation as a group does not reach it, the local Elders use social pressure, lectures, et cetera, to encourage each person to reach the established goal. An active Jehovah's Witness will often hear, "We're two hours short of our monthly requirement, so we must make a special effort during the last week so we can reach our goal of ten hours in the field per publisher." Without the organization's direction and pressure, very few Witnesses would go from door to door (Bergman, 1985). Most religions have not developed a goal of so many hours per month of formal proselytizing, thus very few church members spend much time in this activity (although some members may occasionally proselytize in this manner on their own). Goals also tend to legitimate the organization's pressurizing behavior.

It is apparent to most observers that no matter what groups of people aspire to accomplish, organizations most Often have a clear advantage.

The purpose of an organization is to pursue and achieve a set of stated goals-presumably those agreed upon by members. Unfortunately, organizations often acquire needs that are not in harmony with their stated goals, and at times these become the members' masters. An example is a fund-raising organization that spends more money on administration than on the charity for which it was established (Etzioni, 1964), This problem has become so serious that many nonprofit agencies publish the percentages of money spent for fundraising and administrative activities. A denomination established primarily to serve the needs of its members but which slowly evolves to serve the needs of its bureaucracy is another example (Moberg, 1985). Goal displacement is a major problem of both religious and nonreligious organizations (O'Dea and O'Dea, 1983).

The Necessity of Organizations

These concerns notwithstanding, organizations are extremely important. To deempbasize them would be, in the words of Zurcher and Snow (1981:477), to

contradict what movement leaders and revolutionaries ... have long known or argued on the basis of first-hand experience; that organization is a sine qua non condition for mounting a serious political challenge or a successful religious propaganda drive.

Organizations clearly have the potential to serve their members more effectively than smaller, natural or accidental human groupings such as friendship sets. They are also a powerful social tool that, if they direct their energies toward their goals, are far more likely to succeed than individuals or separate uncoordinated group efforts (Etzioni, 1964; Eitzen, 1974).

The last century has witnessed an increase in the scope and rationality of organizations. With this comes social, human and, often, legal rules and regulations which members must follow, or which they at least must agree to not flagrantly violate. These are often formulated in their legally binding organizational charter. Modern civilization has found that organizations, because they can coordinate a large number of human actions, create not only a powerful social tool but "the most rational and efficient form of social grouping known" (Etzioni, 1964). This trend is less true of religious organizations, partly because many of their functions have been taken over by the state (Empy, 1982; Moberg. 1984). For this reason, plus a serious loss of prestige and power, sacred organizations have recently beep less effective in achieving their goals (Eitzen, 1974). The more highly organized an organization, the greater the likelihood that it will reach its goals or those of its constituency. Garrison (1975:95) found that both bureaucracy and centralization are important for success and that "the combination is especially potent" in respect to gaining or achieving its objectives. Yet these same factors also have a large potential for serious abuse.

Developing Agreed-Upon Goals

A major problem with organizations is that uniform agreement on the organization's goals does not always exist, either within the membership or among the leaders. Lack of uniformity may allow members to pursue a plethora of goals, sometimes even attempting to subvert the goals of other factions or persons within the organization. It is also now difficult for many religious organizations to help each member fully internalize its goals; this is especially true of the older so-called liberal churches (Towns, 1972). Full commitment, though, is uncommon, even in the more conservative denominations (Yinger, 1957; Kelley, 1977). On the other band, the formal goals of the church leader or leaders may in time receive too much attention, deemphasizing other real areas of need such as the human concerns of members. As Etzioni (1964:17) notes, an organization may give too much

... attention to making money and completely ignore the morale of its employees ... lack of attention to non-goal activities may result in staff dissatisfaction which may express itself in poor work ... which in turn results in decreased efficiency, or even in a wave of embezzlements.

The more highly organized an organization, the greater the likelihood that it will reach its goals or those of its constituency.

Not uncommonly, the lack of concern for people also occurs in many religious organizations (Towns, 1972). This is especially problematic in that churches openly espouse expressive goals, yet often must operate according to business-like instrumental goals. Another problem of sacred organizations is that many religious goals are difficult to achieve. Christianity's stress on charity and giving help to others is one example. These Values, though, are both more palatable and more likely to be internalized if presented and consistently supported by those persons in one's social group. Group discussions are "much more effective in changing attitudes than other methods, such as two-person discussions or lecture groups" (Etzioni, 1964:36). Lewin (1952) found that about fifty percent of the mothers who received individual instruction fed their children codliver oil, as per the doctor's orders, compared with almost ninety percent of the mothers who were instructed as a group. With instructions to feed orange juice, the figures were fifty percent compared to almost one hundred percent. Thus, assuming the concepts, values, norms, et cetera, that the religious system wishes to impose are desirable, they are much more effectively inculcated in a group situation. This is also true even if the values are undesirable. The German Nazi movement is a classic example.

Lewin's study of achievement in democratic, authoritarian, and laissez-faire situations illustrates the advantages for religious organizations of democratic, as opposed to autocratic or authoritarian, government.  found the laissez-faire structure (those groups in which the leader's primary role was to supply knowledge) displayed little emotional involvement and a minimum of participation. They usually finished the assigned task, but both production output and quality were low. The quantity was highest among authoritarian leader groups, but the quality was low. All things considered, the democratic group functioned best: the quality was highest (although quantity was average), as was group morale, concern for doing a good job, and interest in their assignment. Reactions to the authoritarian leadership included such behaviors as rebelliousness, demanding the leader's attention and scapegoating (Lewin, 1952). This research has important implications for religious organizations, many of which tend to be authoritarian in structure.

An organization, though, is often established by a few people who want to achieve a certain goal and, theoretically at least, those who agree with that goal are more apt to join.

A major problem of religious associations is that the goals of the organization tend to be set, not by the members, but by the leaders or the power structure. Input from most members is often quite limited, especially in authoritarian sects such as the Jehovah's Witnesses or the Mormons (Bergman, 1985). Regardless of the power struggle process, once a person becomes a leader or achieves a power position, it is difficult to remove him unless he makes several major blunders that become common knowledge in the organization.

In order to achieve their stated goals, organizations should continually evaluate how well they are performing and then adjust the policies accordingly (Etzioni, 1964). Unfortunately, many religions do not seek feedback from their followers, and the unsolicited negative feedback that they may receive, especially from their dissident members, is often ignored. Dissatisfied persons are often categorized as "malcontents," and the unhappiness that these people experience with their organization is often incorrectly seen as the problem of the individuals concerned, not of the organization itself.

Many larger churches today, though, are responding to their need for feedback by utilizing extensive survey research. Many collect information from active members and those who are no longer involved or have left the church. Some denominations even have established a research division which employs competent research sociologists to gather survey information as part of an attempt to assess the church's performance in achieving its goals and satisfying its members' needs. In order to implement the results, both resources and cooperation must exist, requiring some sort of a formal organization.

An example of an organizational response to the problems of individual members and leaders was illustrated in a survey of church leaders by Ellison (1982). He concluded that, although ministers as a group were in good emotional health, associate pastors felt a lower general sense of well-being than senior pastors. The most frequently mentioned problem was excessive time demands. Half of those surveyed felt that they personally had overly high expectations and a certain amount of unrealistic idealism. These traits, while often functional, were also dysfunctional as they sometimes led to disappointment in what was in fact a good performance, resulting in needless discouragement. A common result of this dilemma, ironically, was loneliness. Many people regard a minister as "a step above the rest of humanity," a factor which may have significantly hindered the communication and dialogue needed to develop the level of intimacy necessary to establish a helping relationship. The solution, the authors of the study concluded, is more organizational support of the minister. Examples are magazine articles geared to the specific needs of pastors: counseling help, periodic seminars and the like. Fif ty-nine percent of the sample were able to identify and articulate specific training improvements which they perceived would be helpful, including such things as more seminary training in the area of interpersonal relationships and more supportive church organization. Thus, in order to meet the needs of individual ministers, organizations must be established and supported by church members.

Frustrations, alienation, impersonality and lack of concern for individual situations exist in both religious and nonreligious organizations. These unfortunate byproducts, although common, are not inextricably a result of a formal organization (Etzioni, 1964). The ideal is to maintain the values in organizations which are useful to society, and at the same time try to reduce their common faults. Impersonality, organizational bungling, treating individuals with indifference and bureaupathology may be common, but are certainly not necessary elements of organizations. The goal should be to minimize their undesirable side effects and to maximize their positive role (Etzioni, 1964).

For long-term success, it is of paramount importance that an organization concern itself with the happiness, adjustment and commitment of its members. Satisfied individuals usually work harder and produce better results than frustrated ones (Etzioni, 1964; Towns, 1972). Unhappiness or frustration with a church's inability to satisfy basic social or activity needs produces a regression to less than full commitment to its goals. These needs include rewards for performance, fair treatment, and a low level of conflict with co-workers. The most destructive results of these problems are attempts to actively subvert the organization's goals. The results of this action, especially while one is still on the inside, can cause severe problems. Church divisions or alienation of individual members are the best examples. If the negative aspects continue or increase, members may leave and support another organization, withdraw permanently from, or even actively oppose one or all religious organizations.

Many organizations produce a tangible product such as an automobile, a well-run city, or funds to fight cancer. The end product is also a motivator, encouraging individual involvement. Most religious organizations, however, have as a main goal and product their members' satisfaction. Achievement of this focus is often related to the degree to which the organization helps its members learn sacred values and precepts, and then live according to them.

Most religious organizations are highly influenced by both the dominant society and other religions. For this reason, in harmony with the larger society of which they are a part, many of them did little to fight against racial discrimination. At first only a few religious and secular leaders, such as the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, began to actively work to change the then existing social structure. Only then did society begin to work toward change. The churches were likewise influenced by these societal changes, and now, almost without exception, actively condemn racism. The church clearly exerts its influence on society and its laws, but society likewise influences the church and religious organizations in general (Yinger, 1957). There are considerable differences, for example, between a Spanish, a South American, and a U.S. Catholic.

Partly as a result of our changing society, almost all religious organizations tend to modify their original goals as the organization matures (Moberg, 1985). Only a few have managed to retain their original major goals (Penton, 1985). The March of Dimes was originally established to eradicate polio, Once this dreaded illness was conquered, the massive fund-raising network was not dismantled, but wisely utilized to fight other childhood diseases. Likewise, the function of many religious organizations was for centuries directly and specifically to help men and women accept a certain belief structure which they felt, if used as a guide for living, would produce happiness and/or salvation. The function of the church then slowly became more and more social, oriented toward ameliorating various society-wide social problems. From about 300 A.D. until the turn of this century, the major functions of religious organizations were hospital work, caring for the poor, the sick, criminals, et cetera. While today these functions are still important (especially hospitals), most have been

Impersonality, organizational bungling, treating individuals with indifference and bureaupathology may be common, but are certainly not necessary elements of organizations.

gradually taken over by the secular state (Empy, 1982; Quebedeaux, 1982). In America one of the major functions which still remains is largely "social," not so much solving social problems as meeting social needs. Some churches, especially those experiencing growth, are again stressing the importance of making a commitment to Christ and learning to live by religious values (Towns, 1972; Wagner, 1979). Nonetheless, many are also endeavoring to expand their role and deal with healing both soul and spirit. The movement known as Christian psychotherapy is an example (Meier, 1982).

The Need for a Structure That Fits the Organization's Goals

For many contemporary religious organizations, proper specialization is also an important survival factor. Some movements specialize in physical healing and others emphasize emotional experiences (the charismatic movements). Some emphasize fellowship, others stress learning (or, their opposers claim, indoctrination-examples are the Unificationists and the Jehovah's Witnesses). Others emphasize good works, but still others may indirectly teach social climbing and respectability, as is typical of some Presbyterian and Episcopal churches.

Organizations pursue in part the goals of their president, the more charismatic leaders, and to a lesser degree the membership as a whole. For this reason, input from all of these sources is important, or should be, in the development of policy (O'Dea and O'Dea, 1983). An organization, though, is often established by a few people who want to achieve a certain goal and, theoretically at least, those who agree with that goal are more apt to join. A major reason why over 1,200 denominations exist in America is that people have sought to satisfy different needs from religion, and thus take part in different churches (Melton, 1979).

If large numbers of members become convinced that goals aside from those that the church initially valued are very important and should be pursued, and the church responds by change, members who value the original goals will often be alienated. Both sides may first try to influence the leadership to alter the organization's direction. If they feel strongly about the issue, division may be the result. If enough separate, another organization may be established in order to achieve goals that they deem desirable. This is often the major reason for splits at the denominational or even church level. Another tactic is for the leaders to convince dissident members that the goals the administration desires are, in fact, the most desirable, and what these members want should not be pursued, or should be pursued later. Often a compromise is achieved; goals both the leaders and members now deem important are pursued with varying degrees of vigor.

Most religious organizations, though, tend to be extremely frugal with their income, partly because they have to.

A religious organization must often attempt to deal with differing goals and values among its members in order to avoid power plays, schisms, and attempts to subvert the primary goals of the organization. Schisms over conflicting goals are a well-known feature of all religious organizations. Instrumental goals considered important to the organization's administration, such as the building of edifices, increases in membership statistics and number of employees, dollars taken in, and increase in community influence, are not always valued by members. These may not be stated goals, but for many reasons tend to be valued-or at least present.

More serious than the existence of an informal structure coexisting within the formal is an attempt to subvert the organization's major goals. Often certain goals are stated and commonly believed to exist, but in actuality other goals are more important. The public commonly believes the purpose of prisons is to rebabilitate criminals. The main function is actually custodial or an attempt to apply the "just desserts" theory, or both (neither of which may work for rehabilitation goals). The purpose of mental hospitals is likewise viewed by the public as to "cure" patients, yet the main service actually provided is also custodial. Thus, with religious organizations the given and real goals must be periodically examined and reevaluated. In order to continue to serve their members, they must be aware of their progress and respond to identified needs, an activity which in the long run is necessary for their survival.

Although organizational structures are often functional, they can also often impede the futherance of their own goals. As Zurcher (1982:478) notes, "Organization is necessary if a movement is to make any headway in its goal attainment efforts; yet organization can also lead to acquiescence and frustrate the attainment of goals." The problem is not organizational structure per se, but organizations that, for whatever reason, fail to develop and maintain commitment. Especially problematic and ironic is the fact that many organizaiions actually discourage member involvement by putting road blocks in the way of their activities, %;hich are openly and obviously directed to achieving the organization's own goals. An example would be the Watchtower Society's insistence that their followers' proselytizing be carried out primarily one way, even though this method (door to door canvassing) is one of the least effective means of gaining members (Bergman, 1985). The most effective method by which religious organizations, as well as social movements, achieve converts is through friendship networks (Lofland, 1982).

The Problem of Money

A major problem that all religious organizations confront is paying bills. Olson (1965:13) notes that:

Patriotism is probablv the strongest non-economic motive for organizational allegiance in modern times ... but despite the force of patriotism, the appeal of the national ideology, the bond of a common culture ... no major state in modern history has been able to support itself through voluntary dues or contributions. Philanthropy contributions are not even a significant source of revenue in most countries. Taxes, compulsory payments ... are needed.... If the state, with all of the emotional resources at its command, cannot finance its most basic and vital activities without resorting to compulsion, it would seem that large, private organizations might also have difficulty in getting the individuals of the groups whose interest they may attempt to advance to make the necessary contributions voluntarily.

This is very much the case with religious organizations. In spite of appeal letters designed by slick Madison Avenue advertisers and their psychological consultants, and constant pressure from television evangelists, most religious organizations have a difficult time paying their bills. This is partly because the internal pressure to expand their activities tends to grow at a rate close to their income growth. The public's impression, though, is that many of them are wealthy to the point of excess. The validity of this assumption depends upon one's interpretation of "wealth." Most church buildings are contructed with some voluntary labor, and donations of material and supplies by the congregation are common. In Europe, partly for this reason, their construction often took many centuries. The motivation for these edifices typically is not from headquarters or the central organization, but because of the desires of the local members. The Catholic Church is often criticized for its elaborate edifices in Europe and elsewhere, but in most cases the Church (i.e., its Rome headquarters) has little input in the construction of local facilities. A mixture of love and guilt help to produce the high level of labor and monetary donations needed from individual members.

Even in modern America these factors are present. The painting, plastering, electrical work and most of the finishing are not uncommonly done by members on weekends. Some church edifices and extravaganzas, such as Schuller's "Crystal Cathedral" in Orange Grove, California, have drawn sharp criticism. Nonetheless they are often designed, in part built, supported and financed by the congregation, and evidently meet their psychological and status needs. The edifice may be "worth" millions, but may cost thousands to construct and rarely can be sold for more than a fraction of its market value. A group of people want it built, and the fact that they are under the banner of a religious organization indicates only part of the group's purpose. Most organizations desire edifices, and church groups are no different.

To maintain an effective large church, one must usually organize into smaller churches (sometimes called the "home-church") made up of about ten to fifteen members.

To encourage their members to donate money and property, religious organizations, from television evangelists to one's local church, use psychological coercion ranging from passing the collection plate to indirect threats of the loss of God's favor. Without donations most churches couldn't survive without a radical change in their practices, and all church hierarchies are keenly aware of this. More money is freely given to churches and religious organizations than any other type, and the amount would probably be high even if there was no compulsion whatsoever. Yet in spite of this, the reality is that bills are sometimes not paid. In churches, as elsewhere, some unnecessary extravaganzas exist, as well as abuse and waste. Most religious organizations, though, tend to be extremely frugal with their income, partly because they have to. They often pay most of their workers' salaries-from youth directors to janitors-at levels far below comparable outside employment, and rely heavily on volunteer help to function. A survey by the Christian College Coalition found that salaries and benefits at Christian colleges averaged around fifty percent less than those of state universities. Heavier teacher loads were assigned (often up to twice those at a state school), and little opportunity existed to publish and do research. A survey by Knap (1982) found that a result of leaving a secular university to teach at a Christian college was that publication and research output diminished significantly.

The Halo Effect

Churches are often able to achieve some of their objectives more effectively and with less cost because of the perception that work done for any part of a church organization, whether sweeping the floors, counseling parishioners, preaching the gospel, or publishing a magazine, is "the Lord's work," a ministry, or serving God (Bergman, 1985; Benson, 1960). Even the Red Cross and other philanthropic organizations owe much of their success to the perception that work done for them is part of one's Christian duty, and as such will be bountifully rewarded by God. Most churches have encouraged this work, and many teach that it earns "brownie points" in heaven. Although many secular organizations have done effective work, church organizations such as the Salvation Army, Catholic Social Services, and the Society of St. Paul have for years carried much of the load, especially in the past. The state, of course, has the advantage that it can collect taxes by compulsion in order to pay for services offered. Yet most churches are, without this advantage, still heavily involved in visiting the sick, helping the poor, finding jobs for the needy, consoling the bereaved, helping victims of disasters, and myriads of other tasks, especially those that require attention to individual persons. And to do this, Olson notes (1965:47) that church and religious groups in general, although

organized to obtain a collective good ... f ind ... a certain minimum organization quest that must be met, however little of the collective good it obtains.... There are the quests of communication among group members, the cost of any bargaining among them, and the cost of creating, staffing, and maintaining of any formal group organization.

These costs are both financial and nonfinancial (time, energy, material resources).

Religious organizations, if they are successful, tend to grow. Growth, ironically, often results in changes which spell their doom-or at least major changes in their goals, values and standards. Small groups can be far more effective in satisf ing the members' needs and are more likely to exist without change for a longer period of time (Moberg, 1984). In addition, each member, because of the intimacy possible in a small group, may view involvement as more important, and his or her input and the significance of what happens to the group as more valuable than if in a large group (Olson, 1965:56; Bergman, 1985). This principle, on which Olson elaborates extensively, has been applied to some of the most successful churches in the world. To maintain an effective large church, one must usually organize into smaller churches (sometimes called the "home-church") made up of about ten to f if teen members. The largest Christian church in the world, which happens to be in Korea, has well over 150,000 members and is still rapidly growing (Cho, 1981). How a Christian church managed to flourish to this extent in a non-Christian country has caused a great deal of speculation among church researchers. The reason for its success is probably its organizational structure, broken into hundreds of small units of sixteen to twenty persons, each headed by a full or part-time church staff professional. This small "home group" cell functions as a church, but meets once or twice a week in the homes of members and is assigned to work on various social programs as a group. They work mostly in an intimate group that is part of, but in certain ways separate from, the whole. The whole body meets once a week for various services, but the basic church could be described as a whole made up of hundreds of small, identifiable groups.

If within a large organization people do not have their needs met, they will often join smaller groups.

The success of this principle does not surprise researchers. The reputation that large churches have of being cold, impersonal, et cetera, is well known. Many people choose a small church for this reason. Some denominations insist that their churches grow no larger than a little over 100 members. When they reach 150, they divide for just this reason. To be effective, a church must be small, personal, and designed in such a way that the input of each member is important, or at least noted (which is difficult, even with only 100 members).

The success of the Unification Church has been attributed partly to its use of the home-cburcb technique (Quebedeaux, 1982). Even in large churches, studies have shown that informal "home group churches" tend to form spontaneously. Each person in the church, even though several hundred (or several thousand) may attend the services, is part of a small social network that serves as the member's primary social unit, both at home and in the church

The Many organizations that were originally established for the purpose of helping people turn into a task master, forcing those it once served to serve the organization for its own ends.

commonness of informal networks, which are often called "cliques" by the church members, underscores both the need and function of small organizations. If within a large organization people do not have their needs met, they will often join smaller groups. Indeed, the success of large organizations is often a result of the success of the many smaller groups that make up the whole. Complaints about cliquishness more often stem from the inability to become part of one rather than their existence, as their complainants often allege.

Church organizations are highly functional in reaching their goals, but can also impede their accomplishment. They can cause numerous problems in the lives of their members-not the least of which is what sometimes becomes damaging social pressure to conform to standards and nuances. A major goal of religious organizations is to survive and prosper. To do this, they must strive to achieve the advantages of both large organizations and small, personal groups.

Misuse of Organizations

Much conern in recent years has been expressed over alleged human rights abuse by large, formal organizations. The Unificationists, the People's Temple, and Jehovah's Witnesses are major examples (Penton,
1985). Many organizations that were originally established for the purpose of helping people turn into a task master, forcing those it once served to serve the organization for its own ends. Some of the modern religious organizations which have their origins in the last generation or two are examples. Some even claim that God has only one "organization" through which He works, and theirs is blessed with this honor.

Actually, "religious" organizations in the modern sense did not exist until well after Christianity was established (Janes, 1887). The Greek city-states were the closest, yet these were limited to a local, functional governmental structure. For most of history, many of the functions of religious organizations were taken care of by the community or the family unit. The source of the idea for complex modern "organizations" was probably the government, not the Scriptures. Other than nation, tribe, tongue, or people, no equivalent word exists in ancient Greek or Hebrew for this modern concept. The closest is uTotXEw which means "to bring together in one," such as "one army made up of many soldiers. "

The ancients were highly individualized, and although they were united with "their people" and conformed to the needs of the group, to them pleasing God did not relate to "membership" in an organization. They identified With their people or tribe, but their relationship to God vas often an individual matter. For most of the ancients, primarily one dominant religious tradition existed around them, was part of their society, and shaped most of its aspects. Religion was often not a separate organization. Competing religious traditions were often slowiv assimilated or eradicated. Loyalty to some formal organization did not exist, even in the early Christian experience. Loyalty was to family, city, state, one's people. personal values, and, of course, God.

When some sect members refer to their denomination as "God's Organization" they are exploiting an idea that did not exist until long after the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church, which actually was not formally established until after the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. and was loosely organized until the Middle Ages. The early Christian church did not have a complex formal organization but was mostly a body of believers, held together at first only by the authority of the Apostles, then by oral teachings and later written records, especially the letters of Paul, the gospels, et cetera (Grassi, 1975).

Some contemporary groups teach that salvation is dependent on membership in their "organization," claiming that one must be inside of it in order to be saved, just as one must have been inside of the Ark to escape destruction from the great flood of Noah's day. They claim that God now has, and had in the past, one true organization. This specific concept of an organization is relatively recent, of middle Latin origins (eighth century), from organizatio-a unified group of separate but dependent elements, all working harmoniously together. Mainline Protestant tradition has generally taught that God does not have one exclusive earthly organization, only a body of believers held together by a common hope, united only by the glue of Christ, not the threats of humans (2 Corinthians 1:21,22; Galatians 2:16,20; Ephesians 1:3,4; 1 Corinthians 6:11; John 12:32).


A review of the functions of religious organizations, including their advantages and disadvantages, finds that they facilitate goal accomplishment by motivating workers and coordinating resources, but they can become self-serving and impersonal. A major concern today is the need to modify religious organizations to facilitate, and not hinder, human relationships with God. The dilemma is not easily answerable, and individual situations are probably crucial in determining the total effect of a specific organization. Their abuse, well known in the so-called cults (like the People's Temple), is often stressed. Less stressed are the social achievements and benefits to individuals of large religious organizations which, through united effort, achieve far more than can isolated individuals.


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