The Ecumenical Institute: Chicago


Models Are For Mission


1. This manual seeks to share with the colleagues of the Spirit Movement, and colleagues of the church at large, some concepts and techniques of long range missional church planning called "model building." 1t presumes, for the sake of brevity, that its readers are already members of local congregation cadres, and that they are already deeply immersed in the painful struggle to build meaningful, effective models for the work of the church In the coming decades.

2. In the coming pages we will say first, something about what model building is, insofar as it is a developed technique. We will describe something of the operating characteristics of models, then draw a rough picture of the overall process of building them. Then the process will be broken down into its several parts, illustrating the analysis with examples that have proven their usefulness in the past. Finally, we will suggest some areas of "edge" model building.

What a Models

3. A "model" is simply a symbolic representation of some aspect, dimension or series of aspects and dimensions, of reality. It can be rendered either two dimensionally, as in a chart or diagram, or three dimensionally, as in a small scale physical representation. Or, a model can be as intangible as a mental image. The fact is that everyone operates out of models of this kind. If one sets out buy a house, find a Job, eat breakfast or perform any other conventional act, he is operating out of a model, unconscious though it may be. Anyone who has ever even served green scrambled eggs on St. Patrick's day discovers quickly how explicit some of his unconscious models really are. ­

4. This is precisely the point at which the concept of model building gains value for everyone. It compels us to be intentional end self­conscious about the subject of our model building. A family about to purchase a house with a full catalogue of criteria for what makes a "good" house is more likely, in the long run, to be satisfied with his purchase than one who announces to the real estate agent that they want "lots of lawn and a garage and blue shutters.'' The latter would also presumably prefer that the roof did not leak. But, never having brought their true model to consciousness, they may not realize that they even had one until they had lived In the house for a month! and discover defects. Models, therefore, systematize our intentionality.

Freedom Is a Model

5. Or, to say the same thing slightly differently, the model is the bridge between a once{?) and future situation. If, for instance, one decides to do something about "the problem of slums," the only possibility is to build a model, however abstract, of what the situation will be like in the future, and then build the model of the method of getting from "here" to "there." But it is the model which gives the freedom to act. Human will takes form through models. The better the model. The better the chances of accomplishing the deed. In this sense, being human is the ability to build and execute a model.

Models Are Temporal

Models have meaning only with reference to time. They may describe the past, the present, or the future. Or they may describe a flow of activity over time. They may describe a flow of the transformation of the past into a future situation.

7. Models of the past and the present function descriptively and analytically. They tell what went on in the past so that we can learn from it, avoiding it or imitating it, whichever we desire. But more than this, by building a model of the past or present, we change our relationship to it. In building the model, we isolate and assemble those elements of the situation which we have determined to regard as important. By accepting some, rejecting others, we decide which past we will learn from. Everyone does this, but with varying degrees of intentionality. Advocates of both Marxism and capitalism have decided that the most important elements of history are economic. Their models of the past are economic. And in so doing, they have taken a very different relationship to their past than others more interested in thing cultural. They have decided that the past they are going to learn from is the economic past, and in so doing, they have already determined to a very large degree, the direction of their future.

8. A model of the future will in large measure, reflect the models of the past. But beyond this, models of the future function productively or prescriptively. Either they seek to extrapolate from the present course of events into some future time, or they describe some future situation regarded as desirable make the demand upon us that we bend our activities so that the description is fulfilled.

9. A model which describes the transition from a past state of affairs to a future situation is called a flow chart or a "time line." It can be as simple as a list of steps to be taken in order to get a job done, or as complex as a complete document listing primary and secondary goals and detailing all the necessary strategies and tactics necessary to accomplish "victory" in World War II.

10. A missional community has use for all these types of models in various mutations and various combinations. Once the missiona1 goal has been selected and articulated, of course, it determines appropriateness of all the other models.

Models Are Corporate

11. Perhaps the most important single thing to be said about the activity of model building as described here, is that it is a corporate effort. It is a planning methodology which seeks to cultivate the best creative efforts of the

group members. But individual creativity, its own sake, is never a primary value. Rather, the goal is always to increase the effectiveness of the group as it works toward its missional goals.

  1. 12. Model building is the process of building a group consensus. It is never "democratic" in the formal sense of the term. A vote is never taken to determine a point at issue. Rather, until a consensus is reached, the group remains open to all ideas and values. A vote, used under these circumstances, is inherently divisive, for before it is even possible to take a vote, the opinion of the group has already been polarized. When completed, the "ideal" model is a rational structure holding every value in a rational field of relationships with every other value.

13. This is not to say that individuals should not make use of model building methods. When working individually in conjunction with a corporate effort, an individual can often provide the "break open" insight that allows the group to move creatively in a new direction. Individual models can be of enormous value as one struggles to bring clarity and simplicity out of a difficult situation. But without the corrective functioning of a group interchange, individual models may simply re-enforce a set pattern of thought which may very well have major errors or deficiencies. Only in a group effort is it possible to overcome individual "blind spots."

Three Part of the Model Building Process

14. Model building has been described as a three step process In the first step, the group solves all of its problems, then begins to talk about implementing the model. This rarely takes more than an hour.

15. In step two, the group has a good laugh over the naiveté, the idealism, and the blatant absurdity of its first efforts. Then commences two weeks to several months of tedious model construction, collecting, sifting, organizing and reorganizing the information available. The genuine long-range solutions almost never correspond to the obvious answers, and the true rational framework will begin to emerge only when the quick solutions have been exhausted.

16. The third and final step occurs in the mist of the struggle o put the initial model into practice. The final form of the model congeals under the pressure of the encounter between fact and theory.

The Flow of the Model Building Process: Brainstorming

17. The first thing any group must do in order to construct a model is to find out what it, as a group, knows about the problem it has undertaken to solve. This is the brainstorming phase of the process. It can be opened in many ways. If, for example, a model is to be built for a total community reformulation project, the group leader might ask, "What are the problems of this community?" If the model is to be a more limited scope, he might begin with a positive probe; "What are the elements that must be part of a truly contemporary order of worship?" If the group is more experienced, he might begin by asking each individual to present his two, three or four "key structures for dealing with the problem.

18. No matter how the issues are raised the group will immediately "mount the horse and ride off in all directions." This is exactly what ought to happen. Everyone gets out his or her pet answer or private ax. The leader lists everything on a blackboard for the group.

19. During this stage, the objective is for the leader to keep the mood light and the responses flowing light and fast. If it helps, he can rephrase the initial question, opening up new directions, eliciting insights the group members did not know they had. Any answer given is good and acceptable. The list will quickly become exhaustive, but the leader stays with the task until he senses that the group is nearly exhausted on this particular exercise. In most instances, the group will be astonished at the amount of wisdom at its disposal. At other times, it will be clear that more information is needed. But in the beginning, this not a matter of great concern. A group involved in model building will be highly sensitized to acquire new ideas and relevant.

Gestalting the Corporate Wisdom.

20. The "model" as such really begins to take form during this phase of the process. The task here is to re-organize the information gathered through the brainstorming process into a logical and tightly coherent "field" or "gestalt."

21. Under the understanding of model building currently in use, this is done primarily through the use of series of two dimensional charts. The immediate objective is to find that series of between three or five categories (and sometimes, but very rarely, more) beneath which each relevant item of data gathered during the brainstorming can be subsumed. If, as example, the group had been wrestling with the problems in which all the others were rooted.

If a partial, and very inadequate brainstorming list looked like this:

community apathy

poor public political education

inaccessible elected officials

no relation to city affairs

no regional planning board

inadequate planning


unrepresentative school board

bad commuter service

no contact with national politics

then one way of organizing the data might be this:

no structures for community decisions

power concentrated among wealthy

anti­political religious moralism

high taxes

men have no time to participate

rich/poor division of community

no effective links w/ neighboring towns

no public recreational facilities

no live connection to state politics unstable

population -

corporation influence

Internal Political Structure

inaccessible officials


atrophied civil service

no comm. Decis. Struc.

Wealth-power concentration

lack of partic/time

rich/poor comm. Civic.

No commun. Develop. Plans

Community Service structures

inadequate policing

non-rep. School board.

Bad commuter service

high taxes

poor recreational fac.

External community relations

no city pol. Connect

no reg. Plan board

no state connections

No national connect.

no links with neighbor towns

Community Political Education

Poor pol. Ec.

anti-pol. Moralism

one party newspaper

TV/radio impact

unstable population

community apathy

22. This is a beginning for the development of a model, but a very crude one. There are several very obvious problems with it. One is that several of the items could fit under more than one of the major categories, for example, "community apathy. " This may certainly be a genuine problem, but it is likely that before it can be helpful, it will have to be reduced to more specific component elements. "High taxes" may mean that the group felt they were high without knowing what they used for, in which case it would be an educational problem, or it might point to graft, where it would be a problem of internal structures.

23. A more fundamenta1 problem is that the lead categories are different in kind. That is columns one and four refer directly to political structures, while two and three are of amore general type. This might point to the idea that all the categories should be referred to as structural problems. Or, it could mean that only one of the four should list structural problems, and that the other three should include such things as "sociological background" or "Decision making Communicat9ion." Still a third alternative would be to list the problems from the brainstorming session under "local," "regional," national," and "global." All three approaches would have many problems. But further brainstorming under each system may open up entirely new worlds to explore.

24. An example of one of the earlier models of 5th City is reproduced on the back page of this manual. It simply shows one kind of consistency, but it should not be assured that this the only kind of consistency worth striving for. Each problem, and the scope in which the problem is encompassed determines much about what is a "good" or useful model, and what is a "bad" or non­functional one.

Models Take Many Forms

  1. Finally, the two-dimensional chart models that are most convenient to use under most circumstances can take any plane geometric form Imaginable. The guideline is to use the simplest possible form that can be used to say what needs to be said. Here are some of the most common forms used:

This is a "3X3". You can use a "2X2" if you like, but if the problem is that simple, you probably don't need a model at all. A convention that has developed among those familiar with Ecumenical Institute models is that you work In 3's when dealing with theoretical problems and in 4's and sometimes 5's when dealing with practice. This is not iron clad, but it works out often enough to be worth noting.

  1. The "3X3" is exactly the same as the triangle model form for which the Ecumenical Institute faculty has become notorious:

As you can see from what has been dose In the lower right hand corner of each model, each form is infinitely expandable, limited only by the size of the paper and one's ability to read small print. So a "3X3" can become a "3X3X3" or a "3X3X3X3."

27. Then, of course, there is the "4x4" which, as you might expect, looks like this:

Sixteen categories allows for a considerable stretch of the imagination.

28. 5th City Model was originally worked out on the basis of multiples of 5, as much for a symbolic value of using that number as anything else. A common aesthetic variant is this one:

which is really no different than a simple "5X5" grid.

29. There is probably no simple geometric shape which has not been used in some model sometime. Concentric circles have been used frequently, but have been dropped unless the circular shape had something to say about the content1 directly.

30. In using these basic forms, the objective is to get a totally consistent image. That is, both the horizontal rows and the vertical columns spell out the dimensions of the reality being described. ­­ In many kinds of models, this works out to be very simple, because one row or the other wi1 spell out a direct progression of time or space. Thus:

Where this is not the case; there is usually a tong, hard struggle to develop a thorough going vertical and horizontal rationality.

31. A final rule of thumb having to do with the selection of model forms might be this: In the early stages of model building, during the gesta1ting of the brainstorming sessions, work to expand the mind of the group. If it seems too obviously simple to come up with a "3X3", press for multiples of four and five, even if some

blocks have to be filled with "trash." These items can be corrected later as the model is worked and re-worked, and the value of discovering other kinds of valuable data not immediately evident is infinitely greater than the trouble and time it takes. But if, on the other hand, the brainstorming produces an overwhelming flood of information,

work toward condensing the volume into one of the simpler forms, such as the "3X3" or the "4X4", or eve n a "4X3." Vertical and horizontal consistency may not be necessary in the early stages of the task.

32. The time spent during this gestalting phase of model building is totally dependent upon the importance. In the total life plan of the group, of the model being built. Some can be hammered out in an hour, where others require weeks of work. Serious model building of any kind is intellectually and psychologically exhausting. Some who have become quite good at it claim that they can only take an hour or two at a time, because of the anxiety of virtually creating out of nothing. Different groups will require different 1engths of time to do comparable tasks.

Filling out the model

33 Once the major categories have been established, the group can go on to fill out the model, carrying it out to three, and sometimes four and five 1eve1s. In theoretical models, the objective is to make the model comprehensive and inclusive. If the objective is to build a comprehensive construct of 2Oth Century theological wisdom, then the ultimate objective is to build a mode1 with classifications for every single theological idea that has ever been spoken or written. Not that i1t would show all that. If it did, the clarifying and simplifying values of the model would be lost . But if it is truly comprehensive and Inclusive in its design, then in principle it should be possible to do so. For example:

34. The filling out of a practice model. however, has another definite, necessary progression which could be described this way:

In effect , when the group has constructed major categories of the gestalt, two things have happened at once: It has built the problem chart, or "problemmat." And, it has built the goals chart, since the other side of the coin from a clearly stated problem is always a goal. If it isn't, then the problem has not been adequately defined.

35. In the chart above, the movement from left to right is from the broad to the particular. Therefore, the strategies refer to the more general overarching aspects of the project operation, while the tactics are the specific maneuvers needed to accomplish the strategy, To borrow from the military analogy, the strategies encompass the locations, the timing and the materiel to be thrown into battle. The tactics include troop deployment, military intelligence preparations and logistics. The programs are, in effect, sub­tactics, and detail the day­to­day operations and discipline under which the operations force will work.

36. In butting a practice modes, groups sometimes find themselves at a loss to distinguish readily what should be included under each of the four captions. For instance, goals are very frequently revealed as strategies for some larger goat if the context be broadened. A restructured community may be a goal for the residents of the community, but viewed within the context of the universal mission of the church, it is hardly more than a minor tactic. The group has simply to define and limit its own context, decide what are goals, what are strategies and tactics.

Structures, Forces and Instruments

37.A useful and sometimes necessary supplement to a comprehensive project mode1 is a relational chart of the problems/goals with the structures, forces and instruments needed to do the job. Such a model is basically only a modification of the strategies, tactics and programs complex, but one step removed from these abstractions. It is also most directly applicable when the model is aimed at broad, comprehensive social and cultural renewal projects.

38. We say that the "solution" to a social problem is to build structures to deal with it, on a sustained basis. That Is, the 20th Century response to the starving masses of India is the structures for adequate agricultural production and distribution, not the silver droppings of warm hearted tourists, not even charity on an international scale. Charity is occasional, not structured. By structures, therefore, we mean instruments of government, community and even individual initiative.

39 In order to activate and build social structures, it takes people, troops. Structure require those who create and those who maintain. These are the forces. Any comprehensive model, therefore, must include a statement of the potential forces and available forces. What kinds of people are needed to do the job? Specialists? Dedicated churchmen? Suicide squads? Business and Industry? Where will they come from? The local community? Imported mercenaries? Government? An operating project may require one or several types of forces.

40. Instruments are harder to describe. In the mechanical sense, instruments are simply tools. It you are building a house, hammer and saw are instruments. If you are building a community, there are other types of instruments. There might be a newspaper, or an assortment of buildings used for offices, youth center, educational centers and a variety of other purposes. Particular kinds of symbols, flags, public art displays or model building all serve the purpose of instruments.

41. Sometimes, certain kinds of instruments become structures when the initial building job is done. A newspaper might be an example of an instrument turned to become a structure.

42. A simple image to pull all four elements (problem/goal, structures, forces and instruments) together is this one, borrowed from elementary physics:

Then There is the job of Girding,

43. A grid is a map­type model. That is, it is more directly concerned with space than with time, the location of things rather than the sequence of events. In the kinds of use we make of grid­maps, they are more important for telling us what is as opposed to what is needed.

44. Grids are both actual and symbolic. That is, a grid of a community represents the salient facts about who lives where, how, and how they are divided up. What salient facts are presented depends upon the purpose for which the grid is made and the insights of the grid­maker. A conventiona1 zoning map is really a grid based upon typos of housing available, and the separation between residential, commercial and industrial areas. A community planner will be more interested in the flow of traffic through the community; what places regularly attract people, what areas do they avoid, what streets and "short ­cuts" do people use and why? When one has designed a grid, it should tells him' roughly what his community looks 1ike and where the things are located that are import ant to him for his purposes.


45. A grid which is intended to serve a primarily symbol's purpose is a kind of caricature of a map. Here the one who grids is after a general image of what the community looks like without attention to any notch and squiggle. Angles are sharpened, straight lines accentuate border 1ines.

46. In general, a grid is simply an elementary tool for presenting information about an area in a compact image before a group. It can be as elaborate as any elaborate map, or as simple as four lines in a rectangle, depending upon the desired purpose.

47. If grids can be as simple or as elaborate as anyone would wish, they can also represent as small or as large a scale as might be desired. The kind of thing shown above is useful for getting a grasp of the local community. But a "responsible" man of the 20th Century is concerned about his own local community only in the global context. If this be so, it will than be very useful to have a symbolic grid of the nation and the world, which is easily drawn and easily reproduced.

Putting Out a Timeline :

48. Timelines, like spatial grids, can be both actual and symbolic. A family may construct a symbolic life plan, telling them when they will travel and where, when and how education w111 be continued, where they will be living and what they will be doing. But at the same time, they know that their actualization of that time line will depend upon innumerable and complex interacting factors. It's greatest value is in the direction the symbols offer.

49 By contrast, a military battle plan must be detailed and precise. There can be no deviations from schedule, save the deviations are built into an alternative schedule. Generally speaking, the shorter the time span covered, the more precise the time line can be.

Strategic and Tactical goal.

Decision points prior to alternative courses of action

Critical path of action

Alternative routes to the same goal.

50. In general, it must be said that no practical model is complete ­ until a time line has been completed for it. Unless it is located on such a time line, it is no more than a dream.

51. A timeline is nothing more than a simplified flowchart, as used constantly in business and industry, in scientific analysis of phenomena, and, of course, in cybernetics and communication theory. A simple textbook on flowcharting should give most planning groups more than they would ever need to know in order to make their own plans in a quite sophisticated way.

The Model of the Models


52. These, then, are the important elements that have to be remembered in model building. They are each parts of a total, ongoing model building process. Together, they take only a few minutes of rapid sketching on a blackboard. Or, they may require years and years of hard effort, tearing down and rebuilding, and rebuilding again.

53 A model is always final. That is, so long as there is no alternative model, the group abides by the one it has developed.

54 But a model is a1ways open. Which means that any time, the group can reconvene to consider alternative models, or necessary changes in the one in use. When a group is not following the model it has developed, it is usually a good indicator that further work needs to be done. But this is not begun in the spirit of "woe is us, what's happen to our spirit." Rather, it must be as objective as possible. "What has to be done to make this project work, so that we accomplish the goads we have set for ourselves.

55 The leader of the group building a model has much to do with the effectiveness of the corporate effort. There is no special type of person who can lead better than any other. What is crucial is that he is one who is determined to draw out the insights available in the group, and turn them to maximum benefit. He can be dominant and aggressive, or he can be very passive kind of character. Usually, he should be one of the members of the group who retreats to his office or home after every model building session and wrestles with the context that has been offered, seeking new and more helpful ways to organize the data. He can be a mild mannered follow who drives the group with the sheer weight at his patience and determination. But he needs to know who to turn on and turn off, and when. And he should be able to shoot any "rabbit", and irrelevant subject that emerges to distract the attention of the group, at a hundred paces.

56. So, let's put it together this way: