Like a Rhizome Cowboy

Here are the details of my presentation “Like a Rhizome Cowboy: The Skinny on emergence principles for network-based churches” given at The Sheffield Centre, November 2004.

"observe the ant"(second posting) ” Observe the ant”, it says in Proverbs. This is what i am thinking about right now and will be teaching this week. I am bringing a few CD-ROMS to give away, with about 15 PDF files with books and teachings on emergence properties, new media, organizational principles through complexity and other issues related to network based churches. Thanks to Dwight Friesen for 2 of those papers (available on his site).
– Did you know that slime mold is a single organism that acts as a multiplicity when things are normal, and as a unity when under attack?
– Did you know that couch grass and potatoes, and other rhizome based organisms, do not reproduce? Instead they find dark empty places and export their roots into them, maintaining unity, but allowing growth and new life. If there is no reproduction or multiplication in rhizome structures, then how do we talk about reproduction in church planting strategy?
– Did you know that the ants do not have a leader calling all the shots, but instead leave pheromone trails for each other to communicate? Of course you knew that – its in the Bible. No professional leadership, but emergence to higher level complexity regardless. Sometimes when i look at the emergent properties of bloggers, I see our hypertext links performing the suame function as pheromones – telling us where to go, where not to go, whats going on.
So if our structures all look like rhizomes, how do we ride them into the future? Obviously, we do it LIKE A RHIZOME COWBOY.
Or Cowgirl????
Must go, have a plane to catch.

(original post – 15/11/2004) The name just got confirmed today. My seminar at the Network-Focused Church Planters Conference next week at the Sheffield Centre will be “Like a Rhizome Cowboy”. I will be speaking twice in the morning of Nov 24, the session after Bishop Graham Cray.
Topic: We will be exploring how principles of emergence in complex environments can help us understand structural growth in network-based churches. We will be comparing the rhizome structure of the internet, and other organisms, with the network structure of emerging churches, cyber-churches, etc. Should be fun.


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • Liam Byrnes says:

    Hi Andrew, I met Bishop Graham Cray this summer, he wont remember me as we both had a pretty hectic 2 weeks at soul in the city, but hes heavily involved in soul Survivor
    Your talk sounds interesting, is it going to be avaliable on mp3 or anything??
    Also since we spoke on Orkney, Gods been speaking to me about seeking him first and through lots of things that has led me to change my degree to the divinity deaprtment at Aberdeen and its only today I remembered our conversation about it (shortly after I partially fell in that bog!)

  • abigail says:

    Hi Andrew, I sent you an email about you being in Sheffield next week inviting you out to dinner, but I think your hotmail account didn’t let it through. Did the email I sent to your gmail get to you OK? Rob and I would love to get you dinner/buy you a pint while you’re in town if your conference isn’t too busy! Drop me a line if you’re interested. Safe journey & hope to see you soon, Abigail

  • Jeff J. says:

    Hi Andrew,
    Like Abigail, I am not sure if the e-mail I sent to your hotmail account got through. When you have time, drop me a line and let me know if it got through. Thanks! jeff

  • Rich says:

    Sounds like some very interesting subjects (the Cyber church issue is especially intriguing).

  • teresa says:

    wow. i wish i could be there. i agree, i think you should record it and put an mp3 on here.

  • Andrew,
    I am very interesting in remotely connecting into this conference. I may even be able to get a few people from the greater Seattle area together to gather around a streaming feed. I am committed to Christ-clustering within God’s Scale-free Kingdom and believe that some of the emerging network theory is helping us take quantum leaps toward further understanding some dynamics that have always been true of church life.
    Leadership, structure and mission find refresh articulation and meaning within network theory further shifting the emphasis to a relational construct. And the relationship between indigenous Christ-commons and larger faith institutions brought into dynamic tension.
    This is a significant part of my doctoral work.
    Peace, dwight friesen

  • Alan Cross says:

    I’d love to know more about network theory as well. I just gave a report for a ministry that I am affiliated with on networks and how they work and the question arose concerning what, if any difference exists between networks and movements. Any thoughts anyone?

  • Howard says:

    Love the idea of rhizomes now you have explained it a bit more. Our experience (on a very small scale) is that new growth into “fresh expressions” can only take root outside existing structures – rhizomes moving into empty space – the only real hope for the traditional Church is that the new growth/life “infects” it and rebirths old things.

  • ConradGempf says:

    The other great example is that of flocking behaviour in birds. And one of the best things about that example is that there are many freeware computer models based on the famous early one called “Boids”. Search on google for “boids” and “flocking” to find one for your operating system.
    There is a serious PR problem with this meaning of “emergent” however… emergent systems are, by definition, made up of individuals without much in the way of innovative individual intelligence. See my blog entry on the subject…

  • Steve Frost says:

    Dwight, if it isn’t too late there’s a book that would likely be very useful to you called “Nexus:Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Theory of Networks” by Mark Buchanan. It totally kills. Egalitarian vs aristocratic distributed networks, six degrees of separation, network maps of protein interactions in brewer’s yeast, etc. but all very accessible. Every page had something I could connect to current conversations about this wacky thing called church.

  • Mike O says:
    Points out the “neocortex ratio” that makes 150 the maximum size of a relational community. I’ve often pondered:
    Why do new churches fold in 2 years?
    Why do Christian relationships only last 2 years?
    Maybe it’s that present paradigms of church leadership tend to filter out those with higher neocortex ratios?

  • Mike G says:

    Rhizome cowboy! Brilliant. Just started following your blog – google search for ’embarassed’ brought up your baptist church guidelines, which are excellent. I’m not into the emergent church concept – My rudimentary understanding of the concept leads me to believe that it puts the cart in front of the horse, i.e. culture changes/influences how we do church. Paul dose state that he’s willing to be all things to all men that some might know Jesus… I don’t know if I would extend this to a church community, seems like that could be chaotic. But I enjoy the discussion and readers comments on your blog. Maybe you’ll change my mind. Cheers,

Leave a Reply