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Dissertation Abstract

Developing a New Worldview: Naturalistic Inquiry into the Self-Organizing, Autopoetic Principles of Living Systems Theory in a Growing Church

Kenneth D. Williams
Regent University

The purpose of this dissertation is to determine if a rapidly growing church shows evidence of Living System Theory (LST), specifically its notion of self-organization. To examine LST's premises regarding self-organization, the dissertation studies how leaders in a rapidly growing church transmit the organizational DNA necessary to guide change in the midst of self-organization. LST posits that organizations contain a natural ability to self-organize and renew out of chaotic states. The theory further states that organizations need overarching guidelines (e.g. vision and identity) that form the basis of the organizational DNA; however, the organizations do not require the extensive control often employed by leaders with a mechanistic worldview. Chapter 1 introduces the theory and the study. Chapter 2 examines six church diagnostic paradigms, the tenets of systems theory, and the views of LST regarding managerial control, strategic planning, organizational forces, and stability. The chapter also compares LST to a biblical worldview. Chapter 3 details the dissertation's research method, Naturalistic Inquiry. Chapter 4 presents the dissertation data in the form of a case study. Specifically, the chapter offers thick description of Forefront Church, the subject of study; description of the interviewees; and the dissertation results. Chapter 5 presents the research findings, limitations, and topics for future study. In general, the dissertation explores the application of LST to organizational philosophy. The research investigates a church experiencing rapid growth and found that LST's characteristics of self-organization were present. The research examines four areas: leader's passion about transmitting organizational DNA, how Forefront Church leaders embed DNA into ministry leaders, managerial control over non-DNA elements, and the emphasis of DNA transmittal over strategic planning.