Multiplication Center

The Church as a Keystone Species

November 9, 2011

A couple of days ago I was listening to Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From, while taking a morning walk. Its a very interesting book that explores the place of “slow hunches” and cross-domain thinking, and how error is essential to critical thinking. Through this book I was introduced to a term I had not heard before…”Keystone Species.” Here’s how Wikipedia defines a keystone species:

A keystone species is a species that has a disproportionately large effect on its environment relative to its abundance. Such species play a critical role in maintaining the structure of an ecological community, affecting many other organisms in an ecosystem and helping to determine the types and numbers of various other species in the community.

The role that a keystone species plays in its ecosystem is analogous to the role of a keystone in an arch. While the keystone is under the least pressure of any of the stones in an arch, the arch still collapses without it. Similarly, an ecosystem may experience a dramatic shift if a keystone species is removed, even though that species was a small part of the ecosystem by measures of biomass or productivity. It has become a very popular concept in conservation biology. []

I thought back to the words of Mathetes in his letter to Diognetus (, “As the soul is to the body, so the church is to the world.” The church  can be and should be a keystone species in the community…  a people who have a disproportionately larger effect on the community relative to its abundance by living purposefully and missionally. The church is dispersed throughout the eco system of any community—where people live, work and play. The church’s footprint is bigger than its shoesize

Churches can also be “keystone predators” in the very best sense of the word. Again from Wikipedia. “…some sea stars may prey on sea urchins, mussels, and other shellfish that have no other natural predators. If the sea star is removed from the ecosystem, the mussel population explodes uncontrollably, driving out most other species, while the urchin population annihilates coral reefs”

Churches have the ability to keep injustice and evil at bay to keep from thriving that which would thrive if left unchecked. As Martin Luther King said, “The church is neither master of the community nor servant of the community but the conscience of the community.”

How is your church acting as a keystone species? What would you need to do to become a keystone species?

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