A system can also refer to a set of rules that governs structure and/or behavior in society and in organizations. For example, the US government has a legislative system, judicial system, and executive system.
Churches also have systems. These systems may be formalized or operate informally. Every church has and needs systems in order to function correctly. But lurking in the background shadow systems are also at work. The official “unofficial” Wikipedia page states: “A shadow system is a term used in information services for any application relied upon for business processes that is not under the jurisdiction of a centralized information systems department. That is, the information systems department did not create it, was not aware of it, and does not support it.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shadow_system)
Shadow systems are not limited to banking and business; they thrive in every organization, and they thrive in your church whether you like it or not. They are often led by influential volunteers or key people who may, or may not, have any official title or responsibilities. They may also be led by disgruntled staff members. People who lead shadow systems are able to operate with efficiency because they don’t play by the rules, have no accountability, and are able to deny responsibility when confronted.
Shadow systems are activated before the formal meeting, after the formal meeting, and influence what happens during the formal meeting. Shadow systems are never born in the board room, they are created in the staff break room, during small groups gatherings, and in the lobby over a cup of coffee. Shadow systems are refined by the rumor mill and distributed via social media and word of mouth. They can be volatile, destroy credibility, and damage unity. They can also create an efficient route around bureaucracy, create momentum, and validate rising leaders. Shadow systems will always exist in the church because people always go to who they know for what they want regardless of the “official” system in place.