I am more and more convinced that for the church in all its expressions (congregational… synodical…denominational…) is going to grow into the next era, we are going to need to learn to think very differently. The days of working to protect the institution, and to contain decision making, leadership and power, are pretty much gone.
So it was with high hopes that I recently read the book by Jeff Jarvis called What Would Google Do? Google, to me, represents one of a few companies that are stretching the boundaries of life’s operating systems. My world is different because of Google…I’d venture a guess that yours is too. Their approach and their impact have shifted the way we gather and disseminate information, the way we communicate and the way that money will be earned or shared in the future.
The church (generally) lives and works in an old operating system. Much of the rest of our culture is moving into a new operating system.
The church has 3 choices, it seems to me, in how to react:
- Deny and ignore. And become irrelevant.
- Be reactive, and follow.
- Be proactive, and lead.
I would choose #3. #2 would be ok, if we’re not capable of doing #3. But I’d really much rather do #3. #1 is not an option.
According to Jarvis, what Google has done has been to create a new platform for how information is accessed and communicated. Information is no longer contained in the “central library” that we have to travel to to access. And, we’ve moved even beyond now dispersed information that we can access from the comfort of our own couch (though we still can…and that’s really fun!)
Information is now crowd sourced. The public is involved in the process of distilling and evaluating information. There is almost a sense of common communal wisdom that gathers and shares information, developing it further in the process. No one person has their hand on the rudder any more. It is a community that creates content.
The tools that Google has created: Google search, Google Maps, Google Reader, Gmail, YouTube, Google Voice, etc are all free to use and to further develop. What other companies would view as “product,” Google sees as an integral part of the platform. For Google, the platform is not the product, the process is. And they make their money by exposing people to the process and allowing either subscriptions or ads to monetize it.
The future, according to Jarvis, is not going to be about products, but about the process…and the process will live (as Google does) in a perpetual state of “beta.”
What does this tell us about the church? Especially the church of choice #3? I’m not sure yet…I’m still processing that. I’d be interested in your thoughts.
Some of my initial thoughts include:
- distribution of power, control and leadership instead of the centralization of it.
- crowdsourcing of resources.
- the denomination as platform instead of as organization.
- Curation of information creates that platform…the method and mode may change and adapt, but the platforem remains stable. See the Extravaganza ’13 talks by John Roberto for more on how the church can do this.
The book is a worthy read. It’s not perfect, and Jarvis admits to his hypocrisy (i.e. the future of publishing is not in books…but I’m publishing a book). The first half of the book is really interesting. The last 150 or so pages, are going through segments of society, applying Google principles to “what might be.” He never gets to the religious world in doing that.
But anything that helps us think more about option #3 is, I think, worthwhile, and What Would Google Do? does that.