A Church of Distributed Networks?

This week’s reading for the DMin GML1 cohort is processing through Rob Salkowitz’s  Young World Rising:  How Youth, Technology, and Entrepreneurship are Changing the Word from the Bottom up.   Rob takes a macro view of trends while referencing stories of how they are working themselves out in the real world.  He highlights 3 trends that will serve as powerful forces to the economy and organizational realities of the future.

“the aging of the developed economies, the spread of ubiquitous data networks across the globe, and the rise of indigenous entrepreneurism as an alternative path to economic development from the top-down economic assistance model that prevailed in the postcollonial period.”  (17)

Salkowitz takes a position of assumed idealism that the future world economy will have positive development and move away from the present latent recession slumps.  He asserts that the organizations and power structures of the old world ecnomoy would do well to pay attention to the leveling of the playing field through technology and the shared information networks of the world wide web.  Youth, particularly in population growth oriented nations of millenials, are playing a major role in the production and creation of new business initiatives and changing the rules of an entrepreneurial future.  However, if these organizations of the old world economy want to do more than just observe the trends then they will have to also change the way they conceive of employment, values and the distribution of information and relationship. 

Salkowitz sums it up this way:

  1. Youth, technology and entrepreneurship are reshaping the world
  2. Next-generation approaches are different from what came before
  3. Globalization unleashes talent without borders
  4. Demographic trends favor developing countries and severly dis-favor old world economy countries (US, China, Europe)
  5. Engaging and encouraging Young World growth is in the interest of the Old World
  6. We need to re-think development strategies in light of tech-driven global entrepreneurship
  7. Networked organizational models are the future  *
  8. Old divisions between public and private, social and commercial are blurring
  9. Commercial interests and free markets are helping to advance social and economic progress
  10. The new knowledge economy is multi-polar

These wired, young entrepreneurs operate on a different value system and it won’t fit the wineskins of old.  I’m going to focus on #7 and the power of organizations of distributed networks as a way of understanding a future for church planting. 

I am not a Millenial, I am a product of Generation X.  We don’t get a descriptive term like Builder, Boomer or Millenial; we get the nondescript “X” label.  I have longed believed this is just a kind way of saying, “we don’t get you people”.  We have the consumer entitlements of Millenials without the work ethic of Builders/Boomers, not a good combination.  We are labeled as the generation of disallusioned underachievers.  Well, I’m not one for labels.  I find them intellectually lazy and pragmatically despondent.  I prefer savy and hopeful.   In 1999, I approached some denominational leaders I found through networks online about an idea I had for a new kind of church planting that would be a church of distributed networks.  The church planting theory of the time was a uni-modeled approach of a 3 year business plan for a hierarchical attractional church that is financially expensive, emotionally exhausting and physically had a very low sucess rate.  The road to becoming a self-sustaining church was a trail of tears that a small percentage were fortunate enough to traverse without losing friends, family or their faith altogether.  Given the holistic expense of this model, in combination with the acute problems of consumerism and individualism as discipleship barriers and the postmodern distrust of hierarchical structures, I tried to imagine a new way forward.  At the time I was completely unaware of the history of house church structures/networks in church traditions.  I was introduced into the idea of micro-churches by reading of St. Patrick organizing the Irish within their clan structure, instead of the parish model of Europe in the 5th and 6th centuries. 

Reading Salkowitz’s description of global millenials thinking, breathing and working within the native framework of networked organizational models reminded me of the dozens of napkins and note-book pages I would sketch similar model figures like the one showed above.  I was trying to get my own mind around what this could look like if we were willing to be less centralized, less defined by structure and times and more focused on speed, adaptability and connected relationships. 

“Top-down and command-and control style management, whether from governments, non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) or private companies, is increasingly inappropriate for solving 21st century problems.  Young people raised on networks have better ideas that we should listen to.”  (166)

What if the viral power of the Kingdom gospel could be dispersed exponentially within local communal networks without the overhead of physicial structure, paid staff or limitations of meeting times?  I have learned a lot over the past ten years of working at this very end and I believe we are still just getting started into the reality of what this kind of distributed model can look like moving into the future.  There are legitimate concerns and questions that are still being worked out in practicality.  Here a few I’m always conscious of:  1) How do you protect against false teaching?  2) How is leadership developed and sustained?  3) Are the kinds of spaces used for discipleship same or different than those used for evangelism?  4)  How is money treated?  5) What does church discipline look like?  And there are many more.  I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts/questions. 

My dream/vision has not changed.  I still long for not a house church, but a house church network that is part of network of house church networks.  Technology will certainly define some of that for a way forward, but being within an open source community of new thinking of organizational models will be neccesary as well.  We need to listen and learn from our bright youth, from other cultures who are not distracted or limited by old world thinking structures and to the voice of the One who governs all of our futures.  Being innovative only matters if it is in response to obedience.  The future will not take Yahweh by surprise, the Kingdom will translate itself into the coming generations with or without us.  The question is if we can be faithful to follow and listen to the voice that speaks it all into being.  If that means change, the kind of change that rearranges our praxis but not our faith, could we listen? 

22 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”  – Mark 2:22 (NIV)

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2 thoughts on “A Church of Distributed Networks?”

  1. Chris…Sorry, I’ve had to take a break from blogging as of late, and reading…but I’m spending some time catching up on your thoughts. Thank you for the work you are doing in the area of community and ecclessiology. I also struggle with many of today’s church models, and am wrestling with trying to find a better way.I especially like the comment, "Being innovative only matters if it is in response to obedience." I think we tend to leave the Spirit out of the equation too often when we speak of church. God builds His church, by His Strength. In an environment where the Spirit is truly given authority, then we probably need not worry about some of the concerns you listed above. God’s Spirit will deal with false teachers. God’s Spirit will develop leaders. Our task becomes one of leaning into the transforming power of the Spirit at work in the lives of our community.I know that this is probably too simplistic for many…and it probably is. But to submit to the power of God, and to respond in obedience to His authority, is always the best place to start.

  2. "Our task becomes one of leaning into the transforming power of the Spirit at work in the lives of our community."Thanks, Bill. I love this sentiment, very well said. It is precisely where I find myself at the end of all my efforts and ideas.

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