Tag Archives: generatives

The Church that Missed the Digital Age

In an earlier post, I talked about things hold value in a digital age, “generatives” that can’t be copied. From a Christian perspective, these are all chances to serve. Here’s my list of opportunities, and how we miss them.

  • Having a wow experience: Was that a sermon or a sleep aid?
  • Locality: If you church disappeared, would your neighborhood notice?
  • Delivery: If by delivery, you mean we sit here and wait for you to show up, then sure.
  • Personalization: What was your name again?
  • Authenticity: Kids, behave. We’re in church.
  • Rarity: A three point, alliterated sermon? What a delightful surprise!
  • Immediacy: We’ll sing any hymn you want.
  • Customization: Enjoy your pew.
  • Interpretation: God said it, I believe it, that settles it.
  • Simplicity: Going green? Great idea! Let’s run it past the subcommittee.
  • Expertise: Well-trained to answer your questions about koine greek participles.
  • Priority: Biblical wisdom whenever you want, as long as it’s Sunday at 9am.
  • Prestige/Reputation: Every funeral, an opportunity advancement.
  • Power/Control: If you value your life, do not anger the kitchen ladies.
  • Patronage: You can’t change the light bulb; my grandmother donated that light bulb!

Yeah, yeah, it’s fun (and easy) to point out the problems of church life. But lets take this seriously for a second. Suppose for a second that the church actually wants to be a part of the digital age. (Come on, in an infinite number of universes there’s gotta be one, right?) What might that look like? Let’s brainstorm.

  • Having a wow experience: Honestly, I’ve already had wow experiences in church. A spot-on sermon, a touching song, unexpected forgiveness, close friendships, peace in the storm.  Of course, any time a church actually follows the teachings of Jesus and feeds the hungry, visits the prisoner, comforts the sick, protects the alien the fatherless and the widow, that’s pretty much guaranteed to make people say wow.
  • Locality: What if we expected church members to live close enough that they could walk to church? Then they’d have a vested interest in improving the neighborhood. What if the church got involved in local festivals, not to advertise, but to serve?
  • Delivery: If the people are on the web, why isn’t the church? If the people are in the pub, why isn’t the church?
  • Personalization: If your church gets big enough that it’s impossible for people to know each other by name, then don’t start a new service; plant a new church.
  • Authenticity: What if church weren’t the place where we put on our best face? What if church were the one place we felt safe enough to take off the mask? Moments like that don’t happen in a pew. Maybe on a retreat, or in a small group meeting at someone’s home, but not in a pew.
  • Rarity: How about silence? I can get preached at whenever I want. I can get music I like whenever I want. But how often can I find silence? When I speak, how often do I feel like anyone is actually listening? How often does someone spend time with me without wanting anything from me?
  • Immediacy: You can’t get more immediate than live, so that’s something. But what about sharing that immediacy with people who can’t/won’t go to church? Streaming services with live chat rooms?
  • Customization: How about a service that is planned like a choose your own adventure, where the people choose what happens next?
  • Interpretation: What if we posted the sermon on Monday, invited rebuttals from different schools of thought to be posted Wednesday, opened the whole thing for comments, and gleaned the best of it all to share on Sunday morning?
  • Simplicity: Honestly, I’m a bit stumped here because Christianity was never meant to make your life easier. Just the opposite in fact. It’s much easier to go with the flow. Following the way of the cross means running counter to the world, and suffering for it, intentionally. Maybe the simplicity comes from admitting it instead of trying to dress it up like a get rich quick scheme.
  • Expertise: What if we outsourced the church? Outsource the money to an accountant, the building to a maintenance specialist, the endowment to a fund raiser, the advertising to an ad agency, the events to an event planner, the boards to an HR firm specializing in the care and feeding of volunteers, and let the pastor focus on prayer, scripture, and getting both as deeply embedded into the life of the church as possible.
  • Priority: Another tough one. “The first shall be last, those who wish to lead should serve,” and all that. Maybe the idea here is helping people feel like they’re a priority, and not just someone to call when we need something. Maybe you email sneak previews of the sermon to a randomly chosen group each week and honor their feedback.
  • Prestige/Reputation: We’ve got titles galore, but they no longer mean anything to the community outside the congregation. I’m not at all interested in returning to the “glory days” when you had to go to church or suffer social consequences. That’s not faith. That’s conformity under duress. How about we hold each other accountable, and stop making it as easy to join a church as it is to join the local racquetball club?
  • Power/Control: We’ve got this one backward. We’ve got power and control locked down. Let’s spread them around a bit. How about arranging the service in such a way that questions are allowed, more than one opinion heard? How about a survey of the neighborhood asking them what’s the most annoying thing we do, and then stop doing it?
  • Patronage: I’m honestly torn on this one. “The workman deserves his pay,” sure, but doesn’t it compromise the message a bit? On the other hand, patronage is a simple method for accountability. Maybe we endow the pulpit the way you endow the chair of a university? The pastor is still accountable to the congregation, but any growth doesn’t benefit him/her financially.

What do you think? Any in there worth exploring? Got any crazy ideas of your own to add?

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Charting the edges of the internet.

Kevin Kelly wrote a post that really got my brain twisting. His root claim is “The net makes digital copies free, so value lies only in things that can’t be copied.” Then he lists 8 uncopyable “generatives” that people can still use to make money in the digital age. Not exactly true, (especially the way he completely dismisses copyright) but I think I smell some truth in the mix.

The net doesn’t make copies free. It makes digital copies cheap in the same way that the industrial revolution made manufactured copies cheap, and we’re experiencing the same sorts of problems. When you can produce a hat for a nickle, how do hat-makers survive? When you can reverse engineer someone else’s work and reproduce it, how does a company stay in business? That’s why we invented patent and copyright. We’re working on something equivalent for the net, but we’re not there yet. So, in the meantime, what’s a blogger to do? How do artists make money on the net when their work can be digitized and copied for “free”?

Ubiquitous and infinite as it feels, the net is still locked in time and space and governed by people. That’s the root reason some things still have value. Here’s my attempt at charting the edges of the internet. The old maps say “Here there be monsters.” This one says, “Here lies opportunity.”

The limits of Place: There’s still only one of me, I live in only one place, and I like stuff. I still value:

  • Having a wow experience: a concert. a book signing
  • Locality: news, traffic, and weather reports that impact my life.
  • Delivery: close enough for me to fetch, to my door
  • Personalization: made to order, autographed
  • Authenticity: It’s real. I can prove it.
  • Rarity: Stuff is inherently rare and that rarity will always increase with time.

The limits of Time: Your digital content may move at the speed of light, but I’ve got lots to do, and time is short. (or I’m lazy. whatever) I still value:

  • Immediacy: Quick is good; Instant is better
  • Customization: make it perfect for me, cut distractions/noise
  • Interpretation: What’s it mean? How’s it work?
  • Simplicity: I don’t think about my coffee cup. I drink out of it. Be the cup.
  • Expertise: seeking a mentor, or maybe just a freelancer.

The Limits of Personality: You might never see me face to face, but I’m still human. I’m a social critter with an ego and dreams. I still value

  • Priority: First in line or first to know. Beta testing. Pre-release copies.
  • Prestige/Reputation: Check out my vendor rating!
  • Power/Control: Give me moderator privileges. Let me pick your song set for the next concert.
  • Patronage: reciprocity feels good.

Note: The value in each individual area may be small. Perhaps, they’d motivate me to spend time and attention, but not money. But if you combine them, things get interesting. Alexander van Elsas has a great post focusing specifically on that line where value becomes profit.

What if I’m not an artist? We’ll still pay to outsource work if we don’t have the time, talent, expertise, or inclination. We’ll still pay for necessities like food, shelter, clothes. We’ll still pay for things that lower our risks: health care, investments, insurance. If you combine any of these with some of the ingredients above, there’s opportunity for a small enterprise to compete with the big boys.

What about security, copyright infringement, aggregation, backups? I don’t list them here because I think they are problems inherent in the system and over time, we’ll get better and better at handling them. Right now, though, they’re great ways to make money.

What about trust, fulfillment, love? Where do these fit in? They don’t. Trust is earned, fulfillment discovered, love given freely or not at all. They influence how I buy, but they cannot be bought.

(edited for clarity, and to add a couple new links)

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