Church 2.0: Spider vs. Starfish – Part three
(Originally published on the DisciplesWorld News Muse blog)
I’ve been tossing out obscure phrases like “starfish church” and “church 2.0,” more or less to keep people curious, but these actually are legitimate concepts when considering future models for organized religion.
After World War II, churches were booming, and we could hardly build or expand the worship halls fast enough to keep up. Married couples generally stayed together for a lifetime, people stayed in the same job and the same home for decades, and there was an inherent trust in institutions to care for of us.
Then things changed.
Since the sixties, our relationship with institutional structures has changed, and in many ways, has become more suspicious. From government and religion to corporate America and even the institution of marriage, we approach such systems with an increasingly critical eye.
Along with this skepticism has come a new sense of resourcefulness too. The post-boomer generations have begun to learn to create a sense of community, belonging and “place” where and when they can, unable to consistently depend on institutions, or even their families of origin, to provide the stable foundation they seek.
Enter the Digital Age, which has expanded time, space, communication and community in ways most could not have even imagined before. Though some are suspicious, or even critical, of phenomena such as Social Networking (Facebook, MySpace, etc) tools, they are unquestionably filling a need. With more than 250 million subscribers, MySpace is one of the largest networks in the world.
The curious thing about Social Networking tools – also considered to be a part of Web 2.0 – is that they technically offer very little, if anything. Although Facebook offers users some memory space on a giant computer somewhere, and a few handy applications, the content primarily comes from the users. In the end, Facebook creates nothing except for the opportunity for community to happen.
Amazon, which is one of the biggest Web 1.0 companies, actually has an inventory of products they sell to consumers. Craigslist, on the other hand, which is a Web 2.0 system, helps to connect people who have things others want, like a giant international classified ad site. They own nothing and sell nothing to consumers, but they create a forum within which billions of dollars worth of goods and services are exchanged every year.
Historically, churches have been possessors and purveyors of information, organizing and managing the systems in a top-down structure within which the faithful can acquire what they seek. However, this “Church 1.0” model assumes a general trust in the systems in power, which continues to erode. Our instinct as church is to ratchet down, to tighten the reins as we sense the threat of our own irrelevance.
But perhaps it’s not the message we bear that’s no longer relevant, but the way we impart it. Perhaps the institutions that once represented security and authority to the culture now actually hinder our mission more than they help.
Perhaps there’s something to this whole Web 2.0 thing that we could learn from.
Such systems are not novel. From Apache tribal systems to Facebook and arguably the first-century church, so-called 2.0 systems operate with little or no budget, with little or no paid leadership, and like the early church, cannot be stopped once they catch fire.
Before Church was an institution, it was a movement. Its only purpose for existence was to spread the gospel – the good news – with a sense of urgency more powerful than fear of the risks. And like a starfish, the forces bent on dispelling them only caused them to scatter and multiply.
That is, and was, the essence of Church 2.0 – the Starfish Church. The model is right there in scripture. The children of the digital age get it, but do we?