Of Tech Startups and Megachurches

Of Tech Startups and Megachurches February 28, 2020

Normally what I post here includes some kind of original research or (ideally) fresh insight from me. This one doesn’t. I am just drawing attention to a really interesting essay that might well escape the attention of ANXIOUS BENCH readers because of the source, namely Wired magazine, which would freely admit that it is as secular as the high tech industries and cultures on which it reports. It should resonate with the interests of many readers here, especially for its observations about evangelical responses to high tech and its associated culture. What follows is a summary, designed to whet the appetite.

The article in question, by Kathryn Joyce, is entitled Deliver Us, Lord, From the Startup Life, and it appears in the March issue. Subtitle: “In the Midwest, Christian entrepreneurs are searching for relief from the corrosive grind of company-building—while some faith leaders preach the gospel of crushing it.” This is a significantly long piece, some 6,000 words.

You can read the piece yourself, but some main themes include the efflorescence of high tech industries in the Midwest, with Cincinnati as a detailed case-study. That is significant because Midwestern cities do not share the rabid secularism and anti-religious bias of Silicon Valley, and entrepreneurs and designers here are happy to interact with churches and believers. The question then is how to move forward, and whether that larger tech culture swallows up any and all rival values, and all the time for any non-work-related pursuits. What about family and faith?

A summary of major themes:

The heartland’s tech boom has sparked the emergence of a loose faith-and-tech movement, one that has grown in pockets around the world but is based indisputably in the American Midwest. The region has hosted an explosion of conferences and meetups, yoking together a host of different goals: evangelical techies devising projects intended to spread the faith (Bible “chat bots” and savvy Google ad campaigns to connect desperate searchers with local pastors); Christians driven by the social gospel discussing how to create technological solutions to problems like suicide and sex trafficking; religious thinkers pondering the ethical implications of rapid technological change.

But perhaps the most interesting part of the Midwestern convergence of faith and technology, the most salient for believers and nonbelievers alike, is the way people there have begun to question the culture of tech entrepreneurship—and try to make it more humane.

Much of Joyce’s discussion revolves around a really fast growing megachurch, Crossroads, which she describes as

a major emblem of the fusion in sensibilities between tech and evangelical Christianity. Today it is a 52,000-member megachurch, with 13 campuses, a presence in six prisons, a streaming app called Crossroads Anywhere, and ambitions to expand nationally. Its lead pastor, Brian Tome, likes to say that Crossroads is “more like a startup than a church.”

That last line is not just a passing comment, still less a dig. Joyce pays serious attention to the cultural overlaps between such mushroom megachurches and the tech culture, again, for good and ill. Both are deeply entrepreneurial ventures.

One thought that occurred to me is how closely this story echoes earlier eras of Christian history when preachers and evangelists enthusiastically deployed the latest technologies, from printing in the sixteenth century to cheap periodicals, the telegraph, and the penny post in the nineteenth. You can easily add your own examples.

Anyway, Joyce’s piece is a rich article that repays reading, and would actually make a nice case-study for classroom use. So many great discussion questions. Soon to be a major book?

Wired has always been among my top favorite magazine reads, but I genuinely did not expect them to venture into this kind of territory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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