Just finished "Here comes everybody: The power of organising without organisations" [Amazon Associates link] by Clay Shirky. You may remember I mentioned ordering this in 42: Another book.
Anyway, as I expected there are relevant issues to be thought through for what it is to be Church. What is more I just don’t think we have done much to get it anywhere.
Take for example the posts from Maggi Dawn’s interview of the 2 Archbishops (two so far): Blogging the Archbishops and the Future of the Church of England. They are starting to grok blogging (a little) eg:
But there is no choice about whether we engage with this new media. It’s the world we are in – the Church has to engage with it!”
other signs from the CoE show they are getting blogs better than most (eg see the new Church Times Blog, I commented on that in 42: New blog: Church Times blog).
But (and it is a really big but) I don’t think I have seen any signs of the Churches grokking what Clay is writing about. The Archbishops demonstrate this in their talk on buildings:
I [Maggi] asked, “Are they [old buildings] really a witness to the Church or do they give more the impression that the Church is a museum piece?”
“Oh no!” they both said, practically in stereo, “Buildings speak to people…”
in positive ways,” continued Archbishop Rowan. “They make people ask,
what’s this here for? Why is it here? What has happened here over time?”
I [Maggi] said.
“It reveals a fairly large number of people who self-identify as
Christian but who do not regularly attend a place of worship in the
formal sense. Spirituality and faith are clearly alive and well, but
there are plenty of people who believe the Church in a fatal decline.
Is there really a future for organised religion?”
beings, by nature, always need a home,” said Archbishop Sentamu.
“Whatever else happens to organised religion, if it’s providing a place
of safety and identity, then future is very bright. If not,
the future is bleak. The Church should be a home where the stranger
finds love, and the lonely a welcome. When it loses those things, then
it’s just an institution, and it’s bureaucratically passive. But
organised religion is ambiguous. It can be a source of great good, or
Archbishop Rowan continued, “If there is a future for organised religion, it’s because it offers a communal
religion. The gospel mostly isn’t about individuals, but about living
in co-operation. If you have a communal understanding of religion,
sooner or later you begin to ask about how to hand on the experience.
It’s never just a private spirituality. What the organisation itself
looks like has already changed many times, and it will change again,
maybe dramatically. But its purpose is this communal function,
distilling and handing on.”
For me it is a huge problem to see the connections that appear to be shown here. i.e.:
Christian = safe organised religion communal meetings in old buildings
I am confident that this is not a definition that either Archbishop would want to hold to. But to me their answers betray hidden assumptions about how faith is lived, how worship happens.
What is more they are not alone. So far the various attempts at on-line worship have also failed to convince me. They have mostly focused on gathering people in virtual ways to worship. But virtual worship is rubbish (at least in my not at all humble opinion), it lacks nearly everything that makes worship good.
So what could we be doing with the new stuff possible through the new ways of getting organised without organisations? I suppose the simple answer is either "I don’t know" or "anything".
There are definitely lots of ideas buzzing around my head. Here are some of the simple ones we could do today:
- Flickr: Encourage everyone to upload pictures of everything you do as Church to flickr and tag them by denomination, church and event
- Live blog worship
- Allow texting of prayers into worship services (h’mm lots of people must know how to do this, I don’t yet)
Then some more out the box thinking
- How about using the techniques of flash mobs for "spontaneous" prayer or worship gatherings
- How about fast response Church teams, use many of the techniques in the book to gather for prayer or action where there is a need in your local area
- How about using something like dodgeball to meet Christians you don’t yet know
It seems that we are all too often thinking of these social tools as being about virtual life whereas in fact all the powerful examples in the book are about new ways of people getting organised using these new tools in order to impact real life (to meet, to achieve together) in physical and practical ways.
The epilogue to the book ends with "Our social tools are dramatically improving our ability to share, cooperate, and act together. As everyone from working biologists to angry air passengers adopts those tools, it is leading to epochal change."
My worry is that Christian discipleship (i.e. living out the Christian faith) is a classic example of something that would benefit from "improving our ability to share, cooperate, and act together" and yet the Organised Churches are exactly the sort of organisation that is least likely to benefit from these social tools – as the interview with the Archbishops indicates.