In class my adviser, Ryan Bolger, often tells a story about a pastor of a mega-church in Arizona. One day the pastor, while walking with his son across the campus of the church he built, said, “Son, this is all going to yours someday,” and his son took a step back and responded, “I don’t want anything to do with this kind of Christianity.” It was then that this pastor realized his church was rooted in a boomer culture phenomenon (and has since gone on to rethink their mission as a church). This “mission-station” approach is rooted in a different time and sensibility than that of our younger generations. Theirs is a do-it-yourself culture: sites like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia and open-source community-based software need community cooperation in order to work. These sites represent a rejection of powerful top-down hierarchies where the flow from producer to consumer maintains control, predictability and efficiently. Those influenced by the participatory culture, actively participate in creating where they see need and they do it with or without permission from those in power, they share information and welcome low levels of control, they are highly energetic and creative and they want to be active in shaping their future through a variety of grassroots means. (From the article, Remixing Faith in the 21st Century by Wess Daniels)

Recently I have been thinking a lot on two terms that author/consultant/professor Clay Shirky used in his book Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. He discusses, among many other things:

  1. An “architecture of participation” (coined by Tim O’ Reilly)

  2. Communities of Practice

Both embody what I think are two important necessities for the Church. That we create an environment that allows for and encourages participation among everyone. Not just pastors, directors, paid staff, or those that we often single out as having special gifts. Rather it is a community that everyone brings something to the table. And that we foster a community environment that encourages practice, which allows for mistakes, failures, successes…everything that comes along with practicing.

Churches are often bad at these two things. We don’t allow for failure, and therefore we inhibit a participatory community.

That’s why you rarely see anyone up front during worship on Sundays unless it is the paid staff. That is the way that we minimize mistakes, which therefore limits total participation. It’s a vicious cycle which eventually leads us to being consumers of Church, the community and all that is offered.

I have great hope for the Church as I see many new communities and Churches embracing some of these values of participation and practice, while also moving away from being consumers of the Church and worship. Many are also moving away from top-down hierarchies that maintain command and control. I think these moves are a step in the right direction.

Wess Daniels has got an amazing post over at Barclay Press, Remixing Faith in the 21st Century. I leave you with another great quote from the article. Then go read it for yourself because it is well worth the time.

This past April Radiohead did another thing that sparked imaginations and challenged the preexisting structures of the music industry, yet again. They setup a website and invited people to remix one of their singles, “Nude.” Along with the invitation, they released the audio tracks containing the guitars, strings, drums, bass, and vocals through the iTunes music store. They invited people to participate in a contest to see who would make the best remix of their song, all the votes would be made by Radiohead fans (the winning remix received 38568 votes). By looking at remix culture, I think the church can learn something about how creativity and imagination interacts with existing ideas and structures and builds off those resources while also moving beyond them in new ways.