Opening Up Your API

An application programming interface (API) is a set of functions, procedures or classes that an operating system, library or service provides to support requests made by computer programs.[1]

* Language-dependent APIs are available only in a particular programming language. They utilize the syntax and elements of the programming language to make the API convenient to use in this particular context.

* Language-independent APIs are written in a way that means they can be called from several programming languages. This is a desired feature for a service-style API which is not bound to a particular process or system and is available as a remote procedure call. Source: API on Wikipedia

Yeah I know….probably too techy for most of us. I barely understand it. And if I don’t know what I’m talking about, please correct me. This is a learning process for me as well as I’m trying to stretch my mind on this topic.

But what I do understand is that many successful online applications open up their API’s for outside development. You Tube and Twitter are just two examples. If you are wondering on whether or not a company does this, you can usually find it at the bottom of the page. Another company such as Facebook has a place for developers who want to build an app on the Facebook platform.

Successful companies allow and encourage outside collaboration on their product and platform?

Yes. Why?

Because collaboration and voices from within a company or organization, or those voices outside of a company or organization can bring much innovation and ideas that those at the top of the company or organization’s hierarchy are often blind to or don’t have the skill themselves to achieve.

Hence, the reason why you have tons of Twitter applications that many people are using, and that Twitter didn’t develop themselves but that are highly successful. Twitterfeed, Tweetdeck, and on and on it goes.

Great example of how one company harnesses the creativity, energy, passion and innovation of thousands of other people.

What If Our Churches Did More of This

The parallel that I draw from this example in technology is that churches need to not “run”, “create”, or “plan” everything from the central office, but rather, need to harness the innovation and creativity from the dozens, to hundreds, to thousands of people they have attending their church.

Most churches function via committee, and most of the power is centralized at the executive staff level that only a handful of people have the “privilege” of sitting on. And I use the word privilege here lightly, because you know what I mean if you ever attend these meetings…they are sometimes more life taking than giving and innovation is usually not created here. There are exceptions I know.

Rather, I believe innovation is created, harnessed at the lower levels of a hierarchy, or where power is decentralized. There are many good books on this topic, but a few of my favorite are:

  1. The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations
  2. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations
  3. Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything

Fear of Losing Our Jobs

I think that there is a great fear in ministry to decentralize power and unleash the potential and creativity of the people we minister to and serve with. I get it. Because if we truly let go of power than maybe we soon realize that our job is no longer needed when tons of people are doing it for free…and possibly better. I was fearful of moving my former ministry The Quest (at Bel Air Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles) over to Facebook as the main way of communicating. Fear of losing control of content, of losing power and control of being the central hub of ideas along with our student leadership team.

But ultimately I think that the most Biblical thing we can do is give our power away in our church (Jesus obviously embodies this, the Sermon on the Mount), as I believe that’s what Paul was striving for in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12 in his teaching on the body.

If there are many members and only one body, then why is power so centralized in the Church? And the power I’m talking about is not usually centralized where it’s supposed to be…in the person of Jesus Christ as its head. Rather, we have centralized power to only a handful of people…usually men, and usually ordained, and usually among people who have been in a church setting alone for too long that innovation doesn’t really happen where it is needed.

Steps to Open Up Your Ministry’s API

There are a lot of things that need to be done in this area, but let me just suggest 5 steps (but keep in mind that each one involves a lot of other things…but that’s for another post).

  1. Decentralize Power: Haaa. If it were that easy. It’s not. But that would be nice. So let’s start with step 2.

  2. Evaluate Your Organization: (interview staff, observe, talk to “outsider”, etc.) find out where the “bottleneck” is occurring and where communication is lacking.

  3. Develop an Online Strategy: that utilizes tools for doing this effectively. It’s not good enough to use Facebook, Wiki’s, Twitter, etc., but there needs to be a strategy for using these tools and how these tools will help decentralize power and allow for more voices and innovation.

  4. Allow for Other Voices: Ministries need to invite other people to the table. Just not the people at the top, or those with the money and power. Let a wide spectrum of people within the church give voice, suggest and create.

  5. Collaborate: When you have set up the tools, developed a strategy, allowed for other voices, then we must begin to collaborate as a team. Only when we work together will we truly be in a place to move in a new direction, or try new things, or create “effective” ministries.

Formulating an Online Strategy for College Ministry

DISCLAIMERS: 1)There are better technical people out there concerning the web. 2) Do as I suggest, not as I do. I’m trying to keep up myself, and our college website reflects almost nothing of what I talk about. That’s how fast things change. 3) There are a lot of college ministries out there, and there are a lot of online tools to use, but it doesn’t seem like many are thinking through how to best utilize the new media and Web 2.0 (and yikes, Web 3.0) in their groups. 4) Knowing that things change overnight in technology, I hope to somehow impart to you some of the things I have been learning and wrestling with in these areas. You don’t need to be an expert in this area, just know enough to think critically about the issue. 5) If you have feedback, suggestions, criticisms, please comment. This is by no means all encompassing.