I’m working on a book to help the United Methodist Church. I have no doubt an “open source” collaboration will produce the best results. The more “people of good will” offer helpful comments, the more help we can offer United Methodists who love the church and want it to thrive.
“Crowdsourcing” is a distributed problem-solving and production model. Problems are broadcast to an unknown group of solvers in the form of an open call for solutions. Users – also known as the crowd – submit solutions. The best solutions are then owned by one who broadcast the problem in the first place.
In a nutshell, that’s what we’re doing for 8 weeks together. My “Methodist Monday” posts bring a question to everyone willing to help me as I write a book to help the United Methodist Church.
I’m learning a lot from the comments you gave to the question on my 1st “Methodist Monday” post. You can read everyone’s comments, or leave one of your own, here.
“Methodist Monday #2” begins now.
Imagine this scenario.
Four United Methodists are sitting together at Starbucks: Joe, Maria, David and Susan.
They’re in a deep discussion and seem to be in total agreement on the merits of “virtual church.” What’s really got them cranked up is Joe’s last question, “Why would anyone waste the time and money needed for a church building? It’s ridiculous. Wouldn’t the gospel spread faster if people could meet anywhere, at any time for worship services? How are we supposed to reach the world for Christ if the only way they can worship Jesus is by squeezing into our little sanctuary?”
Immersed in conversation, they hardly notice the man approaching their table.
“Hi,” he says. “You may not know me, but I’m your bishop. I was meeting with your pastor and when we finished she told me four members of the church were over here drinking coffee. I was stopping to get a Skinny Caramel Macchiato for my drive home, so I decided to come in and meet you.”
Since none of them can remember ever meeting a bishop, they all look down, pick up their mugs, take a big swig and think, “This is just like that candy bar commercial on TV, where the guy is in a socially awkward position and the voice-over-announcer asks, ‘Need a minute?’”
Noticing the uncomfortable pause, the bishop says, “I wanted to tell you I’m watching your church. I work with hundreds of United Methodist congregations and yours is getting quit a bit of attention lately. I’m fascinated by what you’re doing so I’m glad I got a chance to meet you. I’m going to write the other churches about what your church is doing. It’ll be interesting to see how the next year goes.” With that, the bishop turns and walks away.
Joe is the first to offer a theory of interpretation for the bishop’s words. “You don’t suppose he’s going to tell the whole conference about our on-line worship services do you? I figured he’d get some blow-back on that, since the internet ignores district and conference boundaries. He’s going to have to explain to the other bishops why a church in his conference is starting congregations in their conferences.”
Maria says, “I don’t think that’s it. Our largest on-line congregation is only about thirty people, and they’re not even in the States. I wonder if he’s trying to figure out what’s going to happen when there are more people meeting in our services off campus than on. Think about it. We’re one United Methodist church located in dozens of congregations, meeting all over America. United Methodist Churches meeting as many congregations – in many sites - will really challenge the old systems that were put in place before the internet existed.”
Joe agrees, “I know! That’s what I’m talkin’ about! Think how fast the gospel can spread if we stop worrying about bricks and mortar and take advantage of social media tools already in place. We’re only a few months away from launching more congregations through Facebook. Think how many people we’ll reach!”
“That could be an issue,” David says. “For a long time I’ve wondered if our technology has outpaced our morality. Now I’m thinking our bishop might be concerned that our growth might outpace our controls. What if we don’t have systems in place to manage virtual congregations? What if we lose control?”
“I’ll bet that’s it,” Susan adds. “I mean, think about it. I heard no one should serve communion or baptize people, unless they’re ordained, or appointed by a bishop. So you’ve got to wonder what all those congregations are supposed to do. There’s no way they can come to our pastor every time they need the sacraments. We’ve got people participating in our church from all over the world! I think the bishop might be looking at all this potential for growth as a real problem.”
“No chance,” Maria shoots back. “I’ve heard the bishops are very committed to the growth of the church. That can’t be it. There’s no way they’re more concerned about controlling the church than growing it.”
David jumps in. “But think of the problems virtual church creates. Leadership. Oversight. Management. Allowing a local church to grow by multiplying congregations all over the country is liable to make a big mess of our current systems. Like I said, if our growth outpaces our controls we might lose our identity - and our values. Bishops worth their salt will have to worry about that.”
Maria says, “All I know is, our church is a church without walls. We’re not limited by geography any more than we’re bound by the walls of our local church building. We’re including people in our services who would never consider participating if they had to come to a church building. Didn’t Wesley say, ‘The world is my parish?’ And aren’t we’re starting new congregations all over the world?”
“But they’re not very big; some don’t even have a dozen people. So, what’s the bishop’s goal? Do you think he wants to get the best out of his pastors, or the most out of his pastors? You usually can’t get both.” Joe feels like that disclaimer might help. And since he has a vision for exponential church growth through the viral contagion of a zillion small congregations transforming their communities (without building any buildings at all) he can’t stop suggesting “smaller is better.”
Susan adds, “I know, but every new group – gathering around their love for Jesus – is adding to the Church. And we’ve only been doing this for a while. Who knows how big some of those congregations might become? And as they grow, I think everyone will be happy we’re reaching lots of people for Jesus.” Susan only recently gave her life to Christ and she still has the fire of a new convert. She assumes every person in the world is going to become a Christian within the next few months. (And the truth is, everyone else at the table envies her remarkable confidence in God’s amazing grace.)
“Maybe you’re right. But I’m not so sure. All growth isn’t necessarily good. Think of cancer cells. They grow fast, but they’re devastating to the body. Growth can be a problem.” David is having lots of trouble getting past the challenges he knows the hierarchy of the church will face if local churches change their ministries and adopt new technologies in the next 5 or 10 years.
“I don’t see it that way; I think any growth is better than no growth at all. But I guess we’ll see how the bishop responds. All I know for sure, is that it worked for me, and I think it’ll work for a lot of my friends.” You could tell this was Maria’s last word on the matter. She was one of the first converts birthed in a virtual congregation. In fact, she’s never even been to the original campus for a weekend service. Her world is wired and her connections are global. She has so many Facebook friends she’s thinking of getting a Fan page. The only thing that gives her pause is the intolerable notion of asking people to be her fans. She’s much more comfortable inviting them to be her friends, and she plans to invite every friend she makes to become the friend of Jesus.
But David has one last concern; he just can’t let it go.
“Whether it works, or not, the bishop has got to know the congregations meeting in other states are more like little churches than congregations. And even if those congregations haven’t figured it out, our bishop will. Those congregations will become local churches in the next five or ten years – and then what’ll happen? People can’t just start churches can they? Aren’t there rules about that? I don’t think a bunch of Christians can just go off ‘willy-nilly’ and start acting like a local church, can they? I mean really. Without an appointed pastor, without an ordained elder in charge, who knows what might happen!”
Our world is changing. Facebook didn’t even exist in 2003. Today it has 400 million active users and half of them log on to Facebook on any given day. Technologies that facilitate the sharing of information, the digital mapping of people’s real-world social connections and the virtual enhancements of relational capacity are combining to change everything. So what changes will we see in the UMC?
Here’s the “Methodist Monday #2” question.
Are multi-site strategies, based in burgeoning social networking/social media connections of virtual community, going to be good for the UMC? Or will multiple decentralized congregations (considered to be iterations and outposts of the same local church) undermine United Methodism’s health, connection and community?
What are the consequences of allowing local UM churches to be “one church in many locations?”
Is multi-site ministry going to enrich the UMC, or devastate it?
What’s your answer? The wisdom of your comments helps a lot.
Ecclesiastes 7:10 - Don't always be asking, "Where are the good old days?" Wise folks don't ask questions like that.