“The lesson of history is that profound changes favor the newcomer and, in rare cases, the incumbent firms [churches] that learn to think differently.”
– Wikinomics (Portfolio), p. 275.
I’m a futurist. Really. People invite me to conferences to speak about the future. And in my experience as a futurist, I see a gap between those who talk about change and the reality of “business as usual.” I also see a powerful generation rising who listens to the church’s talk about “leading edge” but sees that in fact the “leading edge” is really old-school. This
iGeneration was raised on Internet connectivity. They are the beneficiaries of the Netscape era beginning in 1994. They are different; they are resourceful, and they are alien to the current ruling generations.
The iGeneration has the means to change every institution on the planet, bypassing the declining gyrations from older generations—if they so chose.
Our world (even the very planet itself) is at an historic turning point. The turning point is big: bigger than the Renaissance/Reformation/Enlightenment revolution that launched the modern era. The stakes are higher; our world is far more dependent on its institutions and economic systems than any previous era. We have long left the safety net of direct experience and self-reliance. Everything is mediated —when the system breaks (as all systems do), there is no fallback position. The scale of this turning point is beyond comprehension. It is not just a national or regional shift; it is global. No one escapes the consequences.
The modern world has reached a point of systemic breakdown. Take a look at any of the “isms” and institutions:
- Education – results decline in the United States, and the costs skyrocket.
- Justice – the inequities, wrongful convictions and delays of justice along with dizzying legal complexity have reached a breaking point. “You have got to make the clueless politicians aware what 19th-century law is doing to the 21st-first century.” – Lawrence Lessig
- Capitalism is rapidly spreading. Is this good news? Perhaps, but the gap between rich and poor and the behavior of the wealthy creates a chasm with increasing global instability.
- Healthcare? Check out the word Iatrogenic. It refers to the number of patients who die or deteriorate because the care they receive is astronomical. In 2000, the estimated impact was $29 billion. Do you have a first-hand story of someone harmed or even died because of the care they received? Added to this meltdown are the rising costs and declining affordability of healthcare.
This list includes breakdowns in government, family, industrial business models, regional conflicts, the environment, democracy (in its current form) and the institutional church.
The current ruling generations seem blind to the long-term problems that their short-term approaches create. Why? Because their linear worldview approaches problems with a rational segmented mental model. “Ronald Coase likes to describe firms [and churches] as islands of hierarchy within a sea of decentralized activity” Wikinomics p. 260.
Rational methods worked in a world of many independent, closed systems but not today in an interconnected, interdependent world. Even though we can see and acknowledge the problem, it does not change the fact that my generation and older ones seem trapped by our linear worldview.
So what about church? The current church model (denominational, contemporary and postmodern) stands on the same modern platform along with every other institution that holds our world together. Our industrial mindset infiltrates the Church with its “efficient spiritual delivery” system approach. This efficient spiritual delivery system poisons the well of community life and threatens our spiritual eco-system. We should ask, “Are we creating the same kind of unintended negative consequences that every other institution now faces?” What if the activities of our traditional church model actually induces lostness? Remember, I’m a futurist, so I have a fancy name for it: Ecclesiogenics.
In addition to this means-over-ends dilemma, the Church and other institutions suffer from a terminal case of “head-over-tail” imbalance. Those at the head of the system feel exhausted while the tail feels helpless to influence change or fully participate. Contributing to this imbalance is a model that empowers the credentialed professionals and leaves the rest of us amateurs passive recipients.
Enter the iGeneration! The shift to a digital platform of communication changes all of the old rules and power centers. Web 2.0 represents a new revolution on the Internet—open participation. It also provides a wonderful model for change and creates a critical mass that I hope unleashes an iGen revolution.
The entrenched powers of the modern era will not give up the captain’s chair easily—even if they recognize the impending crash course. Many in my (Boomer) generation are beginning to realize serious changes need to take place and soon. We are just not sure where or how to tackle them. My generation looks at the world’s problems as causes to be targeted and then tries to mobilize the masses. We look for broad strokes with sweeping results. We do not see complex systems or have an intuitive sense for how they operate. We miss the subtle interaction of healthy systems and fail to notice their decline. Boomers are also smart, enjoy a comfortable lifestyle (for the most part) and still maintain a ‘60s idealism; three traits that do well as voices for how other should change but lousy when it comes to actually making fundamental change.
While our world seems to spin out of control, the iGeneration appears content creating an alternative universe to submerge themselves with a variety of distractions and games to beat the system—hack, mod, rip and mix. Why not? My generation has done a poor job of passing on a reason to care about higher causes.
Perhaps iGeners will get excited about changing the world when they stop and think, “Hey, I can make a huge difference.” Perhaps they will take action when it dawns on them they do not need our permission to hack and mod our broken systems. Redesigning the world has to be more exciting than finding the next glitch in Halo or Battlefield II.
I have two concerns. One—the iGeneration may prefer their web of distractions to the call to action. Second—the iGeneration may take their desire to make a difference to the traditional Church and get the life, power and innovation sucked out of it. How many of you know people firsthand who have tried to participate in traditional church life only to be rejected and then give up on the Church completely?
Web 2.0 provides a blueprint, platform and opportunity for churches to plug into the iGeneration’s mindset and power. If the Church creates a platform of participation (by providing tools of production and social networking) younger people will come. The Starbucks coffee or Krispy Kreme donuts may offer a perk—but iGeners see it for what it is—a hook to hang out. We have to take a deeper look at these hooks and honestly assess whether we are seeing the transformation we intend—or just simply serving up good coffee and conversation.
The Church profoundly misses the point of peer participation. It still behaves with a pre-web or Web 1.0 mindset—even though it talks about participation and collaboration. The Church controls the content and programs, acts autonomously, competes with other churches, operates through a pecking order of hierarchy and resists feedback, collaboration or congregational innovation. The Church largely maintains a clear dividing line between “professionals” and “laity.” It revolves around designated gathering times and treats content (teaching) as though it were rare relying on the big weekly event to dispense content.
Web 2.0 is the opposite. It provides a platform for co-creating content and projects, seeking connections with others and self-organizing through catalyst grassroots leadership. It lives on feedback and peer production for ongoing innovation. There is no artificial dividing line delineating contributors. Information is cheap and easily accessible creating a context for rapid group learning and growth.
Current Web 2.0 businesses provide excellent case studies for understanding the underlying principles of this radically new mindset.
Wikipedia, for example, has built an incredible knowledge resource that no longer depends on the knowledge and wisdom from a few credentialed experts. They have an open source tool and a process of open peer review to sift through contributed content. The result, according to Britain’s scientific periodical Nature Magazine is an accuracy rate comparable to The Encyclopedia Britannica. There is one full-time employee.
YouTube, for example, changed the rules for content generation. Producing and distributing video was once the exclusive domain of an elite corps that had the tools, large budgets and access to limited distribution channels.
There is Google, Amazon, Yahoo, MySpace, Digg, Ebay, Flickr and many more. These obliterate the old rules and power centers.
How do you redesign worship, preaching, gathering, evangelism, charity and yes, Christian commerce within this new context? Is there a Church 2.0? This is where the iGeneration comes in. Those of us in positions of power and influence would be wise to make room and provide resources, coaching and encouragement to deconstruct (hack) our current institutions and repurpose (mod) them.
Every revolution needs a manifesto. Here are opening salvos for the iGen Manifesto. But Web 2.0 is collaborative, so I expect to see many additions to the Manifesto. Check out these first 11 items, and see if you can add to them:
- We expect content on demand! Access to plentiful, accessible content—when, where and how we want it.
- We expect Open Source resources! Content needs to be readily available to rip, mix and burn for novel use.
- Amateurs are cool, professionals are old school. The root word for amateur is “to love.” Amateurs play because of their passion, not because of their position. Content is easy—passion is rare.
- We expect a Participation Context in every phase of church life. We, the congregation, want to co-create our experience. “Let everyone come with a psalm and hymn and a spiritual song.”
- We want a Platform for involvement not a viewer’s forum. We want church transformed from a place of attraction and content transfer to a platform of resources to connect, create and grow.
- We do not need more content—we need more Mentors! We want leaders to shift from being prime movers and “franchise” attractions to mentors and catalysts—this was once called “servant-leadership.”
- We want contexts for social networking and a radical shift away from the current activity machine. We want church to be more like an extended family and open bazaar of exchange and service to one-another.
- We want to redefine the local church as the local church! We want to see ourselves as one congregation interconnected and interdependent with the other congregations in our community.
- We want to talk and act globally not as though there were three separate worlds (the good people, the communists and those poor developing countries).
- We want to see artificial boundaries dissolve and a convergence of church, charity, community and commerce.
- We are the Long Tail. We want to be taken off the shelf and to make a difference. We want to move away from a mass-market approach.
These 11 are just a beginning. Its time to make a clear statement to the powers that hold on to a dying past and release those who see and can bring to fruition a new future. Luther saw it. He made a clear statement posting 95 Thesis on the door of the Whittenburg Chapel. But we should do it together. This iGeneration has the means to change every institution on the planet. Wanna play?