What happens when the church isn’t a place?

Story from Andy Root (highly paraphrased I am sure):

“I asked my son what he wanted to do with his birthday money, and he said he wanted to go to the store, I asked him which one. He said where did you get that book. I told him amazon. And so he said, I want to go to amazon then”.

He went on to describe the frustrating process of trying to explain to a child, that you can get something physical from a place that doesnt really exist as a place to go.

That got me thinking

It is my favorite time of the year. I am back logged with blog posts right now, I am about to have a birthday, which always prompts more reflection than average, but I also just got back from National Youth Workers Convention 2011. Those two things always get my brain thinking crazy out there things. This is one of those crazy thoughts I have been brewing for over a year.

I think there are a three big trends that will shape a new church that is not what it is today.

  1. Leaderless internet based organizations
  2. Location free
  3. Non monetary accounting

What do I think that the current church is?

I think more important is to ask what do people think it is who are outside the church and watch us. They might say that church is a place, a location, or a committee to get funds to build a location. But the heart of it is a place, in most peoples minds.

 Or it is a club with membership and dues. A club you can join, and after joining you can say I am in the club and you are not.

I am convinced that the next wave will be different, and that the next church will be more closely associated with a movement or revolution than a building.

What do I mean by Movement?

A quick look around the news from the past year will show many movements that I think show the way forward of what a post internet worldwide collective looks like.

  • The Tea party and Occupy protests in the US
  • Arab spring groups in Eygpt, Tunisia, Lybia and others
  • Wiki-leaks and Anonymous hacker collectives

These sort of non-organized organizations are popping up all over. And most people are confused by them. They dont look like a normal organization.

Features of a Post internet movement


The first one I mentioned is they are leaderless organization, they tend to have a cell structure, and are largely self governing.  the book The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations covers this in great detail. If you run down the list of the movements I listed above I bet you can only name the leader of one, but yet you are familiar with the things they have been able to do over the past two years.

Is there a path forward for a church that doe not have a central leader? Can we make do without a Pope or a charismatic senior pastor? I think that the next church will, I am not yet convinced that people already invested in spectator church today will be able to make the leap.

2.Location Free:

I have started many blog posts with this idea in mind. The ability of the internet and prevasive mobile communications to create something like Amazon that does not have a place, but does have a community has not yet been fully processed by the church today. 

Is a location free relationship possible? Can you be in real community with people that you cant see or touch? Can you change the world with those people? 

I think the answer here is more clear that the first section. There is ample evidence of the world changing power of these groups, and in the case of the tunisia groups, it quickly grew beyond what they were thinking and planning.

3. Non-monitary

This one is a little less clear, but I believe that there will be a non-monitary economy emerge in stronger way. In an interesting article by Douglas Rushkoff “Are Jobs Obsolete?” he lays out a high level argument that computerization is removing many of the things that used to count as jobs, and what follows is that the dependance on money as a way to facilitate that will decline.

Is there any evidence to suggest that this is happening? In pockets yes, look at the essentially money free process for communites like book lending, couch surfing, even flash mobs, community art projects like many of the memes are unstructured an involve the earning of reputation or respect more or in total leiu of money. Best OS? Best Encylopedia? 

You have open source hardware projects like arduino, and community designed projects as large as complex as cars. Even when money is needed, sites like Kickstarter have made it possible to go directly to the community to make it happen. (I know I have seen an article about this, but trying to find a specific article on jobs and money, is really hard if you dont book mark it, if I find it I will update with a link)

I think churches which already make good use of volunteers will be able to make this jump without realizing it is a jump.

When will this happen?

Right now.

I think there are plenty of places where we are seeing the first experiments. We see some online bible studies, and church services but that does not really get to the level of radical that I think is in the pipeline.

I think Iamsecond.com is pretty close to the type of location free I am talking about. Meet in peoples homes, and occationally rent out a space in front of the Rangers stadium to have a concert.

Christian Endeavor has had a leaderless, cell type structure for over 130 years and should be ideally poised for the next church.

There are others I am aware of in development that are not public yet that are right along these lines.

But make no mistake the next 10 years (or less) will be pretty remarkable in my opinion and I can’t wait to see and participate in that change.