Never have so many people had so much to say.
Maybe they have, actually, but never before have so many people had the ability to say exactly what it is that’s on their minds. From a teenager in the Philippines to multi-billion dollar companies, human beings are just beginning to understand, capture and utilize the power of the social web. From blogs to tweets to status updates to YouTube videos, we have become a virtual society of content creators and show no signs of slowing down. As the title of Clay Shirky’s book reads, Here Comes Everybody (The Power of Organizing Without Organizations).
The social web has implications for every organization you can think of. From Microsoft to the church, Shirky highlights how the social web is changing the game. For good.
“We are living in the middle of a remarkable increase in out ability to share, to cooperate with one another, and to take collective action, all outside the framework of traditional institutions and organizations.”
Shirky puts flesh to this observation by telling the story of how one guy, Evan, created a PR nightmare for the New York City Police Department. He forced their hand into arresting a teenage girl who stole the phone of one his friends. How did he do this? With a website and some free time. Oh yeah, and a worldwide audience that tracked the story of the stolen phone from beginning to end. Shirky summarizes, “Most of the barriers to group action have collapsed, and without those barriers, we are free to explore new ways of gathering together and getting things done.”
Welcome to crowd-sourcing, everyone.
While a story about a stolen cell phone story may seem trivial, it has far-reaching implications for those of us in the organizations. Even the church. Yes, all of us in the church.
First and foremost, the church (an organized collection of individuals assembled in community) is an organization. The ability to effectively organize at a mass level outside of traditional hierarchies is creating problems for the church. Shirky shares an example of how the Catholic church is increasingly fearful of self-assembling Catholic groups popping up all across the globe. Think about it: You no longer need to rely on traditional hierarchies to organize large groups of people if you can utilize tools that will allow you to “do-it-yourself.” DIY Mass, so to speak.
The challenges to organizations that Shirky lays out throughout the book aren’t specific to the church. As Shirky says, “anything that changes the way groups get things done will affect the society as a whole.” But these challenges do certainly include the church.
As I read Here Comes Everybody, I couldn’t help but think how the church would respond to the challenges and changes that are ahead. As the social web changes the landscape of our culture, how will the church be affected?
- There’s a reason why scribes aren’t around anymore. We’ve invented a printing press that does the work of a scribe much more efficiently and effectively. Today we take this for granted, but back in Martin Luther’s day this was a reality that cost people their jobs, even their lives. What is the next “printing press” that the social web will bring us?
- House churches have, at best, had a modicum of popularity throughout the years. But what happens when house churches have the ability to network and organize with each other in a new and intuitive ways? What happens to our church buildings when Christian community is largely self-assembled and not within the four walls of a church building?
- With the advent of the podcast, one can listen to virtually any world-class preacher or teacher your heart desires. What happens to the role of the pastor when he or she is no longer looked to as “wisdom/information dispenser” and more as shepherd? Who will be left standing?
Of course, this is all speculation. We’re in the early stages of the communications revolution; the dust is still getting kicked up. But when the dust settles, what changes will the social web have brought to the organization called the church? As Shirky says, “For any given organization, the important questions are ‘When will the change happen?’ and ‘What will change?’ The only two answers we can rule out are never, and nothing.”
Are you ready?