The theology of the internet

Kevin Kelly I stumbled across a guy who may be the smartest person in the world.  Kevin Kelly — a founder of Wired magazine, member of thinktanks, techie nerd, futurist guru, and believer — gets my nomination for Mr. Smartguy of the Universe.  And I’m not kidding.  His writing is some of the most insightful stuff I have ever read.  Listen to this from his article, Unto Us a Machine is Born:

“THE web continues to evolve from an entity ruled by mass media and mass audiences to one ruled by messy media and messy participation. How far can this frenzy of creativity go? Encouraged by web-enabled sales, 175,000 books were published and more than 30,000 music albums were released in the US last year. At the same time, 14 million blogs were launched worldwide.

All these numbers are escalating. A simple extrapolation suggests that in the near future everyone alive will (on average) write a song, author a book, make a video, craft a weblog, and code a program. This idea is less outrageous than the notion 150 years ago that some day everyone would write a letter or take a photograph.

What happens when the data flow is asymmetrical – but in favour of creators? What happens when everyone is uploading far more than they download? If everyone is busy making, altering, mixing and mashing, who will have time to sit back and veg out? Who will be a consumer?

No one. And that’s just fine. A world in which production outpaces consumption should not be sustainable; that’s a lesson from economics 101. But online, where many ideas that don’t work in theory succeed in practice, the audience increasingly doesn’t matter. What matters is the network of social creation, the community of collaborative interaction that futurist Alvin Toffler called prosumption. As with blogging and BitTorrent, prosumers produce and consume at once. The producers are the audience, the act of making is the act of watching, and every link is both a point of departure and a destination.”

Do you hear what Kelly is saying?  The producers are the audience…  What does that mean for us, small church pastors and leaders?  It means that we are positioned to fit perfectly into this new society where the act of producing in community is the norm. 

What are the implications for church?  Here are some right off the top of my head:

  1. People want to participate in the process, not just partake of the product.
  2. Top-down, tightly organized decision-making is destined for obsolescence.
  3. Worship becomes the work of the whole congregation.  Wait, isn’t that what liturgy means?  It’s the ancient/future thing, again.
  4. Observation is out, participation is in.  What implications does this have for the old seeker-church model where all you had to do was sit back and watch?
  5. Non-church members will participate if we as church members allow them to.
  6. Social networking, collaboration, partnering, connecting is in.  Going it alone, wanting all the credit, and self-serving programs are out. 

The small church is the best size church to create new social capital and to connect people with people in meaningful ways.  This is an opportunity for small churches if we can think differently, see with different eyes, and step out of our comfort zones into the brave new world in which we live.  Let me know what you think.