Humanity reshapes itself, so another little think about church…

I do not usually repost anything from Jonny Bakers blog- despite being a very frequent visitor- simply because I always assume that most of you have also already read it! However, I will make an exception today as he pointed (via Steve Collins) to an article about ‘Curated Membership Communities.’

Jonny’s interest in curation as applied to worship was the subject of his recent book, that takes a journey through communities whose experiments with worship have interesting parallels with how art might be shaped, curated and displayed.

But I am more interested in what implications these apparent changes in dominant social entrepreneurial groupings might have for church. That is, church in the broadest sense.

I liked this from the article-

even in a world of immensely powerful social technology, shared experience is what drives us to care about and contribute to others. As the social graph has come online, we’ve been able to keep better track not only of our friends, but all the amazing people we haven’t met yet. The explosion of curated membership communities is an attempt to create the shared experiences which bring us into contact with those people, giving us access to the amazing world which we can see, if not fully yet grasp.

We have become used to discussions about post modern society, shaken loose from the ordered structure of modernity by the coming of a new communication revolution, and perhaps characterised above all be individualism. It has been a regular theme on this blog too- as have my own grapplings with the feeling that I have that we post moderns still crave connection. And this has to be collectivised in some way beyond what might be possible on a computer screen because this is simply not enough- it is not human enough.

It has not been clear up till now what might replace our empty social clubs, community centres and (of course) churches. What might come to facilitate our shared journeys of faith? What channels might the Spirit of God find in which to travel through and in our society?

We have tried so hard to force some kind of solution- both to try to preserve the old, and also to convince ourselves that there is a methodological answer to evangelism in this new context. It is almost as if we forgot that we are followers of Jesus into culture, not his advance guard.

Meanwhile, it seems that the humanity shaped petri dish may indeed be producing some new organic shapes and formations.

Which brings us back to this idea of the ‘Curated Membership Community’. Here are a few thoughts that occur to me in relation to church-

  • Leadership- curation implies facilitation, encouragement, hospitality, nurturing and a celebration of creativity. It is far less interested in management, or hierarchical structure, or hard measurable outcomes. This sounds remarkably similar to the church-I-would-love-to-be-part-of.
  • Membership- this is an interesting concept.’ Belonging’ in this new context seems to come through friendship, aspiration, inspiration from those who have pioneered new ideas, and to be more driven by ethos than specific tasks. Membership is fluid, flexible, and might also be fairly shortlived, as streams of connection merge and cross-fertilise.
  • These new groupings are perhaps a re-invention of the idea that our collectives are more than just the sum of individual one to one relationships- rather that there is also an aspect of human character that emerges when we are part of something larger- when we share our hopes, passions and values, and when these things allow us to flow together- not as our primary purpose, but rather as a natural consequence of our togetherness.
  • The emphasis then is in the creation of ‘social capital’- “The benefits of participation tend to come in the form of the members sharing their extended network of skills, connections, and other resources with one another. In other words, it is other members more than the organizer or curator who provide value to each other.” So rather than becoming passive consumers of religious product, we might be learning to become co-conspirators with one another to discover and celebrate for ourselves, and in the process of doing this, carry each other forward.

None of this is really new thinking- it has been the very substance of the ’emerging conversation’ as we have called it- but what is more interested is how these ideas are playing out in the wider world- perhaps in particular in the commercial world, sick to death of megalithic faceless conglomerates, and looking for something on the human scale that they can once again believe in, and share with their friends.

What was on the edge, is becoming part of the mainstream.


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