Friday, November 08, 2013

The Church and Gen F

Generational theories are typically provocative, if also stereotyped and questionable. What do you think of this summary of the trans-generational description of Generation F, the community that thinks "Facebook style"?

 The experience of growing up online will profoundly shape the expectations of congregations by “Generation F” – the Facebook Generation, which consists of a number of labeled generations without specific parameters of when one was born.  Gen F people may be more impatient than most, but they are less likely to throw in the towel than others are. They operate with new understandings of “access,” “connection,” and “authority.” What is pivotal for us to understand is that Gen F folks expect congregations to reflect the social context of the Web, rather than cling to an obsolete institutional artifact.

Gen F does not expect us to think as they do. That would be a profane violation of what they stand for. They do expect us to accept them as they are, and on a good day, at least, to even listen to them and learn why they feel that way.

And if our congregations hope to attract the creative and energetic members of Gen F, we may at least want to understand their Internet-derived expectations, and reframe them in the context and relevance of our faith practices.  There is some urgency to this hope. At the moment, it is dynamic, but that won’t always be the case.  In the near future, any congregation that lacks a vital core of Gen F leadership will be perceived as being irrelevant.

Here are Hamel’s 12 relevant characteristics of online life, plus three more of my own.   Hamel calls them “post-bureaucratic realities.”  These realities will not impose themselves on anyone. And yet they are available to everyone – pastors, lay leaders, and congregation members.  Some of these realities are timeless; and we will learn which are timeless and which will be cast off the island.  These realities help inform our congregations how relevant they are to this group.  The congregation may ignore it all, and does so at its own peril.

This short list is merely a beginning.  Other emerging realities will continue to create opportunities to respond with the Gospel of Jesus Christ in ways that create God-pleasing values that transcend the post-modern ones; and systematization will be dynamic rather than static.  These fifteen characteristics focus only on a few significant shifts from the current practices of today’s congregations. In effect, some of them are historically consistent with the Reformation tradition.
We invite you to discern what wisdom resides in each characteristic and what value it might have in extending God’s kingdom.  Online residents discover will new proverbs and develop tomorrow’s conventional wisdom, and we in choose to have a role in that exploration.
If a characteristic bothers you, let it go.  It is an experience, not an issue.  You are free to discard any characteristic that doesn’t connect for you. We suggest, however, that God will use some of these characteristics to enrich those who embrace new ways of connecting with those whom God wants us to reconcile to God through Jesus Christ.  So consider these characteristics without anxiety; they may be built upon; and additional characteristics will certainly be co-created.  Perhaps the more we are bothered by these characteristics of Gen F, the more we may need to let them go.  After all, some of them may not be realities for long. 

Our bias is that these characteristics are at the very least engaging, and, more importantly, with a modicum of openness to understanding these characteristics, the Holy Spirit, can transform congregations with a profound impact on stewardship and evangelizing. Here are a few of these characteristics:

1. All ideas compete on an equal footing.   On the Web, every idea has the chance to gain a following, or not.  No one has the power to dictate an idea or squelch a debate.  No one can force an issue.  No one can control others.  Freedom of choice resides in a paradoxical domain that is both non-biased and non-neutral.  It occurs on a sinner-saint playing field, with strictly enforced boundaries.  Values are vital.  They may be both strongly held, yet never imposed.  Ideas gain traction based on their perceived holistic merit, rather than on the political power of the sponsors. 

2. Contribution counts for more than credentials.  When someone posts a video on YouTube, no one asks if the person went to film school.  When some writes a blog, no one cares whether the writer has a journalism degree.  No one degrades another’s position, title, or academic resume, nor does anyone worship it, or give it more weight.  Status differentiation does not carry weight.  There are some absolutes, such as being connected.  Being connected opens the doors to contributing.  Another absolute on the Web is participation.  Participation trumps apathy, and that is what makes a difference.  Our bias is that God will use this, perhaps in a way that transforms congregation members to become more involved in congregation ministries.

3. Hierarchies are natural, not prescribed.  In a Web forum, some individuals receive more respect and attention than others; however not because of position or office held.  It is accurate to say that such people make more of an organic difference.  However, these individuals have not been appointed or elected.  In a childlike way, no one cares if someone is Vice President of Whatever.  No one is judged unfit or condemned or criticized.  Clout reflects the freely given approbation of peers.  What drives these people to make more of a difference is the value that is given to the ideas that are presented.  On the Web, authority trickles up, not down.  There is no mandate except what is prescribed by the group, yet without a vote.  It is organic.  It is not community organizing; in the mind of the participants it is community.

4. Leaders serve rather than preside.   Online, every leader is a servant leader; no one has power to command.  No one sanctions; they do not seem to be needed.   Leverage emerges from evangelical selflessness, credibility, and capacity.  This leverages the current understanding of productivity, although productivity may be redefined at any moment.  What gets done, gets done through others, collaboratively.  Every participant knows the boundaries; and they are unforgiving.  Forget this online, and followers will soon abandon the virtual leaders and the group.  If leaders of nations or tribes or congregations are too slow to grasp this reality they risk residing in a desert to choke on the dust of their own regret, or even face the risk of overthrow.

5. Tasks are chosen, not assigned.   The economy of stewardship on the Web is opt-in, not shoe-horn in.  No one is pressured to join, attend, or do.  Anyone can contribute to a blog, work on an open source project, or share both nonsense and wisdom in a forum.  Sometimes what begins as nonsense morphs into wisdom.  No one is recruited; everyone chooses to work on their passions, with their gifts.  Everyone is an independent contractor.  Everyone owns their own itches, and scratches them.  Scratching each other’s back takes on a holy meaning; and becomes transformational. 

6. Groups are self-defining and self-organizing.   On the Web, you choose your partners.  There are no Internet officers, constitutions, by-laws, budgets, or committees.  In an online community, anyone can link with some ideas and ignore others, or share deeply with some participants, and not at all with others.  No one assigns tasks.  It is by invitation, “Come follow me.”  No one forces another to work.  No one asks another to hang out with a rigid-thinker, but everyone is free to be one at their own risk.  Post-hierarchical bunches of people become groups; and groups have power.  The power comes from the mission. 

7. Resources get attracted, not allocated.  In traditional organizations, resources are allocated from a limited account.  In online life the participants never say, “It’s not in the budget.” There is no budget.  Missional stewardship generates unlimited resources.  On the Web, energy and effort flow toward ideas and projects that are look attractive, enjoyable, and/or have perceived missional value.  In the online community all can decide, moment by moment, how to share, save, and invest their time, talent, treasure, touch, tissue, and trash.  Attention span matters, whether it is momentary fling or lasting commitment. 

8. Power comes from information that is shared, not hoarded.  The Web economy is one of giving.  It is nearly free of barter.  Greater results come from greater giving –influence, status, and respect are reciprocated.  Giving grows without expecting something in return.  There is almost no delay.  The credo is “Do it now.”  If you don’t, someone else will beat you to the punch, or the situation will get worse; and the cost of not acting becomes greater than the original price for taking action.  Online messages do not connect to accumulation.  The principle is that there is always enough.  If one is connected s/he is invited, and that matters. 

9. Opinions complexify grandly and decisions are peer-reviewed.  On the Internet, truly wise ideas gain a following rapidly.  The more an idea complexifies (dominates one’s life) the more solid the resulting consensus decision.  No one says, “That is a dumb idea.”  Discernment flourishes.  Ideas are sorted according to the perceived greater good of the community, even the ideas that are disruptive at first.  The Web is a near-flawless medium for discerning the wisdom of the community.  No resolutions, no amendments, no parliamentary procedure, no formal infrastructure.  Online people are resolute, free to amend and become infrastructure, and their desire is welcomed.  They are merely constituted informally. 

10.  Users can veto most policy decisions.  Online users are opinionated, and their opinions are easily pigeon-holed.  Online residents quickly attack any decision or policy change that seems harmful to the community.  They do not claim to be right, nor do they claim to be community leaders.   They believe in transformation, though they may never have learned it academically.  They are obsessed with developing community.  They keep users loyal by welcoming differences and the freedom to express them.  Everyone that shows up has a say in decisions.  Others may have built the community, but the Gen F members own it, like the body of Christ.  Thought resonates with “you can fight city hall,” and finds unlimited hope because “with God all things are possible” and “in Christ everyone is a new creature,” though they may never use those exact words.  And God muses, “Creating people in my image is going to work out after all.”

11.  Intrinsic rewards matter more than money and recognition.  The web is a testament to the power of intrinsic rewards, like “sowing and reaping.  ” Software is open source; advice is freely given. Everyone gives generously of themselves when they are invited to contribute to something they really care about.  Money is good, yet there is no love of money, and it is not allowed to fill the non-position of second master.  The joy of making a difference is good, and Gen F participants love it.  Appreciation is abundant, but it is not needed to motivate someone to get connected.

12.  Hackers are heroes and agitators are appreciated.  Online communities embrace those who think outside the box, or ask, “What box?”  Organizations are exposed for their nakedness when they make life uncomfortable; and they are welcomed back whenever they want to humbly return.  Online communities usually embrace neither Republican nor Democrat, and especially listen to non-institutional views.  Malcontents may be celebrated when they crack a code that had previously interfered with others’ digital freedom.  Paradox is embraced.  One-sided views gain little traction.  It’s “both-and,” “x’s” and “o’s;” sinner-saints, clergy-lay, Law and Gospel, ordained clergy and priesthood of all believers.  Jesus is both human and divine.

13.  Consensus is faith-based.  Online residents live in faith, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  As Dietrich Bonheoffer, when one is called to a worthwhile cause, Gen F members see themselves as “called to die for those beliefs if necessary.” They believe that “there is no greater love than to be willing to lay down our lives for each other.”  They do not seek martyrdom, but they understand its vitality and importance.  It is God-like decision-making.  It is amazing grace.  It is transformational leadership.

14.  Implementation occurs organically.  The Internet winnows ideas.  Online residents integrate them naturally into a body of knowledge that is in flux and available to everyone who is connected.  Baptized means connected.  Connected means freedom and purpose.  Baptized forbids being uninvolved.  Connected means the power of love is the greatest gift, and the congregation has unconditional love at its disposal to slosh on everyone.  The Spirit is omnipotent as wind; you can’t quarantine the wind. The voice of the community can challenge entrenched institutional interests; and out of these ashes the phoenix of renewal emerges.

15.  The world is worth saving.  This premise is the stimulus and the intended outcome.  Those who notice that the idea originated with God, and some who don’t, are keenly aware that many in the world continue to practice destroying it.  Gen F thrives on implementing world-changing ideas without fear, yet with unlimited mid-course corrections.  It is a spirit rather than a program, and this spirit may be perceived as written into our DNA.  How might God use these ways of being to create a DNA in the congregation?  It may not happen, or it may happen in worship, “for the sake of the world.”  We may see God’s “face” book more clearly through online lenses.              

Adapted by Ed Kruse from a blog by Gary Hamel on wsj; originally posted on Facebook by ELCA BishopMike Rinehart

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