Monday, January 31, 2011

Churchtrain Manifesto

This is a somewhat silly experiment, but it yields some interesting results. I simply pasted the Cluetrain Manifesto's 95 theses into Word, then performed "replace all" a few times, replacing "markets" with "churches," "Corporate" with "Churchy," and "companies" with "denominations." I'm not entirely satisfied with the results (for example, i started trying to tweak or edit the remaining words that need to be changed, but gave up for lack of time), but it does help re-contextualize the Cluetrain Manifesto's wisdom for the faith context in some intriguing ways. Enjoy, as you will.

95 Theses

1. Churches are conversations.
2. Churches consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
3. Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
4. Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.
5. People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.
6. The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.
7. Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.
8. In both internetworked churches and among intranetworked churches, people are speaking to each other in a powerful new way.
9. These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge.
10.           As a result, churches are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. Participation in a networked church changes people fundamentally.
11.           People in networked churches have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from pastors. So much for churchy rhetoric about adding value to commoditized products.
12.           There are no secrets. The networked church knows more than denominations do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.
13.           What's happening to churches is also happening among the faithful. A metaphysical construct called "The Church" is the only thing standing between the two.
14.           Denominations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, denominations sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman.
15.           In just a few more years, the current homogenized "voice" of religion—the sound of mission statements and brochures—will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court.
16.           Already, denominations that speak in the language of the pitch, the dog-and-pony show, are no longer speaking to anyone.
17.           Denominations that assume online churches are the same churches that used to watch their ads on television are kidding themselves.
18.           Denominations that don't realize their churches are now networked person-to-person, getting smarter as a result and deeply joined in conversation are missing their best opportunity.
19.           Denominations can now communicate with their churches directly. If they blow it, it could be their last chance.
20.           Denominations need to realize their churches are often laughing. At them.
21.           Denominations need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humor.
22.           Getting a sense of humor does not mean putting some jokes on the churchy web site. Rather, it requires big values, a little humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view.
23.           Denominations attempting to "position" themselves need to take a position. Optimally, it should relate to something their church actually cares about.
24.           Bombastic boasts—"We are positioned to become the preeminent provider of XYZ"—do not constitute a position.
25.           Denominations need to come down from their Ivory Towers and talk to the people with whom they hope to create relationships.
26.           Public Relations does not relate to the public. Denominations are deeply afraid of their churches.
27.           By speaking in language that is distant, uninviting, arrogant, they build walls to keep churches at bay.
28.           Most churching programs are based on the fear that the church might see what's really going on inside the company.
29.           Elvis said it best: "We can't go on together with suspicious minds."
30.           Brand loyalty is the churchy version of going steady, but the breakup is inevitable—and coming fast. Because they are networked, smart churches are able to renegotiate relationships with blinding speed.
31.           Networked churches can change suppliers overnight. Networked knowledge workers can change employers over lunch. Your own "downsizing initiatives" taught us to ask the question: "Loyalty? What's that?"
32.           Smart churches will find suppliers who speak their own language.
33.           Learning to speak with a human voice is not a parlor trick. It can't be "picked up" at some tony conference.
34.           To speak with a human voice, denominations must share the concerns of their communities.
35.           But first, they must belong to a community.
36.           Denominations must ask themselves where their churchy cultures end.
37.           If their cultures end before the community begins, they will have no church.
38.           Human communities are based on discourse—on human speech about human concerns.
39.           The community of discourse is the church.
40.           Denominations that do not belong to a community of discourse will die.
41.           Denominations make a religion of security, but this is largely a red herring. Most are protecting less against competitors than against their own church and workforce.
42.           As with networked churches, people are also talking to each other directlyinside the company—and not just about rules and regulations, boardroom directives, bottom lines.
43.           Such conversations are taking place today on churchy intranets. But only when the conditions are right.
44.           Denominations typically install intranets top-down to distribute HR policies and other churchy information that workers are doing their best to ignore.
45.           Intranets naturally tend to route around boredom. The best are built bottom-up by engaged individuals cooperating to construct something far more valuable: an intranetworked churchy conversation.
46.           A healthy intranet organizes workers in many meanings of the word. Its effect is more radical than the agenda of any union.
47.           While this scares denominations witless, they also depend heavily on open intranets to generate and share critical knowledge. They need to resist the urge to "improve" or control these networked conversations.
48.           When churchy intranets are not constrained by fear and legalistic rules, the type of conversation they encourage sounds remarkably like the conversation of the networked churchplace.
49.           Org charts worked in an older economy where plans could be fully understood from atop steep management pyramids and detailed work orders could be handed down from on high.
50.           Today, the org chart is hyperlinked, not hierarchical. Respect for hands-on knowledge wins over respect for abstract authority.
51.           Command-and-control management styles both derive from and reinforce bureaucracy, power tripping and an overall culture of paranoia.
52.           Paranoia kills conversation. That's its point. But lack of open conversation kills denominations.
53.           There are two conversations going on. One inside the company. One with the church.
54.           In most cases, neither conversation is going very well. Almost invariably, the cause of failure can be traced to obsolete notions of command and control.
55.           As policy, these notions are poisonous. As tools, they are broken. Command and control are met with hostility by intranetworked knowledge workers and generate distrust in internetworked churches.
56.           These two conversations want to talk to each other. They are speaking the same language. They recognize each other's voices.
57.           Smart denominations will get out of the way and help the inevitable to happen sooner.
58.           If willingness to get out of the way is taken as a measure of IQ, then very few denominations have yet wised up.
59.           However subliminally at the moment, millions of people now online perceive denominations as little more than quaint legal fictions that are actively preventing these conversations from intersecting.
60.           This is suicidal. Churches want to talk to denominations.
61.           Sadly, the part of the company a networked church wants to talk to is usually hidden behind a smokescreen of hucksterism, of language that rings false—and often is.
62.           Churches do not want to talk to flacks and hucksters. They want to participate in the conversations going on behind the churchy firewall.
63.           De-cloaking, getting personal: We are those churches. We want to talk toyou.
64.           We want access to your churchy information, to your plans and strategies, your best thinking, your genuine knowledge. We will not settle for the 4-color brochure, for web sites chock-a-block with eye candy but lacking any substance.
65.           We're also the workers who make your denominations go. We want to talk to customers directly in our own voices, not in platitudes written into a script.
66.           As churches, as workers, both of us are sick to death of getting our information by remote control. Why do we need faceless annual reports and third-hand church research studies to introduce us to each other?
67.           As churches, as workers, we wonder why you're not listening. You seem to be speaking a different language.
68.           The inflated self-important jargon you sling around—in the press, at your conferences—what's that got to do with us?
69.           Maybe you're impressing your investors. Maybe you're impressing Wall Street. You're not impressing us.
70.           If you don't impress us, your investors are going to take a bath. Don't they understand this? If they did, they wouldn't let you talk that way.
71.           Your tired notions of "the church" make our eyes glaze over. We don't recognize ourselves in your projections—perhaps because we know we're already elsewhere.
72.           We like this new churchplace much better. In fact, we are creating it.
73.           You're invited, but it's our world. Take your shoes off at the door. If you want to barter with us, get down off that camel!
74.           We are immune to advertising. Just forget it.
75.           If you want us to talk to you, tell us something. Make it something interesting for a change.
76.           We've got some ideas for you too: some new tools we need, some better service. Stuff we'd be willing to pay for. Got a minute?
77.           You're too busy "doing business" to answer our email? Oh gosh, sorry, gee, we'll come back later. Maybe.
78.           You want us to pay? We want you to pay attention.
79.           We want you to drop your trip, come out of your neurotic self-involvement, join the party.
80.           Don't worry, you can still make money. That is, as long as it's not the only thing on your mind.
81.           Have you noticed that, in itself, money is kind of one-dimensional and boring? What else can we talk about?
82.           Your product broke. Why? We'd like to ask the guy who made it. Your churchy strategy makes no sense. We'd like to have a chat with your CEO. What do you mean she's not in?
83.           We want you to take 50 million of us as seriously as you take one reporter from The Wall Street Journal.
84.           We know some people from your company. They're pretty cool online. Do you have any more like that you're hiding? Can they come out and play?
85.           When we have questions we turn to each other for answers. If you didn't have such a tight rein on "your people" maybe they'd be among the people we'd turn to.
86.           When we're not busy being your "target church," many of us are your people. We'd rather be talking to friends online than watching the clock. That would get your name around better than your entire million dollar web site. But you tell us speaking to the church is Churching's job.
87.           We'd like it if you got what's going on here. That'd be real nice. But it would be a big mistake to think we're holding our breath.
88.           We have better things to do than worry about whether you'll change in time to get our business. Business is only a part of our lives. It seems to be all of yours. Think about it: who needs whom?
89.           We have real power and we know it. If you don't quite see the light, some other outfit will come along that's more attentive, more interesting, more fun to play with.
90.           Even at its worst, our newfound conversation is more interesting than most trade shows, more entertaining than any TV sitcom, and certainly more true-to-life than the churchy web sites we've been seeing.
91.           Our allegiance is to ourselves—our friends, our new allies and acquaintances, even our sparring partners. Denominations that have no part in this world, also have no future.
92.           Denominations are spending billions of dollars on Y2K. Why can't they hear this church timebomb ticking? The stakes are even higher.
93.           We're both inside denominations and outside them. The boundaries that separate our conversations look like the Berlin Wall today, but they're really just an annoyance. We know they're coming down. We're going to work from both sides to take them down.
94.           To traditional corporations, networked conversations may appear confused, may sound confusing. But we are organizing faster than they are. We have better tools, more new ideas, no rules to slow us down.
95.           We are waking up and linking to each other. We are watching. But we are not waiting.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Church, Use the Digital Depository, and Broadcast Yourself!

Burgess, Jean and Joshua Gree. YouTube: Digitial Media and Society Series. Polity Press,
2009, 172 pages.

I am reviewing this work for its own sake, and also including comments concerning the applicability of the book for discussions in church (and other non-profit organizations).

This concise and focused book in the Digital Media and Society Series ( brings the tools of sociology and critical theory to bear on the video-sharing phenomenon YouTube, a site co-created, as Burgess points out, by YouTube Inc., “users who upload content to the site, and audiences who engage that content.”[1] The authors conduct their research of YouTube by examining trends in video content that was most favorited, most viewed, most discussed, and most responded during six days of samples in the fall of 2007. Their method of interpretation is an interesting admixture of literary theory, sociological analysis, critical theory, and media studies.[2]
Perhaps the most significant change in my thinking after reading the book is to stop thinking of YouTube as just one thing. Instead, I now see how the site as a platform performs a variety of functions, some of which are especially applicable for congregational mission and ministry. YouTube’s status as a meta business—the “new category of business that enhances the value of information developed elsewhere and thus benefits the original creators of that information”[3]—is the largest contributing factor in this regard.
1) Cultural archive: Burgess writes, “It is possible to exhaust your own capacity for nostalgia before exhausting the possibilities of the vintage material available on YouTube already… a record of contemporary global popular culture (including vernacular and everyday culture) in video form, produced and evaluated according to the logics of cultural value that emerge from the collective choices of the distributed YouTube community.”[4] I have not conducted a study to learn to what extent Christians have participated in making use of YouTube as a cultural archive, but I hope they are, and I would like to contribute. This should and can extend well beyond simply posting recordings of worship services and sermons on-line, but observing how YouTube functions as a cultural archive may point out to what degree Christianity is less engaged in culture creation in the video/visual medium, or perhaps even whether Christians are as engaged in crafting culture that can be archived.
2) Passive viewing of popular media: YouTube allows users to share traditional media from all kinds of sources and perspectives. You can watch educational programming on YouTube, clips of movies and comedy, concert footage, videos, etc. Again, this is an under-utilized but essential resource for the church. Kids in my confirmation class, for example, make use of this feature to watch videos from their re:form confirmation curriculum in between confirmation classes. And although it does not count as “popular” media, items I have posted on YouTube offering amateur history and footage of the previous congregation I served, have been influential in people visiting our worship, but even more importantly, gaining a richer understanding of church history and rural church culture (for footage, simply search for East Koshkonong on YouTube).
3) Participatory engagement with user-created content: For YouTube, participatory culture is core business.[5] This ought to be true of the church as well, but often it is not. Many members of the church approach the church from a consumerist mentality. Many leaders in the church are guilty of treating members as consumers. One of the most intriguing charts in the book is a comparison of user-created and traditional media across the measures of popularity. Essentially, there is a correlation between user creation and user participation. In other words, more of the most discussed and most responded content on YouTube are user-created; more of the traditional media (television excerpts, movie clips, etc.) are in the most viewed category but less discussed and interacted with.
This should tell us a lot about how members of congregations will engage the “content” of congregational ministries. So, for example, although sermons and other traditional media in the church will remain the “most viewed” and perhaps (hopefully?) “most favorited,” content created by members such as a small group bible study or social justice advocacy will likely be the “most responded” and “most discussed” content. The church then functions as the “meta” organization that hosts and stewards all these forms of content creation and sharing.

Two additional comments: First, this book, together with many books on the new media, highlights the gaming and play aspects of new media. For example, when there are “flame wars” on YouTube, often they are quite self-aware, exhibiting how “flame wars can be thought of as ludic events: structured games that are part of the fun of participating in the social network.”[6] The church has simply not attended well enough as of yet to gaming and play in theology, church leadership, and life. This is a wake-up call. So, for example, when an octogenarian popular user of YouTube offered courses on social networking for folks in his peer group, he says, “You must be prepared to be a child again, to learn by playing around.”[7]
Second, there is so much worry about the moral content of YouTube that attention to this aspect outstrips conversation that can help build digital literacy in a social networking era. So, for example, John Hartley, in an appended essay in the volume, can learn based on the fact that certain sites are walled off at school (including YouTube) “that formal education’s top priority is not to make them digitally literate but to ‘protect’ them from ‘inappropriate’ content and online predators.”[8] Ensuring the safety of children and training in behavior are important. However, in an era so reliant on social networking and new forms of media, equipping youth with the necessary tools to creatively engage the new media is the most important way to offer them tools that will protect them from it. There simply is no other way, short of disconnecting youth from all media.

[1] Vii.
[2] Of course, the big difference between doing critical analysis of Youtube, as compared to, say, a novel is that the “scale at the level which YouTube represents tests the limits of the explanatory power of even our best grounded or particularist accounts” (7).
[3] 4.
[4] 87-88.
[5] 6.
[6] 97.
[7] 73.
[8] 130.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A theology of social networking

Friesen, Dwight. Thy Kingdom Connected: What the Church Can Learn from Facebook,
the Internet, and Other Networks. Baker Books, 2009, 189 pages.

One of the assumptions of Friesen’s book is that social networking and the internet can offer some metaphorical resources for how we talk about the Trinity and our participation in Trinitarian relationality. Leonard Sweet in his forward to the book highlights this assumption by riffing on hyperlinks as that which makes light (the light of creation and the light of Christ) possible, for light itself is constituted by interlinked frequencies and the relationship between different kinds of particles and frequencies.[1]
            This is one of the best reasons to read this book, because any book that brings innovation in science, technology, or the arts, into conversation with how we talk about God and the universe can, if approached with creativity and faith, yield tremendous new insights. If there is a danger in such an approach, it is only that sometimes an experiment in this kind of theology can overstate its case, standing in awe at a wonder that is actually only mundane or pedestrian. But faithful readers can parse this distinction.
            Friesen recognizes the tensions inherent in his experiment, and describes it early in the book, “We might be fools to simply jump on everything early adopters to their hands to [avant-church and social networking], but we most certainly will be fools if we choose not to humbly listen to the hearts, motives, and explorations of these early adopters, for they are daring to live as risk takers as they take new terrain seriously.”[2] Which is to say that Friesen is worth reading not only because together with him readers may discover some interesting new ways of thinking about the church, and God, but they may also be emboldened to be explorers in new terrains.
            Friesen’s “hope is that this book can serve as a practical relational hermeneutic.”[3] It is important to listen to how Friesen phrases this, because it gives a clearer description of what the book is accomplishing than the title (a title probably suggested by the publisher or editor). The book is exploring relationality and networks as a hermeneutic for talking about God as trinity and the church’s participation in the divine life of the Trinity.
            Central to this thesis is his recognition that social networks like Facebook or MySpace are scale-free non-hierarchical, enabling us to reimagine the kingdom of God in such terms.[4] Perhaps the most radical insight arising out of this thesis is that networks are often more yeasty than we give them credit for. We prefer to think of networks as direct, so we try to leverage them to impact directly the people or groups we are directly in contact with. However, networks often have their greatest power and impact as they pattern out through indirect and secondary connections. Friesen offers one simple example of this, that most people get a new job through a friend of a friend, not directly through a best friend or acquaintance themselves.
            This has tremendous implications for how we think of the ministry of our churches. When we are organizing in networks of faithful ministry (for example, in a small group bible study) it may not even be the direct network of the group itself that has the most powerful transformative or redemptive impact, but what flows out in the synergistic nodes of relationality in which each of the small group participants is situated.
            Friesen believes and trusts that this emphasis on relationality in Christian ministry does simply come out of sociological patterns, but out of the God who exists in relationality, in communion. “The Christian understanding of a linking God is surely one of the most unique claims of any religion or system of thought in the world.”[5] By analogy, since humans are created in the image of God, their being is also in communion and relationality. Friesen’s radical insight is that each of us is a networked person.
            The reason this is a rich theological insight is because in much of the social networking universe, we tend to focus on ourselves, the node that we are, and then think that the connections between each node, the network, are simply a secondary resource to connect the nodes. But what if the reverse were true, and it were the network itself that were more constitutive of you are rather than you as the node itself? Or even if you as a node in the network or only a node because there is a network?
            Finally, I celebrate Friesen’s vision in this book because it is hopeful and lifegiving. Rather than approach social networking and technology from the perspective of a post-singularity scenario, Friesen simply grounds, practically and realistically, social networking in the sociality of God. “This biblical vision of a relationally connective kingdom holds the key to a profound sense of hope and possibility for you and me and the communities in which we live; for it reorients our vision of life, relationship, and ministry from the perspective of the Triune God who creates us in God’s own relational image… it sparks one’s imagination for incarnationally presencing oneself in the places of disruption within one’s own network.”[6]
            The resources for the kind of theology expressed here have already been present in the writings of an array of gifted systematic theologians, such as J├╝rgen Moltmann, Colin Gunton, John Zizioulas, etc. And I do recommend reading these theologians in conversation with Friesen, for a greater sense of the Trinitarian theology backside of Friesen’s proposal. But what I love about Friesen’s book is his bold attempt to bring the tremendous insights of these Trinitarian theologians into creative interplay (might I say networked with or linked?) with modern technological advances and new forms of human sociality. That he has done so is simply one more illustration of his goal of participating in God’s mission, which, “if you choose to live into it, is to boldly link where no one has linked before; this is the Christ conjunction.”[7] It is the creative work of the church and its leadership to steward space where this can happen.[8]

[1] 11.
[2] 26.
[3] 29.
[4] 31.
[5] 56.
[6] 88, emphasis added.
[7] 135.
[8] 113.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Want to Read a Bonhoeffer Biography?

Here's a simple formula if you're thinking about reading a Bonhoeffer biography some time in 2011 (and I highly recommend everyone do so). Read the original biography by Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography if you have the time for a long and wonderful and loving biography. Read Ferdinand Schlingensiepen's recent biography if you want a briefer and up-to-date and accurate biography that takes into account all the recent research and new translations of Bonhoeffer into English.

Avoid, at all costs, the popular but deeply problematic biography by Eric Metaxas.

And if you're feeling ambitious, start investing in the fifteen volumes that now make up the Fortress Press Bonhoeffer's Works Series.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Not Playing in Your Local Pulpit

So if I wasn't supposed to be nice, ecumenical, and pastoral, I'd be really angry right now. I flipped to the back page of the New York Times Book Review, and encountered an advertisement for a video series bible study, Living the Questions, that a quasi-progressive group of Christian intellectuals has been touting for some time.

Here's why I'm angry, or sad, or frustrated, or confused, or whatever it is that got my hackles raised when I read the advertisement. So, they give it the title, "Not Playing in your local pulpit," with a a sub-head, "If you've ever walked out of church thinking this can't be the whole story, now you can hear the leading voices of progressive Christianity tell it like you've never heard it before."

The leading voices recorded on this DVD are: Marcus Borg, Diana Butler Bass, John Dominic Crossan, Matthew Fox, Amy-Jill Levine, Brian McLaren, Robin Meyers, Helen Prejean, John Shelby Spong, and Mel White, among others.

The problem I have with this advertisement: it sets up an opposition between most churches and progressive Christianity that is neither true nor helpful. It's actually almost libel, and if not that, at least a violation of the 8th commandment to not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Here's why it bothers me. It seems that progressive Christians (at least the ones funding this advertisement) have decided to use the kind of rhetoric to publicize their form of Christianity, emphasize divisions in the church, and play the kind of partisan politics the rest of us are so tired of.

Additionally, I happen to know a lot of progressive Christians who regularly read everyone listed above and incorporate their insights (or at least some of them) into their preaching and teaching. So my guess is that in basically any place you find yourself, you can find a faithful pastor "living the questions" and playing progressive Christianity from the pulpit.

If the advertisers of "Living the Questions" really believe in social justice engagement and concrete spiritual practices, I can recommend two.

Spiritual practice: reconciliation. Instead of setting up false oppositions between progressive, academic Christianity and the rest of the pulpits around the country, be reconciled, admit common ground, and advertise that what you're putting on this DVD can supplement rather than replace what is preached from so many pulpits.

Social justice engagement: Support the ministries of local congregations. Instead of offering a DVD as a replacement for preaching in local congregations, provide links to, or even advertise, congregations engaged in such practices, teaching, preaching, and ministry together with your DVD.

And then a challenge: come visit my church, and hear what is preached from this pulpit, and see if your advertisement is true. I dare you. :)

And a second challenge: perhaps the theologians and preachers who are in this series didn't know about or approve this advertisement. Given some of their forms of ministry and preaching, I'm guessing that may be the case. If that's so, then take the time to make sure this kind of advertising stops, and disavow it. Thank you.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Serious Fun

Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York
University Press, 2006, 351 pages.

Read this book. It has a big payoff. Although Jenkin’s thesis is not easily summarized, it is illustrated through nuanced case studies of prominent forms of convergence culture. Since I don’t watch television, the book also functioned as an excellent primer on some of the television programs I have heard of over the years but never viewed. The book includes chapters on Survivor and spoiling, American Idol and sales, The Matrix and transmedia storytelling, Star Wars and grassroots creativity, and Harry Potter and media literacy. It is a book about “serious fun.”[1]

A quick definition of convergence is helpful. “Convergence does not depend on any specific delivery mechanism. Rather, convergence represents a paradigm shift—a move from medium-specific content toward content that flows across multiple media channels, toward the increased interdependence of communications systems, toward multiple ways of accessing media content, and toward ever more complex relations between top-down corporate media and bottom-up participatory culture.”[2]

Jenkins believes that the central transition currently occurring that signifies convergence is a shift away from individual and personal media consumption to “consumption as a networked practice.”[3]

Essentially, what interests Jenkins is how the combining of new and old media can often provide a synergistic effect in cultural and economic systems, and how misunderstanding that synergy can be detrimental to the very businesses who have often been the catalysts of the convergence they then try to retard. I find helpful if disturbing parallels to pastoral ministry and church leadership. For example, although LucasArts successfully encouraged fan communities for many years, especially through their MMORPG Star Wars Galaxies, and exhibited considerable wisdom with the new convergence culture by entering into a more collaborationist relationship with their consumer base, eventually, when market pressures from alternative games and models came into play, they “dumbed down” the game, and lost their hard core fan base (their collaborators) in the process.

A quote from the game’s senior director is an example of how precisely not to think when approaching the new media: “We really just needed to make the game a lot more accessible to a much broader player base. There was lots of reading, much too much, in the game. There was a lot of wandering around learning about different abilities. We really needed to give people the experience of being Han Solo or Luke Skywalker rather than being Uncle Owen, the moisture farmer. We wanted more instant gratification: kill, get treasure, repeat. We needed to give people more of an opportunity to be a part of what they have seen in the movies rather than something they had created themselves.”[4] Note to self: do a self-evaluation to see to what degree this kind of thinking informs how we operate as a church.

The reason this approach is so wrong headed is because it does not recognize that in convergence culture, it is the early adopters, the fans, the true believers and die hards, who are your biggest market. Earlier in the book, Jenkins notes that “brand loyalty is the holy grail of affective economics because of what economists call the 80/20 rule: for most consumer products, 80 percent of purchases are made by 20 percent of their consumer base. Maintaining the allegiance of that 20 percent stabilizes the market and allows companies to adopt an array of other approaches to court those who would make the other 20 percent of purchases.”[5] I believe there are close parallels between this economic system and the economy of churches as well. It is often 20 percent of the congregation who provides the energy for 80 percent of what the church does in mission in the world. Translation: there is a ton you can do, and lots of places you can go, if that 20 percent is on board, and then even more you can do to court those who would make up the other 20 percent of energy for mission, if you have cultivated the allegiance of the 20 percent. Based on some of the material I’ve read on congregational systems, and what I’ve observed in congregations, this is just about right.

However, there is more to this book than simply insights into great marketing approaches in a new media era. Perhaps my biggest revelation while reading the book was the discovery that fan communities play an integral role in our culture and communities, and not just because they are neurotically wasting time on esoterica. Fans are people who take things very seriously, but seriously in playful way. They play with what has been given, and that playfulness is often innovative and transformative. They are exercising tools in a new era that are needed for a healthy transition into the future. “Play is one of the ways we learn, and during a period of reskilling and reorientation, such play may be much more important than it seems at first glance.”[6]

Furthermore, the chapter on Harry Potter is essential for anyone interested in the new forms of literacy that are arising. Central to this chapter is the story of Heather Lawver, who launch The Daily Prophet ( a web-based school newspaper (fictional) for Hogwarts. Jenkins notes that “ a girl who hadn’t been in school since first grade was leading a worldwide staff of student writers with no adult supervision to publish a school newspaper for a school that existed only in their imaginations.”[7]

Towards the end of the book, Jenkins notes that his attention is increasingly being drawn to media literacy education, a passion I share with him. I think that in this new era, media literacy education is critical, and needs to be done in a variety of contexts, including the church. Earlier in the book, he offers a list of skills children need in order to become participants in convergence culture. These include:

1) “The ability to pool knowledge with others in a collaborative enterprise”
2) “The ability to share and compare value systems by evaluating ethical dramas”
3) “The ability to make connections across scattered pieces of information”
4) “The ability to express your interpretations and feelings towards popular fictions through your own folk culture”
5) “The ability to circulate what you create via the Internet so it can be shared with others”
6) “Role-playing both as a means of exploring a fictional realm and as a means of developing a richer understanding of yourself and the culture around you”[8]

You could bring that list straight into a planning meeting for Sunday school and bible study, and come out with some creative and enriching results. I think I’ll give it a shot!

[1] 218.
[2] 254.
[3] 255.
[4] 172
[5] 72.
[6] 29
[7] 179.
[8] 185.