How the Internet is changing Denominations

An interesting article on How the Internet is changing Denominations (HT: emergesque)  You can read the whole article but his points are:

1. Everyone expects to participate. Before the Internet the church operated pretty much as an oligarchy, with power and decision-making concentrated into the hand of the few on behalf of the many.  Boards, church staffs, along with district and denominational leaders met and made decisions on behalf of the proletariat. “The people” were supposed to trust their leaders to make these decisions for them.  The Internet has altered this arrangement.  People now expect to participate in decision-making (or at least the discussion before the decision).  It is harder now for boards and leaders to make decisions and just expect people to fall into line and “just say amen.”

2. People expect instant and complete information. Before the Internet those in power could control the release of information. A long time ago denominational leaders actually published the names of newly elected District Superintendents in the monthly denominational periodical and that was when most people found out the news.  Or, a paper letter was prepared with this information to send to 50 or so DSs and General Board members—“insiders”—who would release this information at their discretion during the month before it got into print.  This gave leaders considerable power in the sense that “information is power,”

3. People expect access to leaders. Before the Internet leaders could somewhat insulate themselves from the common people. Indeed most of the “appurtances” of leadership were arranged to put some distance between the leader and the average Joe. To complain about your son who had been unfairly dismissed by a church in another district required typing a letter, several days in the mail, and who knows how long before the leader might get around to dictating a reply and sending it through several more days of “snail mail.”  In an emergency one might use the telephone, but that may only turn into a pink slip message that could be deferred for days or even weeks.  Leaders today at every level get emails “directly from the bottom” and they are expected to reply.  True, some leaders and pastors simply refuse this access and if they are over 60 they will survive ‘til they can collect their Social Security.”  But those who stonewall access are increasingly cut out of the process and gradually become pretend leaders who the real influence flows around.

4. Human interchange has taken on a more savage flavor. While Television may be the original culprit, the Internet has provided a forum for individuals to lash out with angry tirades at others (and leaders) which sometimes reduces the level of discussions to something more reminiscent of Lord of the Flies than considered thoughtful debate.  People will say things in an email or as a response to a blog they would never say face to face.

5.  People expect things for free. People can still make money producing church resources but the business plan of the future will have to be totally different from one based on “old media” assumptions.  Bright, creative, and generous people all across the world are quite willing to post resources they wrote and give them away for free.  Selling resources people can get for free elsewhere is a dying business.

6. The “Long Tail” is here.  (If you don't know what the long tail is, he explains it.)  How this impacts church denominations, he writes:

Why I think this can be good news for denominations is many denominations (including my own) are actually long tails themselves… they are a tiny fraction of the whole with very specific values and beliefs—at least those who haven’t caved into the generic.  The Internet is not creating more generic evangelical Christians but actually is creating thousands of mini-denominations within the larger denominations.  The leaders who see this coming will capitalize on their “convening” powers to gather like-minded people together and they will figure out how to connect producers of narrow resources with those who need them—a denomination eBay of sorts. 

(I believe these mini-denominations will lead to the end of denominationalism around non-essentials and an increase in trans-denominational gospel ecumenism. Part of the 5 Trends for the Future I posted on.) 

1 Comment
  • o2thoughtful

    September 16, 2006, 12:40 am

    Brilliant post, I think you got this totally right. Of course the internet also allows easier access to the pastor. Sure, that enables criticism but it also enables praise and positive feedback. The internet is just the channel for what people were saying anyway. I think there is possibly one additional avenue to explore and that’s what happens with something like a youtube and church. Is there scope to start to introduce member-generated content? Can we start having personal video testimonies and podcasts posted? The ability of people to communicate has multiplied so surely that could also be a positive change?

    I recognise you were posting on denominations rather than church as a whole. The Internet enables to have much more cross-denominational chat than would have been possible historically. Isn’t that a good thing also?