Bargain Church

When the Church is busy copying and the world needs 3D printing

The copy machine is one of the most amazing machines invented. The ability to take something and then rapidly replicate it with little difficulty and very inexpensively would blow away the monk scribes who hand copied sacred texts. The Protestant movement was able to spread so quickly in part because of this new machine that made rapid copies. 

And perhaps because of the role the copy machine made in the Church, it might be argued that no other machine in the world best describes the Church. 

For as long as I have been associated with the Church, I have seen the Church function like a well oiled copy machine. We copy programs from year to year. We copy other churches who do things in worship or in mission. We copy the business world in our leadership approach. We copy the nation state when we set out to conquer others with and forcefully convert them to our side. We copy the music industry by making some really cheesy music. 

And it is through these means of copying that the Church was able to do a great number of things. I love that the church is able to copy the best of things in order to further the spread of love. There is nothing wrong with copying, in fact it has been said that the best artists steal and copy.

With all the energy it takes to be a copy machine it exposes the fact that copy machines are not able to do anything new. It literally cannot do anything other than copy, and sometimes the copy is of less quality than the original. Copies of copies of copies of copies eventually look horrible. The Church, as a copy machine, understands that we cannot keep making a copy of a copy and we begin to hear voices call out that we have to do things differently. What the Church seems to be looking for is a new original in order to make clean fresh copies of that original. 

What would it look like for the Church to embrace an awareness that making copies is not as essential as it once was thought. The internet is now the greatest copy machine ever made and there is no way the Church can copy better than the internet. What the church needs is not a new original to copy, what the church needs is a new machine. 

Could we shift from a copy machine metaphor to a 3D printer metaphor?

A 3D printer is a machine that requires someone to create something new and print it. When you print from a 3D printer you see the raw material (plastic, carbon fiber, metal, even biocompatible material!) literally transformed into something new. For instance take plastic coil and turn it into a cast! 

As powerful and seductive as the copy machine is, the Church was never called to copy, the Church has been called to transformation. 

(I understand that a 3D printer is also making copies of digital files. All metaphors break down at some point, however I would still offer up the metaphor and philosophy behind a 3D printer as a more vibrant metaphor that of a copy machine.)

When good news is bad news

When it comes to fundraising, there are many approaches to the non-profit world. Over my time in ministry I have seen a number of them on display in the different people. These approaches all seem to boil down to two different philosophies.

The first philosophy I call "good news is bad news" and it is built on the worldview of scarcity. It assumes there are limited resources and the best "sales pitch" for those resources will win the prize. And because your organization wants those resources to go to your organization and not another, you need to constantly reminded to give to your organization. You talk about how your organization needs are very large and broad. You show images and graphs that convey how short the organization is to the goal or how many "needs" there are. This philosophy would hesitate to refuse a gift of any type out of fear that the donor would be upset and give future gifts elsewhere. It also hesitates to spend much time celebrating reaching a goal because that time and energy would be taken away from the time and energy that could be used to secure future funding. In this sense, the good news of reaching a goal would be a sort of bad news because then you have to generate a new set of needs. 

The other philosophy is what I call "bad news is good news" and it is built on the worldview of enough. It assumes there are enough resources in this world and regardless of the resources, creativity can multiply those resources in ways previously unimagined. It believes that the "bad news" of not meeting the financial goal can be a source of good news for creativity and imagination. It views other organizations not as competition but as partners and future collaborators. This philosophy shows images and graphs that convey how close the organization is to meeting the goal or opportunity. It does not fear refusing gifts that do not fit into the mission of the organization but in fact will refer the donor to an organization that may benefit more fully from their donation (another reason to build relationships with other organizations). It takes time to celebrate reaching a goal because it assumes that donors desire to achieve goals and that no one wants to give to a sinking ship of needs. It also subscribes to the idea that life attracts life and with each celebration there will be another and another. Even if the goal is not reached (bad news) the organization affirms what was given and then uses creativity and imagination and trust to bridge the gap to the goal (good news). 


Digging wells in a bottled water world?

Like buildings, even the artifacts around us shape us. We hear and read about how are brains are being changed by the internet and the technological devices all around us. The internet and smart phones are easy targets to express how we are affected by these cultural artifacts, but there is one little cultural artifact that has changed us perhaps more than we aware. 


The water bottle. 

The water bottle gives us the impression that water is easy to come by. Walk into any gas station and there are cases of bottled water. I can buy a gross of bottles at a membership store and I can even buy water bottles in vending machines. With all this water everywhere, it is amazing that upwards of 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated (cue the irony music).

The impact of the water bottle mentality has leaked into other aspects of our culture. We live in a time where there is little patience for the things that take time. Heck, we even have shorter attention spans than a goldfish. 

Over time we become accustom to get things quickly and those things that take time are dismissed for quicker solutions. There are water bottles all around us and we are always on the look out for the next water bottle device to come along. 

The Church is in the well digging business. The Church is charged to teach the ways of contemplation and meditation and prayer and patience and discipline and reflection and silence and solitude. These disciplines take time to develop and even take time to practice, which may be whey many of us are not interested in them. My concern is not so much that we may not be interested in them, but that we do not see the value of taking time to dig wells when there are so many water bottles around. 

For all the Church is, it is a well digging movement and institution. We dig for the Living Water of Life. The Water that quenches thirst and we never grow thirsty again. We know this is difficult labor and hard work, and we are not sure if the well we dig will reach the Water. We only trust that we are getting closer by digging deeper. 

Too often I feel like I am six feet under digging for water while my people stand on the surface drinking from bottled water wondering what the heck I am doing digging a well. I want to be a Church that picks up a shovel and digs. 

Are Church buildings an impediment to growth?

We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.
— Winston Churchill

My brother-in-law is an architect and since he began his studies some years ago, I was reminded of the quote to the left by Churchill. 

Taking this quote at face value and I see how this is very true for the Church. For instance, if you build a sanctuary that has pews all facing one direction and set up like a lecture, then when you enter the space you will expect to be lectured to. This passive form of participating shapes the way we understand how we are to "be the church". Church becomes a practice of cognitive work that hinges on the ability of the preacher to hold your attention for any period of time. We walk out of worship critiquing before we reflect on what we just experienced. We say things like, "good sermon" or "why don't we sing more songs like that?" or "I don't like this part of worship". And why should clergy expect any different?

When we build a building that feels like a movie theater, then we are going to have a congregation expecting a good show each week.

We have built Protestant church buildings in a way that shape us. Architecture is a powerful sermon, and that same sermon is preached every hour of every day of every year. So I give a little slack to the people who argue about the color of the carpet in the sanctuary. Carpet color may sound like a silly argument, but as Churchill points out, the shape of the building shapes us. 

My clergy peers and I talk about how to change the church and what the future of the church will look and feel like. We are talking in the same way previous generations talked about changing the Church. We talk about programs. We talk about sermon styles. We talk about pub ministries and young adult ministries. We talk about relevance and authenticity.  Could it be that perhaps what has been traditionally seen as one of the greatest assets of the Church, our buildings, are our among our greatest liabilities? 

It is hard to out preach brick and mortar.