Someone from Tech Crunch once noted that “Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.”
Indeed. Something very interesting is happening. And the Church should be right in the middle of it.
Access > Ownership
Gather around children. Let me tell you about what it was like to do homework before Wikipedia.
I had to go to the set of Encyclopedias in my living room that my parents had so faithfully purchased. Once at this physical location, I had to alphabetically search for the entry that held the desired information. This entry was of a finite length. It was set in stone for a period of years (until the Encyclopedia salesman came around again with an update). Only after finding this short passage in a big, hardbound book that sat on an expensive shelf of dozens of volumes was I able to glean the information I needed.
Fast forward to today, and that process seems so antiquated.
Wikipedia has fundamentally replaced the idea of an Encyclopedia in our society, by giving us access to similar information, without requiring us to own anything.
Kevin Kelly, leading futurist, and founder of Wired Magazine says, “Access is so superior to ownership in many ways that it is driving the frontiers of the economy”. The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future
The "sharing economy" is the shorthand description of this new type of access over ownership society. It's a powerful paradigm shift.
Here is why the Church should harness this idea.
Three Reasons Why Churches Should Share
I heard a pastor of a megachurch in Indonesia recently state that God is not a polygamist, he’s not coming back for multiple Brides.
What a great reminder and call to unity.
Imagine if every church freely shared their resources, content, knowledge, energies, even their facilities with other churches. What message would that send to the outside world?
What if, instead of primarily being concerned with the growth and health of just their own church, each church was just as concerned with the health of the capital C Church, and more immediately with their neighboring churches, as they work towards the common goal of reaching their community?
Let me be clear by what I mean by sharing.
The type of sharing I’m talking about is where a church participates in the action of freely giving something to another church in a way that primarily benefits the other church.
Take a moment to mull that over.
One issue I’ve noticed in recent years, that seems to be a recurring impediment to what may otherwise be an easy road towards the type of dramatic church to church sharing that could foster greater unity is the issue of branding.
Church branding is funny because as long as churches have had names, they’ve essentially been branded. But ever since the megachurch movement of the 80s and especially in recent years, branding has taken on a whole new life. And in so doing, the perceived value of church branding has grown.
To be clear, having a robust and well-defined brand for your church is not a bad thing in a binary way. However, as the perceived value of church brands increases in general, it’s getting more and more tempting for churches to begin obsessing over their brand-equity, brand reach, or brand association. These are all business terms that imply ownership and taking credit for something.
Christ should be the one and only brand we care to assign credit to, and if the conversation around your church’s brand equity starts to impede your willingness towards radically sharing your resources, I would consider that a problem.
How can your church take active steps towards unifying with your neighboring churches through radical sharing?
Another reason that churches should share is the issue of stewardship. Imagine for a moment what it would be like if McDonald’s dramatically changed it’s business model for the thousands of McDonald's franchise store owners across the world.
As a part of this new business model, each McDonald’s franchise owner would be required to pay for all of his own marketing by creating all of the signage, creating all of the commercials to air on local TV, and creating all of the ads to put on local billboards.
Each franchise owner would also be required to source their own beef, their own potatoes for the French fries, and every other food product on the menu.
Each franchise owner would have to completely pay to outfit and design their restaurant with tables and chairs.
Every franchise owner would essentially be completely indepedent and on their own, except for the fact that they are a part of a global movement to sell affordable hamburgers and fries.
In this new business model, do you think the overall corporation would be more or less healthy? Would their aggregate metrics be more efficient, or less efficient?
Sometimes it can seem like, even though we are one Bride, the capital C Church, we are really a vast collection of individual entities tapping immense amounts of energies individually in order to create almost identical resources as the churches that we are down the street from.
From the aggregate perspective, it’s not very efficient.
Now, not everything that a church owns or creates is necessarily shareable for the purpose of having a capital C church that is overall a more lean operation. But here is the shorthand to know if something is shareable.
If something can be digitized, more than likely it can be freely shared and doesn’t necessarily need to be recreated by every church.
This includes content of all sorts. From videos, to bible studies, to website templates, to social media graphics.
We help distribute some of these types of assets through our Social Partners program. The videos and graphic images available through that program were created by various churches and organizations, and they are being used in various ways by hundreds of churches.
Open.Church is another aggregator of these types of assets. They have a growing stockpile of digital content and training that is made freely available to any church.
Church Media Drop is another site that has aggregated media of all sorts from a variety of creators, and made it available to any church.
If your church creates this type of content, freely sharing it through these types of programs is not only a good way to practice unity, it’s a powerful way to reach more people, and have an evergreen shelf life for your content.
There is one final reason I think that churches should participate in this type of radical sharing of content and resources through aggregated access. Growth.
Now church growth can quickly devolve into a variety of tangential debates. So, I want to point back to the example at the beginning of this article about Uber, Facebook, Alibaba, and Airbnb.
Besides, not owning some of their most primary assets, what is another thing these companies have in common? They all grew extremely fast. In the tech world, that’s called scaling.
The principles of this new sharing economy are integral to the growth of these companies. In fact, none of these companies would exist in their present form if they had attempted in any way to produce the assets that they are actually monetizing.
The founders of these companies understood that access is greater than ownership, and in the business world, it led to exponential growth.
As the Church, we should be intrigued by this type of growth. How can we replicate it for something that has eternal implications for the people in our world?
Can leveraging unity through the good stewardship that comes from radical sharing help set our churches up for this type of exponential growth? While it’s certainly not the only element involved in seeing a move of God, it certainly can’t hurt.
I’m hopeful that as our digital ecosystems are flattened, and the rest of the world continues forward in the sharing economy, that the Church will follow suit. The more I reflect on what this type of radical sharing looks like, the more I think about the early church, and the Garden of Eden. Whether it’s the Christians in Acts 2 sharing their possessions or Adam and Eve stewarding a creation that they did’t have any ownership of, both examples show the people of God valuing access over ownership of the things in their life in order to become more attuned with what God wants to do on the earth.
How can your church start sharing with other churches today?