Turning the Tide

Larry has written a piece about organizational momentum/resistance to change re: technology

Change or Die

An email came a few weeks ago that criticized the slowness of mainline denominations in using new technologies, such as podcasts and other forms of new media, for communicating. The writer said our counterparts in evangelical organizations are not only quick to do so, they get a leg up when it comes to public awareness because they are first.

This was followed by a note from a former employee of our agency who said the communications agency where I work analyzes, then develops a plan, antes up financial resources and, hopefully, years later does something. He was kind enough to say it would probably be good. But, he noted, in the interim individual pioneers plunge forward and innovate. He cited, for example, the development of inexpensive, do-it-yourself podcasts by individuals, a technology which is already well-established.

There is truth in both critiques, but the truth has as much to do with organizational life than theology or willingness of individuals to confront change.

Innovation does not come to established organizations until they face a crisis that threatens their future and forces them to change. IBM, Ford, and most recently, General Motors, are but a few recent examples. But, I’d speculate that turning these big organizations around is a lot like being at the helm of an oceanliner trying to make a sharp turn. The vessel wants to continue straight ahead, driven by its own momentum.

This was the warning sounded by The Cluetrain Manifesto 6 or 7 years ago regarding “joining the conversation”.

I read this book during thst time, and soon after started my own blog, and became an outspoken advocate that trumpeted similar “change or die” themes in regards to the church and its “sinking ship”. I worked for an agency that passed around the “95 theses” from the Cluetrain Manifesto, but this brief bit of attention seemed to be “something cool and bold” but was not taken at all seriously in terms of the orgainization’s actual operations. The idea of online conversation was not only not recognized or valued, but openly scoffed at.

Where I am now , it is not scoffed at. There is recoignition., But as Larry recognizes, there are powerful forces lurching us ahead in the same familiar directions, and not really knowing how or what to implement to “turn the tide”. I am certainly happy to be in my present position rather than the previous one. Recognition is a crucial step.

Recently I heard how one organization is having a tough time finanically, continuing to experience dropping sales and profits. The specch that was given declaring that “we must move in to the future” sounded like something from the 1970’s. There remains no recoginiton of the conversation that is so vital. The business world has been mioving to join, but the church and its orgainzations lag far behind. And here is where I am frustrated, since presumably, the church claims to value the “conversation”. It lies at the heart of an ecclisology that places untold value on the “fellowship”. but “fellowship” involves much more than numbers; mor ethan “events” to which we want “bodies” to attend. There is an omission of the theological importance of the “ecclesia” that SHOULS implicitly assume that it is important to REALLY know what people are concerned about. But our usual way of “affirming” this is to do studies based on assumptions from the world of marketing rather than that of theological assumptions about the nature of the church.

These are some of those things I sense that Larry is referring to when he says:

Innovation, risky or not, is required. And we must figure out what we must stop doing in order to do new, appropriate things.

There are certainly things we need to “stop doing” so that we can devote actual time, energy, and money to the serious consideration of what an actual online community looks like, and how to enable that. Moving along with “business as usual” only further entrenches us iin old patterns that will eventually render us irrelevant.


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