Kodak and the Church

Linda Woodhead links to this piece.

For as long as I can remember the church has been going through some sort of profound meta-shift. We have been Post-Evangelical, Alt.Worship, Emergent and I probably missed some on the way. And through 20 years of crazy unusual foundational post-modern flip-flopping nothing very much has changed. The worship music got better in the mid 90's, went a bit naff again, and then got all Mumfordy. Oh and we get to play with different toys in church.

If anything the 'high modern' super-market churches have continued to thrive (although there are increasing concerns about discipleship), whilst some of the radical experiments have had limited impact. Charismatics have grown in influence, liberals have become more orthodox and evangelical has become the mainstream.

But none of this is significant change. And overall the number of people who are part of a church is dropping, even while many congregations maintain growth.

Not to say that something isn't going on in terms of shifts and changes in western and global culture. Otherwise you would not be reading this. But this shift cannot be accurately predicted, because we are still part of it. Kodak misjudged the move to digital cameras. But few would have predicted that the majority of photographs would be taken on our personal information devices - our phones.

For the record my first digital camera was a Kodak and plugged into my Palm III organiser. I could share photo's socially on Usenet by connecting it by infra-red to a Nokia phone. The other side of the social media revolution the principle behind Kodak's Palm Pix has been proven. But we don't use Palm Pilots, or Usenet. We use Smart Phones, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Vine, WhatsApp, and whatever we might use next year or the year after. Because it will be different.

So how does this relate to the church?

Firstly we are not in a place of stability - attempts at relevancy and engagement are going to be constantly outpaced and challenged. As individuals most of us struggle to keep abreast of the changes in technology and culture around us - institutions as a whole are going to struggle even more.

Secondly, investing in any one particular form or shape of church at this point is not reliable - there is no easy off the shelf answer. Not only that but ideas that are being tried now, might not really work for another 15 years - and then in a form as different as a Kodak Palm Pix is from your Android Smartphone.

The very nature of these challenges will result in different answers - and that is needed. So what follows is my working hat thrown into a wide ring.

Firstly ongoing encounter with God in the Christian life - it is a common element in growing Christian communities. But that sense of encounter needs to be rooted. That rooting is not dead tradition as some in high modernity might assume, but actually our 'core business'. That rooting cannot be in the practices of the recent church - which may crumble - but must reach further back. Encounter and rootedness in the context of the apostolic are inseparable.

Secondly shared vision, another common element in growing Christian communities. But that shared vision needs to be secure and flexible enough to allow creative freedom. For leaders this means the confidence to allow others to engage in a way that they would be unable. Moving away from universal church programmes in terms of content but instead seeking common rhythm of life.

Whatever the future shape of culture is I am confident that there will be a future shape of church transforming it. But I am very comfortable acknowledging that I have very little idea what it will look like. And equally comfortable exploring the possibilities whilst we get there.

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