The Information Age has changed the cultural landscape, and our models for ministry must change along with it to stay relevant — and raise more effective urban leaders.
Jesus said, “Freely you have received. Freely give.” Proponents of “Open Source” ideas get this instinctively, and the far-reaching impacts of their generosity speak for themselves.
In the last 50 years, nothing hasaround us more than the Open Source technology that underlies the World Wide Web. How we do just about everything — from bill paying to global financial markets to entertainment to education to communications to social networking to political campaigning to journalism to charitable giving to, well, just about everything — has been irrevocably altered by a technology that embodies this ethic.
Living Free: A Kingdom Value
Crazy thing is, giving freely is a Kingdom value. Not those kingdoms, which generally care more about acquisition, power, and control than benevolent giveaways. That Kingdom, the one Jesus proclaimed.
“Freely give,” Jesus said as he sent his disciples to represent the Gospel, which he defined in the same breath as, “The Kingdom of God is near.” Evidence of the Kingdom’s presence would be needs met by his Kingdom emissaries, who freely gave away what they had first freely received (Matt. 10:7-10).
But even as Open Source technology has redefined how knowledge is shared and services are distributed throughout the world, Christ followers are still employing outdated modes of content sharing forged in an earlier era. A decade into the 21st century, many Christians still produce, market, and package our “Gospel” stuff — CD/MP3s, books, music, training, even iPhone apps — within a self-imposed ghetto using 20th-century, profit-oriented distribution models.
Inspired thoughts turn into Christian books, music, movies, and training (as if “Christian” can be an adjective and not a person) that get produced by Christian authors, musicians, filmmakers, and teachers; sold in Christian stores, catalogs, websites, and venues; taught at Christian events, conferences, schools, churches, and concerts; and marketed to Christians as consumers. As a result, the Kingdom message gets repackaged and recycled to Kingdom citizens with little impact on the world around us. But it makes the Christian cottage industry lots of money.
Beyond the Ghetto
At least it used to make lots of money. The changing world being reshaped in part by growing generations weaned on Open Source stuff isn’t buying at the same rates as in decades past.
Why? Just as Jesus didn’t define his disciples as customers or their training as “customer service,” Millennials are maturing in a world where they are assumed and empowered to be producers, not just consumers.
Yet Christian institutions that developed during the Industrial Age of necessity embraced the paradigm of churchgoers as “customers” and church service as “customer service.” The onset of the Information Age has changed the landscape. Our church-based service delivery models must change with the times to stay contextually relevant.
So what’s a Kingdom Christian to do? Especially those who exist to connect, train, and mentor leaders who care about young people living in an Open world?
Adapt, adjust, and embrace the Kingdom values embodied by the new technology.
What does this look like?
A Case Study for Training Innovation
UYWI has been training leaders of young people in America’s largest cities since 1997. Birthed by Boomer and Gen X youth workers convened at a series of summits in the mid-90s, the early days of UYWI looked programmatically like most other youth ministry training organizations except packaged and formatted for a distinctly “urban” audience. Conferences and training events defined UYWI’s program model. Excellent production and reliable content, combined with subsidized pricing that considered the economic realities of largely volunteer youth leaders, quickly propelled UYWI as the leading brand for urban youth ministry training.
But youth ministry is an inherently transitory profession, so Millenials began swelling the ranks of youth workers in the early 2000s. Combined with the economic downtown that began in 2008, UYWI embraced the need to innovate a low-cost, scalable training delivery system once again.
Enter TechMission, a Boston-based technology firm that exists to unite “Jesus, Justice, and Technology” since 2000. At first their mission focused on overcoming the digital divide that existed through the first several decades of personal computing and throughout the 90s. But as technology became cheaper and more accessible in the early 2000s, they turned their attention to building a low-cost platform to connect like-minded urban leaders to share resources, ideas, and best practices for scalable Kingdom results. To that end, they launched UrbanMinistry.org in 2008.
Over the last two years, UrbanMinistry.org has grown into the largest digital library of holistic ministry training content anywhere in the world. With TechMission’s leadership, partners such as Christian Community Development Association, Salvation Army, World Vision, and others have emptied their shelves of formerly proprietary content to build a 70,000-volume (and growing) library of resources freely received and freely given for Kingdom impact. Recently, UYWI became the first urban youth ministry training brand to invest in TechMission’s open source training delivery system, digitizing all available content dating back to 2001 as part of the UrbanMinistry.org library.
For those who worry that freely giving away the goods is not financially sustainable, consider Google, iTunes, Facebook, YouTube, and thousands of Web 2.0 business models that give freely far more content than they sell. Quality services freely distributed to meet felt needs generates credibility that allows providers to monetize specialized services.
I believe big props are due Larry Acosta of UYWI and Andrew Sears of TechMission and their teams for pioneering what it means to share ideas and training resources in the Information Economy. Here’s to hoping other youth ministry trainers follow their lead.
For more info about UYWI’s Reload conferences, visit uywi.org/events/reload/.