What Would Google Do

The Distributed Church: What Would Google Do?

I snagged a free copy of Jeff Jarvis’s “What Would Google Do?” at the Theology After Google event earlier this week. I want to interact with some of the main ideas in the book and extend them into church life and practice.

One of the major things that Jarvis praises about Google is its distribution. Google makes 1/3 of it’s revenue from sources completely away from Google.com. The company puts itself in the middle of lots of other networks and lets its users to its work for it. That’s by way of contrast to the AOL’s and Yahoo’s of the media landscape who still spend lots of advertising dollars trying to persuade consumers to come to them, to their sites and their products. Google just goes to them.

So church isn’t a business (let that be the last time I say that). But Jarvis quite consciously includes “religious organizations” alongside businesses, schools, and other cultural entities that should take a cue from the red-green-yellow-and blue. What does Google-style distribution look like in churches?

For starters, if we’re looking for it in churches, we won’t find it. That’s the point: distribution is away from whatever is doing the distributing.  So how about this: the parent of a middle school youth tells the Youth Pastor that his daughter has said she “never wants to go back” to the youth group. The last time she came she brought some friends to an advertised “game night,” carrying her own board games with her. Only, game night turned out to be physical running/tagging/throwing games, and she and her friends just aren’t into that sort of thing. She was embarrassed.

If the Youth Pastor is like Yahoo, he will hone his publicity of events and make sure that future game nights include both athletic and non-athletic games. Those are important changes to make.

Only, if the Youth Pastor is at all like Google, he’ll also want to know about this middle schooler and her community of friends. He’ll ask how he and the church can participate in that community. Perhaps he reaches out to this student and asks her to organize her own kind of game night with her friends (and their friends . . . ).

There’s a whole host of objections that should be raised here: the middle schooler doesn’t need the church’s permission to play games with her friends. And youth pastors shouldn’t go nosing around kids’ social lives in order to influence them to come to “regular” church youth events.

But Jarvis’s whole point is that communities are already out there doing what they want to do. Google has invested itself not in influencing those communities to come to Google, but in going to those communities itself.

Surface, you have been scratched.

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