Books, Church, Throwing Rocks at The Google Bus

Embrace The Boundaries

Without boundaries there is no freedom. Unlimited choice is no choice.

In terms of investing and the digital economy, boundlessness makes prosperity impossible, since the only acceptable outcome is more growth. This is Doug Rushkoff’s  contention in the “Bounded Investing” section at the end of Throwing Rocks at The Google Bus, a numbered list of constructive proposals the book makes about how to make life better in the digital era.

Rushkoff is championing investments in enterprises close to where you live, but also enterprises that work on things you care about. “Boundaries don’t have to be solely geographically defined,” he says. “They simply have to define a mutually supportive range of businesses.

Your target could be the business sector in which you work, such as design services, equipment, and Web sites. Or your pool could be the various constituencies in biodiesel manufacturing, comic-book publishing, or natural health care. As long as there’s a network of business that support one another, the boundaries make sense.

This seems to me to be a playing field on which churches–congregations as well as regional and national councils–have a distinct advantage. The local church is geographically bounded. It ought to know more than any institution in town about the kinds of investments that are needed: healthy restaurants? A grocery store? A school? I’m sure there are congregations out there that are modeling this kind of bounded investment in their neighborhoods to make them stronger.

Denominations, for their part, can make investments of their still-considerable resources based on their values. The Presbyterian Church (USA) is working on “Transformational Investing” in places like Israel/Palestine. “Beyond a simple monetary return,” says the website of the Presbyterian Foundation, “The outcome being sought is transformation – hope in place of fear, peace in place of violence, empowerment in place of injustice, changed lives, changed circumstances.”

Boundaries are our allies in changing the world.

This is another post on Douglas Rushkoff’s new book, Throwing Rocks at The Google Bus: How Growth Became The Enemy of ProsperityRead more posts on the book here. Throw yourself headlong into the Rushkoff rabbit hole here.

Church, Throwing Rocks at The Google Bus

The Startup Won’t Save Us

This is another post on Douglas Rushkoff’s new book, Throwing Rocks at The Google Bus: How Growth Became The Enemy of ProsperityRead more posts on the book here. Throw yourself headlong into the Rushkoff rabbit hole here.

There’s a chirpy critique of startups near the end of Throwing Rocks that makes for great reading. It amounts to an observation that starting a new company with the aim of sustainably delivering an excellent product or service, along with consistent dividends to investors, doesn’t work in a digital economy insistent upon unchecked growth. For many startups (and the venture capitalists funding them) like mobile game maker Zynga, the game is to grow as quickly as possible, then get bought by Facebook and cash out.

The acquisition or the IPO is not the beginning of their company’s impact but the end.

“Startups are not trying to earn revenue (which is a liability),” Rushkoff notes. “They are setting themselves up to win more capital. They are not part of the real economy or even the real world but part of the process through which working assets are converted into new stockpiles of dead ones.”

The goal is not to own a real company. The goal is to sell a fake one.

I read a steady diet of startup literature as a way of thinking about innovation in church life and entrepreneurial leadership. Pastors and consultants in the circles I run with throw around terms like “Minimum Viable Product” with ease. We listen to Tim Ferris and fantasize about having that many ideas and the energy to bring them to life.

But I’m not so sure where that’s getting us. If that game is rigged to convert everything to capital and to leave behind the empty shells of the projects we cashed out before we moved on, then why am I listening so intently to startup “experts?”

Where are the experts in making an enduring impact in the real world?


Books, Church, Throwing Rocks at The Google Bus

Steady-State Thinking vs. Church Growth

It’s a weird week when Douglas Rushkoff releases his new book raising the alarm about our culture’s constant growth mentality and two prominent church figures spit on small churches. I’m part of a small subset of nerdilicious nerds who will take note of both those things.

First Bill Easum said that pastors of churches that aren’t growing are wasting their lives.

And then Andy Stanley told his church that people who prefer small churches are selfish (his measurement for a big enough church is odd: enough junior high and high school students to have separate youth groups).

Throwing Rocks at The Google Bus is not about small vs. big. It’s about big enough. It wants to insist that there is such a thing, despite the Just-Keep-Growing code that runs the digital economy and that, to my view, pervades thinking about church as well. It’s an important argument.

Rushkoff advocates “Steady-State” thinking about companies. I’m applying it to churches. “Instead of thinking of a company as an entity that must continue to show growth,” he writes, “Think of it as an entity that must continue to generate enough revenue to pay its employees.”

He compares the former approach to a football game, where there must be winners and losers. The Steady-State approach he compares to a fantasy role-playing game where the goal is to play as long as possible.

And here’s the real kicker. Research shows that the business that employ a Steady-State approach the best are family businesses. The chair of the Italian rice grower Riso Gallo, a family business, says, “We didn’t get this company from my parents, we are borrowing it from our children.”

Every church I’ve ever served has used “family” language to describe itself. This is a no-brainer.





Books, Church, Throwing Rocks at The Google Bus

Creating Value Costs. Churches Can Ask People To Pay

This is the second post about Douglas Rushkoff’s new book Throwing Rocks at The Google Bus: How Growth Became The Enemy of Prosperity. Read the first post here.


Churches should add value to their communities, not extract it. But how? And if it’s valuable, can we charge for it?

I’m thinking yes we can. Most churches I’ve known have depended upon a pledge-based annual budget, wherein a fall stewardship campaign interprets the coming year’s ministry goals and costs, inviting church members to pledge giving towards those goals. Revenue projections, then, are based on those pledges.

Mostly, it’s about duty: “You’re a part of this community. These important services aren’t possible without your giving.” Even when pledges are solicited with something more than duty, like an appeal to members’ desire to improve their community or to start some new program, stewardship still relies on a communitarian sensibility.

That works less and less well in most churches, even though it’s theologically sound and a vast improvement over a “pay-your-dues” mentality.

Throwing Rocks . . . is making me wonder how churches might add revenue to their budgets that is based on willing payments made by participants who value particular work the church (and more to the point: particular leaders in the church) is doing. Pledging to the operating budget isn’t going anywhere. But could we go all Amanda Palmer on some things?

Palmer got booted off her record label, so she launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a new album. She raised $1.2 million from close to 25,000 fans. Rushkoff observes, “She doesn’t need a massive following. She just needs enough people to pay for her music. She may not get rich this way, but she can live on to sing another day.”

Isn’t that a very churchy way of creating value, living on to sing (and feed and tutor and house) another day? What if some of the work churches are doing started to not need the resources from a pledge-based operating budget, but only the support of enough people who care deeply about it for it to sing another day?


It’s about more than fundraising. It’s about creating a connection between valuable work and the people who care about it. That takes more than flyers. It takes personal investment from creative men and women who are willing to put themselves on the line for work that matters to then and to ask people to join them.


Church Should Add Value, Not Extract It

Douglas Rushkoff’s new book came out yesterday. It’s called Throwing Rocks at The Google Bus, and I read the first chapter yesterday. On a bus.

Rushkoff’s core contention is that the imperative for growth is killing us. Here’s a money quote from the introduction.

“We are running an extractive, growth-driven economic system that has reached the limits of its ability to serve anyone, rich or poor, human or corporate. Growth is the single, uncontested, core command of the digital economy.”

He’s talking about economics, but I’m thinking about churches (surprise!).

Most churches are not growing. Membership decline has been the reality in most of our churches and denominations for as long as I’ve been in ministry. There is no shortage of anger and guilt among the remaining church members and their leaders over that fact. People like Bill Easum go so far as to assert that pastors of churches that aren’t growing are “wasting their lives.”

I once had an earnest conversation with a pastor who was leading her church out of the PC (USA) who, in addition to theological scruples, was deeply offended by the denomination’s decline. She was moving to a new denomination, she said, because, “I want to be part of something that’s growing.”

I’ve never been able to square Jesus’ claim that one must lose her life in order to find it with the equation of church growth with discipleship. The decline of church participation in our context is an organizational problem, and a deadly serious one at that. Yet a theology of church growth commits the same sins that Rushkoff is laying at the feet of Uber and Facebook: it extracts value from people rather than making value for them.

Growth was never the goal for the Church. Growth serves a bigger purpose, namely the formation of a community of disciples embodying the grace of Jesus. That community ought to thrive. Where it doesn’t we have work to do. Getting it to grow, though, is not the focus of that work.

Rushkoff’s subtitle is great: How Growth Became The Enemy of Prosperity. I wonder if an assumption of growth–and guilt over its absence–has become the enemy of something in our churches.