Open Source Christianity

For the past year I have been reading anything I can find on creating missional structures that release peoples creativity into the community in a way that strengthens and builds up communities.  I discovered a post titled “Chance Favors a Connected Mind…& Leadership Network” by Eric Swanson in which Swanson shares the insights of Steven Johnson about how good ideas form through connections.

If you have read my book, you know that it was Swanson’s proposition that community transformation happens at the intersection of the needs of a community, the calling and capacities of the local church and the mandates of God that lead me to the path that ultimately resulted in my starting Embrace Richmond.  I am living proof of Steve Johnson’s theory that innovation happens slowly as we connect different ideas in new ways.  In taking Swanson’s theory, adding my own experiences and the stories and passions of the homeless friends I met along the way, Embrace Richmond was birthed.  As I have shared in the past, we are a very unique organization and I think most would agree, pretty innovative in the way we do ministry.

Swanson shares two video’s that capture the heart of Johnson’s theory. Swanson sums up Johnson’s main idea saying, “Here’s the big idea: Chance favors the connected mind. Rarely does a good idea emerge from a vacuum.”  The first video is an animated clip of Johnson’s ideas and the second clip is of Johnson sharing his ideas with a group.  Both are excellent.

Last week at the Communities First Association conference, Jeremy Morrman a technologies consultant with Arkeme, shared with our group how program development has changed over the past decade with more and more open source products being developed collaboratively by communities of developers verses through the traditional development process owned and managed by software companies.  The open source platforms are releasing creativity by connecting minds around a particular technological need.  The communities of developers are unpaid and commit to sharing any code they develop freely and openly with others.  These open platforms have resulted in exponential levels of creativity in the field as tens of thousands of people work together with a technology verses just the paid staff of some large software company.  The products created through this method are then offered free of charge to end users.

I have a hunch, as Johnson would say, that if we brought this idea of creative collaborative spaces together with the growing desire of Christians to be change agents in their communities and created low cost, flexible leadership structures, we could significantly reduce poverty in this county. It will require everyone to give freely what they have without looking for ownership or credit.  However these lightweight structures would allow for exponential multiplication of the ideas and thus the potential for a national huge impact.

So instead of Christians looking to paid church staff to coordinate missions events or to non-profits to build programs , we actually create an open platform where people of faith from all across a region regardless of religious affiliation, work collaboratively on a particular issue facing the community without concern for who gets the credit or the need to own the end product. From what I understand about open source projects, the management of a particular project is determined by the group but the end product belongs to the user community.

So, how can we create spaces for collaborative imagination?  Where  can these kinds of conversations happen?  What would a flat, shared leadership structure look like?

As you can see, I have more questions than answers right now but like the turtle in Johnson’s story board, I am on a slow crawl toward a eureka moment.  Your insights just might be the missing piece of the puzzle!  So please share.


Filed under Leadership, missional church

3 responses to “Open Source Christianity

  1. Lee Gunn

    Interesting concept. I think it could be successful but you probably would have to experiment with the leadership structure. It would seem that would have to be a balance between structure and flexibility. Enough leadership to keep people going in a common direction while allowing space for the wild, unexpected atoms that collide and create an explosion of creativity. Whats that saying, Like herding cats?

    • wmccaig

      Love that image of the wild unexpected atoms colliding in an explosion of creativity. The image of herding cats is a bit frightening. I guess it could go either way. When I look at pictures of the coffee houses of 17th century England, there is a lot of disorder. Is creativity born out of chaos?

  2. Lee Gunn

    Did you say 17th century English coffee houses? I happen to be reading Steve Pincus’ book, 1688-The First Modern Revolution. He spends most of a chapter describing the development of the coffee house culture in England. He seems to place a lot of importance on something that would seem to be ancillary to a great movement taking place in a country. I believe the point he was trying to make is similar to what you said. Those coffee houses brought people together that normally would not interact. That interaction of commercial traders, aristocrats, ministers, etc brought new ideas and concepts and actual change to society because you had all of those different viewpoints and building on each other’s ideas. Is it coincidence that England boomed while Europe was in economic stagnation?

    Chaos can be a good thing. In the same book, the coffee houses in France are described as insular, quiet and very much limited to the rich and privileged. Doesn’t sound like a very good environment to come up with new ideas and ways of doing things.

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