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    Church 2.0: Does a Congregation Know More Than the Pastor?

    by Mark Glaser
    August 8, 2006

    i-64c5ba300c3efa2b1e35139079949ca1-The Journey sign.jpg
    Sunday morning was bright and warm, as we walked toward the auditorium in South San Jose, Calif. Before we reached the door, we were handed a Polaroid camera and told to photograph ourselves and pass on the camera to the next person coming in. We took the photo, and went inside the building, where there was coffee, bagels and donuts.

    A man was onstage in the auditorium, wearing a short-sleeved black shirt, shorts and Birkenstock sandals. There was an assortment of wooden picture frames floating above his head, and two large screens on either side of him ran a well designed PowerPoint presentation as he spoke.

    Was it a high technology conference or demo? A spirited sales pitch or self-help workshop? No, this is The Journey, a nouveau reformed church that uses technology and rock music to help attract younger folks to the teachings of Jesus. And they are pushing the concept further, hoping to add Web 2.0 elements to allow parishioners to participate and help set the agenda of the church going forward.

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    I visited the church with my friend — and fellow Jew — Heather Gold, so we could see how a church in Silicon Valley might use technology to its advantage. The experience was pretty overwhelming and perfect for the ADD (attention deficit disorder) set.

    i-b56bca81e1e005a7ab11d449d2709822-Jeff Wenke of The Journey.jpg

    The pastor, Jeff Wenke (pictured here), paced the stage with the demeanor of a caffeinated startup executive. The theme of his talk was “A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words,” thus the picture frames hanging from the ceiling, and he talked about Jesus’ view of the Jewish Temple. When he explained the story of Jesus being upset with the money-lenders, he said, “Jesus, he’s just ticked off! It’s like someone turning over the concession stands at the Santa Cruz boardwalk.”

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    Throughout the PowerPoint sermon, Wenke paced the stage, sprinkled in slang like “kick it forward” and had contemporary music by OutKast pumped in during short breaks. He was earnest and believing and light-hearted enough to make it work, playing off the crowd’s energy with perfectly timed humor.

    i-1c36854076ff370532905ee37b94c334-The Journey music.jpg

    At one point, Wenke asked people to write words on Post-It notes describing what they would want in the perfect, ideal church. They did, and lined up to attach them to a mounted picture frame and board. (One of Heather’s words, “snacks,” quickly came true when she discovered the donuts.) Wenke called out some of the words, and laughed along at one note that read, “a good-looking pastor.” He explained the basics of what the word “church” actually meant (from the Greek ekklesia for “gathering of the called out,” and not a building), and explained what Jesus thought a church should be (a house of prayer and spiritual foundation).

    Later, Wenke gave way to a full rock band that performed inspirational songs, with the congregation clapping and singing along to lyrics that appeared on the overhead screens. The audience was pretty young, mainly in their 20s and 30s, though there was a good portion of middle-aged and older folks as well. It was like watching Dave Matthews Band kick it in front of an adoring crowd of true believers, but the message was clearly about spirituality. The whole shebang lasted a mere hour and 15 minutes, and never lagged for entertainment or eye candy.

    i-42b2db1963bea0f58388e228bdbf7871-Vanessa Lombera from The Journey.jpg

    Along with the sermon and live performance, The Journey is also having a month-long picture contest in August. The congregation is asked to capture the church in photos and upload them to a Flickr page. The Top 5 photos will be showcased in the service at the end of the month, according to Worship Pastor Vanessa Lombera (pictured here), who is in charge of the entire Sunday services, from graphics to PowerPoint to music. (UPDATE: Lombera corrects me on this, saying they use Mac presentation software KeyNote and not PowerPoint.)

    Rebranding a Church

    Was this the ultimate Web 2.0 incarnation of a church, if there is such a thing? Not quite. The Flickr contest and Polaroid photos were a nice start, but what would become of those Post-It notes and photos? How would those become part of the church and its direction? The grassroots/community idea behind Web 2.0 is that people are working more in collaboration, creating the media themselves and changing the top-down power structure to something more bottom-up.

    It was indeed a radical notion for a church to change its traditional structure, as its roots clearly lie in a very top-down, minister-knows-all hierarchy. For a pastor to say, “My congregants know more than I do” — in an echo of Dan Gillmor’s “My readers know more than I do” — is a near heresy, because the truth and power has always come down through the hierarchy of the church. Even though the rise of Protestants helped decentralize power of the priests in Catholicism, there’s still a top-down power structure inherent in most organized religions.

    i-e9760b0f97757ef38938646dbf7ae272-Andy Gridley of The Journey.jpg

    But times are changing, and attendance in organized religious services is on the downward trend. So one day, Andy Gridley (pictured here), the former Worship Pastor at The Journey, came upon the Newsweek story about Web 2.0 companies, The New Wisdom of the Web. He brought it to The Journey staff’s attention, and a plan was hatched to add more interactivity to the church services.

    After the service, Heather and I talked more about the church’s vision with its two full-time employees — Wenke and Lombera — along with Gridley and Brian Fernandes, the graphics guru. We learned that The Journey was launched in the style and language — and spirit — of Silicon Valley startups. Five years ago, the initial planners for the church met in a garage. They got seed money from an angel investor of sorts, had a business plan, and spun out from the Church of the Chimes in early 2002. Unlike a startup, however, the church gives 10% of its income to charity or projects in the community.

    Pastor Wenke was open about his costs — in between bites of a quesadilla — saying his rent was up to $3,000 per month for office space, and that the church had done well financially until recently, as it sought to expand and take itself to the next level. “Are you going to do an IPO [initial public offering]?” I asked jokingly. They laughed, but actually, they had a plan not for offering stock but for doing a January “relaunch” with an updated logo, revamped website and new branding, according to Lombera, who also sang during the service.

    “We’re wondering how can we do it even more or better than we have been,” Lombera said. “We’ll do it with some kind of campaign, but we don’t want to do it the same way. We want a foundational shift, we’re already doing it with some of the stuff we did today…with the Post-Its and Polaroids. And there were lines of people putting those words up [with the Post-Its]. I was in the booth, saying ‘Yeah! It works, they’re doing it!’ So we can go ahead and design it all, we have a great team. But how can we get input from 200 people in a Web 2.0 manner?”

    The Emerging Church Movement

    The Journey is not the first church to rebrand itself for the 21st century and reach out to younger folks — just like old media companies are striving for hip digital makeovers. There’s also The River in San Jose and Vintage Faith church in Santa Cruz, home of pastor Dan Kimball, who wrote the book, The Emerging Church. These new churches are reaching out to what they call a postmodern audience in a post-Christian world.

    The blurb on Kimball’s Vintage Faith website explains how these new churches are breaking from the past. “While many of us have been inside our church offices busy preparing our sermons and keeping on a fast-paced schedule in the ministries and internal affairs of our churches, something alarming is happening on the outside,” the blurb reads. “A great transformation is happening in our own neighborhoods, schools, and colleges. What once was a Christian nation with a Judeo-Christian worldview is fast becoming an unchurched post-Christian nation.”

    Web 2.0 companies such as Flickr, YouTube and Six Apart aim to empower people to shoot and share their own video and photos, and write blogs — user-generated content — that often questions and breaks from the traditional media infrastructure and norms. So too, the emerging churches are looking to break from traditional church structure, focusing less on a church as a holy edifice and more on the church within each congregant.

    The Journey plans to delve even deeper into popular culture by helping launch MallChurch — yes, a church with a mall storefront that includes an Internet cafe, books and informal discussions about Jesus. The MallChurch site explains its vision in this way:

    Oakridge, a Westfield Shopping Town right here in San Jose, sees 800,000 guests in a typical month. Now imagine if those 800,000 guests happened by a new kind of store.

    A store that had the warmth of Starbucks, the technology of Apple, the broad appeal of Target, the resources of Border’s, the opportunity of Craigslist and the message of Jesus. Coffee, music, conversation, plasma screens, community service opportunities, books, T-shirts, CDs, interactive displays…you get the picture. Not a place to sing songs and get preached at, but a place you can connect with people and explore the possibilities of living the life Jesus made possible.

    Of course, there’s a danger in this postmodern approach to people, if the spiritual becomes subsumed by secular trappings. The religious message can get watered down or people might feel like Jesus is being sprung on them like a Trojan Horse dressed up in a mall. Postmodern people are notorious for being skeptical about flashy marketing messages.

    The overall question is whether people are really open to the message these new churches are bringing, and whether the congregants do have the power to influence the direction of the churches. The Journey does have myriad groups to join for congregants to get involved, including the Leadership Roundtable that includes dozens of church members who help set the direction of the church, according to Wenke.

    My friend Heather has been preaching her own style of Open Source Management for tech companies, helping them include their customers in the process of planning and building products. She told The Journey higher-ups at lunch that there was still room to embrace people’s ideas within the prayer service and beyond. She noted that there are different ways to make people feel welcome in a public setting, whether it’s including their opinions during the PowerPoint presentation or giving them an open forum on the church website.

    ReligionLink, a site that helps journalists cover religious issues, has a fascinating background page on emerging churches. Under the heading, “Why It Matters,” is this passage:

    Participants in emerging church may help reshape faith groups’ relationship to their communities and to traditional church structures. That, in turn, can affect the way churches participate in addressing social problems and public issues.

    So maybe the idea of bringing Web 2.0 thinking into these re-imagined, postmodern churches is more than just cutting and pasting a cliche from the tech world. Maybe The Journey can open up its PowerPoint presentation in a limited wiki where congregants could edit it before that Sunday’s service. Perhaps the audience could take turns on the microphone singing or sharing their own personal stories. If managed deftly, the possibilities are endless.

    What do you think? Can the ideas of citizen journalism and Web 2.0 translate to new non-traditional churches and synagogues? Do you see overlaps there, and what ideas do you have for a church to reach people in new, empowering ways? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

    [All photos by Mark Glaser, taken with the PPC-6700 cameraphone.]

    Tagged: religion
    • Mark…

      this is a bit of a minefield…

      first, one must take a step back and ask exactly why these non-traditional churches are amping up their use of media as much as their intentions of their message. Certain Protestant Christian denominations–most of them affiliated with non-tradtional pentacostal/baptist/reformed churches– have decried the evils of media and visual culture for many years–a position often an integral to their beliefs.

      Why, then, are they suddenly embracing media’s potential to manipulate?

      I’m not convinced that this is about empowering anyone inasmuch as it may have to do with an underlying social/political agenda–check out a bit more on the subject here.

      There’s definitely a *much* larger story here than simply re-branding one particular church in order to soothe the spiritual anxieties of post-modern life.

    • Mark – I’ve decided to do my year long research project for school about your very question. We took the conversation from our lunch the other day and decided that we would let the 200 people at The Journey tell US what they want our ‘next level’ to look like and how we should go about making it happen – in an ‘open space’ process that one of our senior leaders has led before in corporate settings. So I guess we’ll find out as all this unfolds if it’ll work or not! I’ll be monitoring the progress as we experiment with this and I’ll keep you posted.

    • Where I live, Oklahoma, there is a similar church movement. Lifechurch.tv started very small and is now just plain HUGE. Very contemporary music, hip pastor, relevant messages, even has an online pastor.

      I don’t know anything about the inner workings on how they got where they are, but it could certainly be a good model for new churches to follow. http://www.lifechurch.tv

    • leonard glaser

      This reminds me of the synagogue in Berkely with all the constant singing and participation appealing to the young people, like Julian. Churches trying to hip and connecting to the younger generation.

    • Tim

      I think most people in our culture, especially young people, are looking for some sort of outlet to communicate their thoughts and ideas and know that others value what they have to say. Maybe that’s why blogs and podcasts have become so popular. Hopefully churches can find ways to utilize “user generated content” in ministry.

    • Jacob

      Within our church walls, there have always been those that are ‘hands on’ learners, visuals learners, and those that tend to learn better primarily through listening. Our move in churches to become more media ‘savy’ most certainly has it’s pro’s and con’s. As a student pastor, I struggle weekly with the temptation to produce the greatest lighting, powerpoint, and kinesthetic sermons possible. When, in reality, the message of Jesus the Christ doesn’t necessarily need all of our spectacular special effects (despite however much I enjoy them). There is a mysticism to the message and life of Jesus that I believe the emergant church tries connect with. In such a brief forum such as this, my question to Mark is this: were you connected or distracted while attending the journey? The object is connection; I suppose that is why churches try so many ways to show others that Jesus cares.

    • Jacob,
      I could understand that push/pull between trying to engage people without losing the original message in all the glitz. I think it got my attention, but I’m not sure I was able to connect fully to the message. Of course, being Jewish, it’s a tough message to connect to in general, but I am pretty open minded about what’s being preached. I am planning to return to this story and concept, now that I understand there are so many other people pushing the Church 2.0 concept.

    • Jay Noble

      This is a topic near and dear to my heart as a Christian man who has been involved in the technology industry all my life. On one hand taking the message of Christ in a form that resonates with the audiance is both laudable and practical. On the other, the Holy Spirit works in ways we simply cannot understand.

      I have been advocating greater use of technology in our church, Blossom Valley Bible Church, which is just down the road from Journey. Our congregation is more mature, alright older, but we understand the need to reach out to the youth because over 80% of decisions for Christ are made before the age of 18.

      As long as we keep in mind the fact that technology is a tool, no more no less, and that tool can be used to plant the seed of the spirit into people exposed to it, I believe we are not only on the right track, but within the will of God.

    • Hey all, just want to differentiate between the use of media and what we mean by “church 2.0.” Wouldn’t want anyone to think that the Journey deems the use of media and imagery as something new. What we’re doing media-wise is not that different from what most churches today are accustomed to. Also, it’s not about a certain age group. It’s about translating the web 2.0 concept of user-generated content. It’s about trusting “users” in a way that says: you know more about what you need & want than we do…YOU show US. Media or not, the 2.0 concept is about letting members ‘hack our applications’ as equals and co-developers. Obviously the use of technology makes sense in this analogy, but just wanted to clarify lest anyone get the impression we thought we were original with the use of media. :)

    • david

      � And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.� Mathew 25:40

      Warm greetings to the most anointed in the precious and matchless
      name of our almighty Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. God has given me great
      opportunity to heard about your ministry. WE have been praying for you
      that God may bless you reach to spread His kingdom on this planet
      earth. We praise God for that he is making use of you mightily in these last
      days . I have been praying to God to share my witness to your kind
      notice.
      We praise and thank God for that you are showing great love on
      perishing helpless and poor souls. We assure that God will certainly give
      you great reward. I came from an idol worshipping family my Parents are strong idol worshippers. We used to follow all kinds of evil practice and believe in many superstitions. As I was living in such a sinful life, one of my friends took me to a church. Where I was caught by
      the word of God and realized that I was sinner and Christ died for my
      sins. The holy spirit committed m of my sins and made me to accept Jesus
      Christ as my personal savior and Lord and took baptism in 1992 . I
      dedicated my life for Jesus and His Service.
      Since that time of my Baptism I have been serving the Lord have
      been ministering for a long time depending on faith. I lost my father when
      I was 12years old. Then onwards my mother shouldered any burden of
      family of five children. Now she became old and we are not having any kind
      of property. Even though we are in great poverty. I am not looking back
      but with great hope and faith going towards his cross seeking all his
      glory.
      We have been reaching so many perishing souls in many villages
      carrying musical instruments and choir children as a group. Many people are
      being attracted to the music. Then we preaching the word of God . Many
      young people are responding to the word and accepting Jesus as their
      savior due to this village ministry. The Lord has given me play the talent
      of Keyboard(Organ).
      we have a great desire to spread his kingdom in many places. But our
      desires are shuttled due to our poverty. We have some needs in our
      ministry we hope that God will open ways to uphold this ministry. WE have
      been praying for your ministry.
      My we humble urge you to remember this humble ministry in your
      Valuable prayers that God may uphold this ministry to win many souls for his
      kingdom. Please do consider my family and my ministry and extend your
      great love and generosity to us.
      The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. My love to be with you
      all in Christ Jesus.
      Presently our mission activities

      Gospel Conventions with musical Orchestra.
      Support for Old age, like provision of food and basic needs.
      Conducting musical Lord praise & Worship.
      Organizing Fasting prayers, all night prayers,

      Our plans for the Lord�s Kingdom

      1. We are group of Ten pastors moving over all possible directions for flourishing the kingdom of God .

      2. To Establish Christian musical studio for creating Christian devotional songs and messages through Audio tapes/CDs in Indian Local languages since we find these devotional musical albums are more attractive and best way of reaching God for the sake of peace.

      3. Constructing a Church and Prayer Tower .

      I hope you understand my vision for and we believe God is moving in a mighty way thru his ministry

      We need your help in building the Kingdom of God and the work of the Lord, It�s God’s work that we all are doing.

      We look forward for your advices, suggestions and offerings. We would like to work under your ministry in Indian subcontinent.

      So kindly please let me know about your guidance in our vision

      We are praying for your family , ministry and we hope you pray for our mission.

      His servant
      Pastor N.David
      D.No 10-125
      Venkatagiri-II
      Hukumpeta(PO)
      Rajahmundry -533103
      E.G.DT A.P. , INDIA

    • I actually wrote an article on this exact topic this morning on my blog – JeantetFamily.com. It’s really cool to hear about a church that is taking seriously the questions that Web 2.0 asks and the answers it offers.

    • Pastor N.David

      Please delate my letter in your website.Becuase I don,t like it
      Yours in Christ
      Pastor N.DAvid
      India

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