More than a Brand Name

To start us out, this is Clay Shirky, the author of Here Comes Everybody, who writes internet theory and group dynamics theory.

This is frivolous, since it is on Colbert, but I'll post other vids of Shirky later. For now, read on for my thoughts on group dynamics challenging the institutional power structure.

The topic of how the internet is changing group dynamics is fascinating to me as a pastor.

Shirky writes that there are now abilities for groups to get together without institutional backing, without institutions dictating how they act. Prior to the internet, there was no simple medium for people to speak out. If you did speak out and find either a newspaper or just a soapbox (ala Wesley), it was localized and could be stifled at great personal cost to yourself. Not so in the digital age! Even though there are issues of truthfulness and fact-twisting, the simple ability of getting your message out or finding others with similar issues...well, the cost is zero. There's much more of this in his book, which I'll respond to in coming weeks.

But for now, the guiding question: How does the internet, with its new abilities at organizing people, affect the Church?

For groups that seek to collaborate together to change church doctrine, this is revolutionary. Groups that seek to change Church stances (on everything from ordination of women to missionary fields to accountability for sins of omission) can find like-minded people through the internet and coordinate. We've seen this for the past few years, so this is nothing new. By being able to find the pockets of people and coordinate or commisserate has led to many renewal or doctrinal reconsideration efforts by various groups in the United Methodist Church (to name one!).

So, with all this power being shifted to the people groups and grassroots level, at what point will the Institutional Church have no power whatsoever and be simply a brand name for all these quarreling groups?

Some feel we have already gotten to this point in the Untied Methodist Church, but I think there will always be the "Methodist Middle" who do not affiliate and are the rocks that keep the church together even in the face of differing groups. We started this process of considering unity in GC2004 (with the GC voting and opposing the grassroots "amicable separation" movement of the renewal groups), so I'll be very interested in this dynamic in a few weeks at GC2008.

What do you think? With group organizing now at the grassroots level, communication channels growing faster for them than hierarchical structures, and the echo-chamber of ideas becoming more and more can the UMC remain more than a Brand?


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