Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. -Acts 2:43-47
One of the coolest things about being an urban church planter in an emerging city is that I get to interact with a lot of entrepreneurs and creatives. These are the people who are igniting a renaissance in Phoenix’s urban core and I’ve been honored to get to see their work up-close and have regular conversations with them.
One of the places I frequent with these folks is a co-working space, in downtown, called CO+HOOTS. Now, if you don’t know what co-working is, here’s a quick primer:
Working out of CO+HOOTS has been awesome, because where else can you go where you can refine an idea/problem solve with a realtor, computer programmer, coffee shop owner, and accountant, all within a ten foot radius of you?
Co-working spaces work best, not because they are a free-for-all environment, but because there is a lot of intentionality behind them. In fact, they are somewhat curated environments. It’s not micromanagement, but it’s not anything goes, either. Members of co-working spaces need to be diverse and eager to collaborate. What good is a co-working space if everyone in it is a tech startup? What if someone hates having other people around while they are working but they just want to be a part of the space because of the inexpensive rent?
Collaborating with others in this type of environment has enormous personal and business benefits, but the concept can also be taken to a larger level that can positively impact an entire city or region.
In the book, Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City, author Brad Feld uses Boulder, Colorado as an example of what a vibrant city overflowing with entrepreneurs and successful startups looks like. He shares what it takes to create and sustain this environment. I won’t get into all the details here, but I do want to share one key aspect that I believe is extremely important for The United Methodist Church. Early in the book, Feld talks about “network effects” and how they help build a successful start-up culture through adding more and more people to a network who are open to collaboration and sharing. He highlights research (related to a related concept called “horizontal effects”) that compares Silicon Valley and Boston’s tech hub, known as “Route 128,” both of which were considered to be a huge seedbed for technology startups back in the 1980′s:
“As technology quickly changed, the Silicon Valley companies were better positioned to share information, adopt new trends, leverage innovation, and nimbly respond to new conditions. Meanwhile, vertical integration and closed systems disadvantaged many Route 128 companies during periods of technological upheaval.”*
In other words, the Silicon Valley companies worked as if their success depended on the success of everyone else, offering knowledge and resources “horizontally” across companies, while the Route 128 companies fended for themselves and ultimately fizzled.
These lessons are important because I believe that the ability for The UMC to make disciples for the transformation the world requires us to be willing to be attentive to the Spirit, who calls and inspires us to work within a collaborative and open sourced environment together. Yet, often we compete in an unhealthy manner with one another over resources, power, and an ever shrinking piece of the membership pie, mostly because we are terrified of losing what we have left.
I think, however, that social media, blogging, and relatively inexpensive travel has helped with creating a stronger open-sourced, co-working, and networked culture within the UMC. With some basic social media competency it’s easy to share knowledge, learning, and ideas to just about everyone across the connection. There’s a great organic nature to this because it provides a space to share ideas of all types and refine them with the help of dozens, hundreds, and even thousands of people. The #DreamUMC chats, UMC related hashtags, and various Facebook groups, whether they be public or private, have led to networking and crowdsourcing that has spurred some new life within our denomination. Social media has also led to leaders wanting to create more opportunities for in-person interactions and collaborations, as well, such as the LEAD conference (of which I’m a founder and primary organizer), and other gatherings throughout the connection. These things have transcended the brokenness of the institution and have largely avoided being stifled by bureaucracy.
It’s great that this culture has grown organically, however, at some point these concepts can be harnessed to become even more powerful culture making tools.
In order for open sourced initiatives to be successful they must be collaborative and they must eventually move toward accomplishing something. For example, the mission of CO+HOOTS states: “As a community of local-minded and business-focused people, we are able to collaborate on projects, share resources and generate more success to support our livelihoods. CO+HOOTS is designed to help your business thrive.” They’re not just about providing inexpensive desk space and organic interactions, they want their members to thrive and be successful. From personal knowledge I also know that the larger mission of CO+HOOTS is to also help Phoenix thrive, as a city. They want to be at the forefront of an entrepreneurial revolution that makes Phoenix a world-class city. To accomplish all of that takes vision, purpose, hard work, and intentionality.
Here’s the good news for The UMC: in theory, we’re already built to be a co-working, networked, and open-sourced denomination. However, we have not optimized the network or the engine that drives it. Boards, agencies, committees, gatherings, annual conference meetings can all operate in a curated, collaborative, and open-sourced way, yet we are tightly wound to bureaucracy, legislation, mandates, “strategic” initiatives, and outdated/unclear rules that stifle creativity, innovation, and non-competivie and un-forced collaboration.
So, how do we unwind ourselves and let the best ideas rise to the top, refine them, experiment with them, and spread them through the network? How do we spread that culture throughout the structure of the institution, from the bottom up?
Well, like most things, it starts small. Grab some colleagues and start meeting together. Look at ways how you can help each other by sharing knowledge and resources across ministries. Can you move beyond your own ministry and start involving local businesses and organizations that are located in the surrounding neighborhood? Make their survival and success as improtant a priority as your own.
If you’re a cabinet member, conference or agency staff, create and curate a culture in your conference, district, or agency that encourages ideas, creativity, innovation, collaboration, and sharing. Allow and encourage the culture to be cross-disciplinary and non-territorial.
These aren’t the be all end of all of a way forward, but are some suggestions to get the wheels turning. I’d love to hear from you…
What are some things that are already happening or what are some ideas you have for creating a more open-sourced and collaborative culture throughout The UMC?
*Feld, Brad (2012-09-06). Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City (p. 24). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
Originally posted at rethinkbishop.com