[See all articles in this series HERE.]
In January 1982, the American Telephone and Telegraph Corporation, a regulated monopoly commonly known as Ma Bell or the Bell System, was mandated to divide into multiple corporations. This was the result of a 1974 antitrust lawsuit brought by the United States Department of Justice against AT&T--the sole provider of telephone service throughout most of the USA. This was perhaps the largest and most successful antitrust action of the US government since the days of President Theodore Roosevelt.
Certainly it was a earthshaking transformation in the communications systems of the United States with great impact on the world. It led to creativity and competition in the way the world communicates that allowed the popularization over the next three decades of revolutionary communications through the Internet.
It did not create the Internet. We like to laugh and say Al Gore did that. But, it created an atmosphere that moved to democratization and competition of communication of information that made possible the conceiving and actualization of things like the Internet, email, web sites, social media and other transformational ways of communications. Communications became horizontal rather than vertical.
New companies emerged with names like Verizon Communications, CenturyLink, and Nokia. AT&T tried to get into the computer business, but this did not work out well for them in the long-term. Perhaps they were seeking to use an old paradigm of a vertical world rather than a new paradigm of a horizontal world.
Twenty-five years ago in 1991 the World Wide Web came into existence. Then it was off to the races as democratization and competition of communication of information shifted into another gear. Soon the love affair with mainframe computers gave way to personal computers. Over the next 25 years we moved from mainframe computers, to PCs and MACs that used network servers, to the cloud as the resting place for much of our data.
We moved from centralized systems of the mid-20th century, to the the decentralized systems that were actually a transition to the distributive or networked systems we experience today. We moved from control to coordination to correlation to collaboration. We moved from vertical systems to horizontal systems to multi-dimensional systems.
Also in 1982, depending on whose understanding of birth generations you embrace, the people we call Millennials began to be born, and continued to be born through at least the year 2000. As they were born, grew up, and learned to live in the world of the last three or so decades, they embraced life values and functions different from any preceding generations.
The communications revolution now allows them to live in a world without allegiance to centralized, hierarchical organizations. For those of us in a churched culture world, this means they have little or no allegiance to a centralized, hierarchical denomination. Even the decentralized allegiance of the previous birth generation--the Boomers--is not what they ultimately desire.
They prefer the horizontal--even multi-dimensional--networking approach to organizational movements. They want this in their life, their work, and their spirituality. They want congregational forms that are meaningful and significant, provide a genuine sense of community, and are cause related. They are into centered sets in which they can develop their unique story of their spirituality in community and relationships with others who are doing the same.
They want Story and ‘Ship. The want a future story of ministry and deep, meaningful relationships. In the life cycle vernacular, they want Visionary Leadership* that is presented as a narrative or story, and Relationship Experiences* that connect with the Triune God, one another, and their local and global context. They want to be part of a congregational expression captivated by God’s empowering vision and serious about a spiritual journey of disciplemaking.
What they do not want is an over emphasis on Programmatic Experiences* and Accountable Management*. They will attend programs, ministries, and activities if they believe these will enhance community and address causes around which they have passion. They do want to know that somewhere someone is paying attention to management issues and keeping the operation a lean and mean as possible. But, for many Millennials, this is not where they have passion.
The challenge is that longer-term members of congregations, especially those born before February 9, 1964--meaning they are part of the Builder and Boomer birth generations--may have as a group a fixation on efficient Programmatic Experiences and Accountable Management. When they hear someone ask for disciplemaking, they think about discipleship programs rather than a spiritual life journey. When they hear someone ask about vision they think about an overarching mission, motto, or branding, and not a narrative story of where the congregation is headed.
So, what is a congregation to do?
*See the overview article on these concepts HERE.
Next: Story and ‘Ship: A Way Forward