Thursday, 26 April 2012

Churches, the web, social media, all that

Why did books take off? You know books - those things where you make flat sheets of paper, bind them together - those things. Why did they take off? Well, at least one of the reasons was that they were a very good way to get to the Bible and its constituent bits - way more convenient than scrolls. And when printing made its way to Europe, what rolled off the presses? You guessed it!

Books weren't the only way the Bible moved round the world, but they were pretty important. And the Bible wasn't the only text that became widely distributed in book form, but it was a biggie.

So why are churches so far behind the times when it comes to the web, facebook, twitter, tumblr, even email? Er, good question.

And as far as I can tell, five of the leading answers are:
  1. We don't want to commit to anything too new: we already have an OHP, a church noticeboard and a hearing aid loop, and that'll do for now
  2. Printed books are cool, especially when they have rainbows on them, but the Internet is Satan's sock-drawer, full of ne'er-do-wells and general naughtiness
  3. We don't know how to do this, and all we hear are horror-stories of aged websites that make us look really, really stupid
  4. We already have a website: here! (I wonder who uses it...?)
  5. Haven't you seen our online presence? We have a search engine optimised website, all our rotas are online, our facebook page is humming. Behind? 
(In the interests of disclosure, I'm an ordained minister in the Church of England, so you could say I have a professional interest. I would welcome any contradictory views on anything I say here.)

If you're in category 1, I suggest you go and ask half a dozen under 30 whether it's too early to risk this. If they all say 'no' then well done, you can bide your time.

If you're in category 2, then ask yourself, if Jesus rocked up to your town, would he be hanging out at the church bookstall, and if not, where, and who with? (For those of you reading this paragraph who are now going, tsk, this guy doesn't even know it's "with whom," I give up!)

If you're in category 3, then I have good news and bad news. It's simple... But it's not easy.

And if you're in category 4, then I have bad news and good news. You need to start again. But at least you have an idea, now, of what's good and what's bad.

Finally, if you're in category 5, then congratulations! Now, you have some work to do: help another church get (at least some of the way) to where you are.

Now, some friends and I are trying to do just that. Here's how.
  • We won't spend very much money - we haven't got much to spend if we wanted to
  • We're building the whole system using WordPress (which apparently powers 8.5% of the whole Internet), so the skills people will need to have or develop are widespread, as are learning materials
  • We're making it easy for people to get started - our assumption is that everyone needs things to be super-easy
  • Our objective is to meet everyone's needs in getting off the ground - and we'll be happy when people outgrow the service
  • We'll make it easy for people to migrate away from our service
  • If 50 churches sign up for the private invitation, we will launch; if they don't, we won't
  • The cost to sign up is £0, the monthly cost is £0, the cost to take your site somewhere else is £0
  • We won't inject adverts into your website - it would be lovely if some people donate towards the running costs, but if they don't, we'll manage
  • If anyone wants to help, that's good too - we'll run non-profit, so your reward won't be ££££s
Privately, I don't think we'll get 50 takers. Why not? Just a hunch. I can hear the scepticism already. "Nothing's free. There's a catch. Who are these people?" 

(Why only 50? We know we can support 50 churches without having to buy anything we don't already have, we're confident that we can support 500 next phase, and we need to learn how to do this for 50,000 if we have to!)

So if you want to get involved, what do you do?

You could like the Facebook page at (UK only, sorry!)
You could tweet using the hash tag #jdapYes (start at!/jdap/status/195479387192311810)

That will work whether you want to help or be helped.


You can now also let us know you want to take part by going to:

Monday, 23 April 2012

Idea Transform - An Act of Co-Creation

Speaking as an "ordained entrepreneur," both halves of me have a strong interest in acts of co-creation. The best things you (singular) can possibly be involved in making will be made by you (plural). And Idea Transform is an example of that in at least two ways.

First, Mauro Ciaccio, Chris Measures and I have a strong and shared interest in events that help people with ideas become teams with running projects. We have very different backgrounds, personalities and styles, but we have lots in common as well. That led us to become local organisers of an event in Cambridge last year - which both proved that something everyone said Cambridge just wouldn't support could be massively successful, and that we could work together under pressure! And we found we had an ambition for more...

Idea Transform is all about making a big difference - and we all want that to become more than just an idea. Along the way, we found friends and supporters, and our ideas were improved by accommodating their insights. (In the case of Jo Vertigan, I think we've absorbed more than just insights, I think we've absorbed Jo along with them!) As I've found so often and in so many ways, a team willing to work hard and put their own reputations on the line will often find support from others giving what they can to support the vision - time, money, facilities, spreading the word. This is my own private blog post, so "official" team thanks come from elsewhere, but I have to say a huge personal thank you to the individuals: Peter Cowley, Chris Lamaison, Allan Maclean and Shai Vyakarnam of our Advisory Board, who magnified our vision; the Idea Transform Mentors (too numerous to name, but heroes of the weekend); the corporate sponsors and supporters who made it possible to run a long weekend event in the middle of Cambridge yet keep the ticket price well below £100.

But all we created together was a context. From 5:30pm on Friday, 20 April until 51 hours later, together we provided a place where it would be possible for other people to come together, bring ideas, experience, talents and aspirations and form teams working together to make a definite difference in the world. And that really was an act of co-creation.

Like anything creative, there was friction as well as harmony. I'm a veteran of quite a few similar events, and I'm always disappointed when people sign up, but don't find, join and stick with a team. I remember an event a couple of years ago when someone came with an exciting vision, but every detail was non-negotiable. Frustrated when people didn't flock to join a team and become a free workforce, contributing nothing but work, receiving nothing but instruction, that person went away with a face like thunder. They would have got so much by staying, and either allowing the idea to be improved by sharing it with others, or by joining a team working on something completely different and building new knowledge and relationships.

Can you, truly, change the world in a weekend spent working together? Maybe not. But I believe you can change lots of things. Your own perspective, for a start. So many of the people I met wanted to change lives, and wanted to learn how. Whether the idea their team was working on will progress in its present form, who can say? From the feedback I've had already, each team built up a much clearer picture of how to validate that the problem they are working on is genuine, that the possible solution they have identified is valuable, and that they can make a step, then another, then another along that road. That may be a few days of work, but it may also be months, years or even decades.

So not every idea, not every team will continue in its present form. But the relationships, the experiences, the feeling of what happens when beautifully simple ideas meet the mess of reality - all those will persist.

And I have a sneaking suspicion that we have, as we wanted, helped at least one world-changing idea to make a decisive step forward.

For a few hours, people came together and suspended disbelief about all the impossibilities of life. We met as equals, co-workers, co-creators. And maybe, just maybe, millions of lives may be changed for the better by ideas transformed by encounters, transformed into works in progress.