Monday, March 16, 2009

What Would Google Do?

Jeff Jarvis takes great satisfaction that the title of his new book on Google mocks the “What Would Jesus Do?” merchandising of a decade ago. Although the joke is rather old for someone who desires to be on the cutting edge of the internet age, Jarvis has some fascinating observations of the new paradigm that Google has created. He then applies his observations to a variety of businesses, industries, and organizations. Here Jarvis asks, “What Would Google Do?”, in what is surely the most interesting part of the book. Considering that Jarvis reveals himself be a liberal Presbyterian on his blog, I was a little surprised he gave almost no analysis to applying Google's principles to faith communities. One paragraph apparently was enough.

Thinking out loud, I wondered what a more thorough application would look like. This is dangerous territory. “The Church's one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord” and not “Ten Things Google Has Found to be True.” The canon of Scripture is not “open source”, and the gospel is not a commodity. Nonetheless, there may be some value in the thought experiment.

So what would the First Presbyterian Church of Google look like?


I'm not addressing all of Jarvis' observations, and I am not even taking them in order. I start with this one because it seems to be valuable beginning point. As Jarvis says, “It's time for your identity crisis.”

For many congregations, they are already in the midst of an identity crisis. Who is the church? What is our purpose? What is God calling us to be? These are the essential questions. Churches who get this wrong will probably not last long. The answer will vary from congregation to congregation, but Scripture offers some clear guidance.

The Church is the people of God in Jesus Christ. The Church is not a building or a vendor of spiritual goods. Instead, she exists to declare the praises of God. As the Apostle Peter writes:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)

Worship sets us apart, but worship is fulfilled in mission. Acts of compassion and mercy help us live out our role as a royal priesthood. Our love of neighbor demonstrates to the world the love of God.

What is our business? The church exists to worship and serve, but we also need training. Our business then is to make disciples, equipping them for worship and service.


Google, Facebook, Flickr and others in the new economy do not make money through products. Instead, they create a platform encouraging others to use information to create content and make connections with others. By comparison, Jarvis describes “Home Depot as a platform for contractors.” There are exciting possibilities in thinking of the church as a platform for disciples.

Rather than simply producing content for religious consumers, the church leadership should be encouraging an environment where disciples can practice and explore their faith. We should view classes, committee work, and projects as opportunities for interaction with the saints. Although facts about the faith are vitally important, we should also cultivate practices of the faith such as prayer, Scripture study, and accountability. We begin to realize that everyone has a ministry. The church should be doing everything to help others realize and fulfill that ministry.


Google makes its money from advertisers. Its main service, the search engine, is free to everyone. A church is not supposed to make a profit, and we certainly are not interested in advertisers. Still, many churches have a mentality in which they hoard the blessings which they have received. For example, a church building that remains empty most of the week is a waste of resources. Sermons, curriculum, writings and even music (within copyright restrictions) should be made available to the widest audience. If the congregation is doing something right, it should be shared with everyone to further the Kingdom of God. Mission trips and service opportunities should be made available to the general public. With the proper guidance, these actually can become entry points into the life of faith.


This speaks more to culture rather than policies and procedures, but a Church who expects mistakes fosters a spirit of forgiveness and humility. There is willingness to try new things, to ask tough questions, and to realize that we never achieve perfection. Conflicts within the church can become creative especially if the congregation is allowed to find solutions. The Church leadership has an opportunity to evaluate everything that the church does based upon God's calling. Everyone realizes that all the ministries, because of their imperfections, are not ends in themselves.


The Church should be willing to listen and respond to the misfits and the critics. Questions asked in faith deserve a fair hearing. Even when people may disagree with a decision of the leadership, communication should be so open and honest that no one can question the fairness of the decision. I often find that the person on the outside has much to teach me. Rather than giving up on the person on the margins, we sometimes gain him or her as a great ally.

Then sometimes we don't. Unfortunately, you won't convince everyone. Still, there remains a benefit. Defending your principles often leads to focusing, once again, on what is most important.

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