Four years ago, on January 2, 2012, I started a project on Facebook. Every Monday I asked a question about the church, and invited response. The idea was that after I collected all the responses, I would write a book about the future of the church.
Fifty-two weeks later, I had collected over 100,000 words from over 150 different responders, clergy and lay, Christian and not, people I know and people I have never met. I was overwhelmed, quite literally, with all of it, and so humbled and grateful for everything that was shared. And I spent the next couple of years distilling the responses in various forms, and trying to figure out a way to write a book about what I discovered.
I failed at this. I could not find a way to honor all the different opinions and thoughts and also make a coherent argument in a book for how the church is changing and in what direction, for two reasons. The first is, there was just too much material, too many different voices in conversation with one another. I did not feel right editing others' thoughts, and there seemed no way to include some people's opinions, and not others. Trying to put everything in proved to be incredibly unwieldy.
The second reason, strangely enough, is that there was not enough material. The bottom line was very clear: the institutional, denominational church, though quite beloved by many, is broadly struggling to survive and to redefine its mission in the 21st century. That book has been written, quite convincingly, but several others, and I felt that while I did have a fresh method for discovering this, I did not have a fresh perspective for presenting it. And so, for both reasons, this project has languished.
But not entirely. What did happen is that I became completely transformed in my own ministry, thanks to the gift of how others shared their thoughts and the method by which it was shared. I am now deeply convinced that the church has real life in and through social media, mostly because I experienced this and continue to experience it on Facebook, through this blog, and elsewhere. Undertaking the Facebook church experiment in 2012 has led directly to my decision to become a free-range priest in 2016. The old ways of doing and being church are experiencing difficulty, and so there have to be new ways. Part of my own transformation is hearing the call to discover what might be new, and I owe so much to those who engaged in conversation with me throughout 2012.
And so, as a new year begins, I am resolving a couple of things. First, I am working with my website designer to archive all the questions and answers from 2012, so they will be available here soon.
And second, I want to express my gratitude directly to all those who took the time to read, consider, and reflect on the questions I posed, and to share the answers. As with everything in the church, we are never alone, and discernment comes through community. I can only begin to explain how much your presence has meant to me. There may indeed be a book on this someday, it may not be straight-on about the project, but your contributions have been invaluable to me, and hopefully to the whole church.
Thanks to you all:
Eddie Abernathy, Heather Bell Adams, Mark Ardrey-Graves, Christina Askounis, Jeffrey N. Babson, Robert Baldwin, Sarah Ball-Damberg, Kess Ballentine, Terry Bascom, Dave Belcher, Bill Bennett, Michael Berg, Richard Birney-Smith, Abi Bissette, Robert Black, Lynn Bonney, Mark Bourlakas, Jenny Braswell, Joanie Brittingham, Holley Barnes Broughton, Elizabeth Bruce, Oliver Bunker, Sarah Warner Burdick, Matthew Buterbaugh, Chris Caimano, Elaine Caimano, Mick Capon, Daniel Cenci, Carol Jeanne Dorlac Chapman, Chris Chapman, Ruth Chichester, Nils Chittenden, Frederick Clarkson, Ken Coit, John Cole, Alan Cox
Steven Darroch, Quint Daulton, Nancy Davis, Gawain De Leeuw, Joseph Duggan, Meg Eckman, Beth Wickenberg Ely, Peter Faass, Manny Faria, Lisa G. Fischbeck, John B. Fritschner, John Fuisz, C Eric Funston, Hank Gatlin, Bryan Gilmer, Kelly Gilmer, Judith Greenfield, Stacey Grossman, Sue Bowers Guptill, Shaun Harr, Nathan Hauger, Christina Headrick, Jennifer Greenhoot Heinz, Barbara Hendren, Genny Appell Hinkle, Emma Stallings Holscher, Hugh Hollowell
Kirk House, Kimberly Israel, Laura Jackson, Walter James, Katherine Bradley Johnson, Melanie Bartol Jones, William Joyner, Hall Kirkham, Benjamin Kittrell, Deborah Knecht, Carolyn Kreuger, Cathy Kroohs, Ken Kroohs, Kelley Jud Lackey, Dan Laird, Allen LaMontagne, Jamie L’Enfant, Justin Lewis-Anthony, Lorraine Ljunggren, Gigi Logan, Linda Leyland Makson, Frieda Malcom, Charles Malone, Trawin E. Malone, Kate Marshall, Sharon Salazar Massey, Wayland E. Massey, Gordon Matthews, Kevin Matthews, Meg Floyd McCann, Mike McFerren, Gail Sutton McNally, Jim Melnyk, Ron Montesi, Annette G. Montgomery, Fiona Morgan, Grace Morrison, Chuck Motta, Michael Munro, Ed Murphy
Sarah Nevill, Mayra Ocampo Orr, Andrew O’Connor, Sam O’Neill, Laura Roddy Pedroja, Yejide Peters, Linnae Himsl Peterson, Michael Pipkin, Jenn Rau, Jimmy Reingruber , Molly Montgomery Reingruber, Michael Reinke, Carolyn Reus, Steve Rice, Joe Rich, Tom Rightmyer, Trish Robbins, Suzannah Rohman, Jon Rosen, Jennifer L. Roth-Burnette, Joe Ryan, Mimi Savidge, Mike Schafale, Nicole Scolari, Douglas Shepler, Dan Shields, Adam Shoemaker, Rick Simpson, Kelly Skaggs, Kara Slade, Dorothy Smith, Murdock Smith, Vicki Lovely Smith, Andrew Sprouse, David Starling, Marty Stebbins, David Steinbrenner, Meredith Stewart, James L Stuart
Bradley Wayne Thomas, Scottie Thomas, Chuck Till, Thomas Trueblood, Susan Valdes-Dapena, Dory Van Duzer, Christopher von Kap-herr, Lynn Wadleigh, Summerlee Walter, Scott Welborn, Scott White, George Wiley, Anisa Cottrell Willis, Cynthia Wilson, Melodie Woerman