This post is a continuation of a post I wrote last year where I discussed my research on innovation within the church, and the disruptive potential of the Internet. In this post I hope to expand on those ideas.
In the previous post I addressed the use of Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruptive verses sustainable innovation. What I have learned this year is that the impact of the internet on the Church is one of extreme complexity, intersecting the organizational church and the members on multiple levels. While Dr. Christensen’s theories are useful, the powerful application of his theory comes from historical analysis of business innovation. The compositions of religious organizations are similar to corporations, but also encompass unique levels of nuance and complexity.
In addition to Clayton Christensen’s theories I have integrated a theory from a Communications professor, Heidi Campbell. Her theory helps predict how religious communities will respond to new media, through a careful historical analysis of how the community has reacted to previous innovations. While history cannot predict the future, it can provide a more accurate understanding of the varying processes within each religious community. It can show the evolution of policy and practices that have shaped and been shaped by previous innovations. Creating an individualized framework for discussing the processes of negotiating periods of disruption, through the use of primary and secondary sources, from inside the community, and pressure placed on the organization from the outside.
When I first began to use the narrative approach I though it would be quite straightforward, famous last words, but I have been surprised at the depth of information available. The narrative approach forced me to move beyond deterministic and simplistic conceptualization of the impact of the internet and new media will have on the church.
Many theories and methodologies that attempt to conceptualize the impact of the internet on society, but specifically the discussions concerning the impact of technology and religion are very deterministic and often fall into two camps either utopian or apocalyptic, the middle ground is often unrepresented in the literature itself, while it clearly exists in reality. Very few religious communities reject all technology outright. For example, many Amish communities have cell phones, but they did so through the careful negotiation within their group.
In the process of reading for a narrative perspective and stopping to find data that highlights the complex processes within the LDS Church’s reaction to innovations I have come to appreciate and value the following 4 things.
1- It is vital to have empathy
I often view change very positively, and I am happy to always try something new, but this research has helped me see the other said of the process. I have come to see that many people experience pain, fear, and a loss of safety as they feel their world shift forward without any personal consent.
2- How much we loose when we dumb down our narratives-
I firmly believe that if we took the time to teach how change happens, how we have shifted and progressed in the past we could positively address the fear associated with change. The issue now is that we have all but lost those narratives, for so long the stories have been correlated and sanitized that moving back to a more complex version carries a risk. Members of the church are not trained historians and the community/leaders need to teach these basic life skills that have been lost over the last few decades.
3- Bottom up innovation-
Correlation has made bottom up innovation almost impossible. But ‘Almost’ is the key word in that phrase. Once upon a time there was bottom up innovation in the church, and a lot of it. I firmly believe that the internet is a tool that is powerful enough to shift the tide. The structure of lay leadership provides an opportunity for seeping up (this is my new phrase). Think of the internet like a paper towel. The close knit fibers of the towel wick the water up, even against the pull of gravity. The internet does something similar it connects people making a web of connections and the platform for bottom up innovation.
4- The future is not predetermined- EVER-
I am that really annoying person in my ward who has to make a comment every time technology is brought up and say something to the effect of “well we really don’t know yet how technology will play out, but…” Within the analysis of this project I have seen how human choice is powerful and paramount. Too often I think I forget that I do believe in agency, and too often I feel that I give that up to those who ‘know’. But my research has led my to believe in the potential of human unpredictability. While I made my guess about the potential of the internet in the church no one knows for sure, and if I could predict the future I would play the stock market and not religious organizational theory J
One of my favorite quotes goes something like this- “we must study history, not because we are doomed to repeat it, but because we are destined to create it”
I found this really inspiring, actually and a reminder to not fear change in general even outside of the church, but to remember that is the regular/normal state of things. It is NOT normal for things to not change!
Love the last quote too. Much more empowering than the “doomed to repeat it” version.
This post makes me want to try to talk to the folks in salt lake, but first make them do that dye experiment. Then we’d talk 🙂
Interesting post! I really like the idea of the internet as a way of bringing people together and maybe wedging some change into the Church from the ground up. I like the paper towel analogy a lot!
I wonder if correlation has squelched the bottom up innovation, or if there never was much difference. Did the bottom up innovation happen because the church was smaller and people at the bottom had much closer access to leaders at the top, and not because people at the bottom were uncorrelated? It seems possible (likely?) to me that size has made bottom up innovation almost impossible, and the internet effectively shrinks the size of the church. Correlation seems to have been one of the results of increased distance between the bottom and top even more than a cause of it (although it is an unfortunate enforcer of that distance). I’m glad of the hope the internet gives me for more rapid change in the church, and I’m glad your research tells me it might not be just a pipe dream.
I think past innovations fall into both of those camps. I think a lot of cross pollination was easier just due to the size of the organization. But even previously a lot of programs, the Jr Relief Society (now something similar to YW) was rather rejected by local leaders. But the girls persisted. Family Home Evening was started in southern Utah, and like you said Joseph F Smith saw it…. I do think that is another huge problem, how do leaders connect with members around the world and across demographics. I honestly think that they live in a bubble that is partially by their choice, partly circumstance, and partially because mid level managers want to keep the boss happy and the isolate the higher ups. Even when these leaders go to conferences they are almost always surrounded by leaders not normal members. Maybe the internet could help that.
But to answer your question I think it is both, and part of the confusion within the history is that many of the (men) who were bishops or SP over these other groups who innovated then became members of the 12. I seeing now that I should make some infogroahic 🙂
Another interesting topic of the internet could be how we can stop exporting americanisms to the rest of the church.