Trendwatching for Theologians: DIY Dominion

What is Trendwatching for Theologians:

The institutional church is always the last to adapt.  After philosophy, the arts and sciences and pop culture catch a trend, the church always comes in last.  We live in an era of disruptive change on a scale that dwarfs the Renaissance/Reformation.   Rather than waiting for the change to overwhelm us, it behooves us to seek out trends and think theologically and missionally about these trends.   How can we engage with trends thoughtfully and faithfully, rather than reacting to these trends out of fear and anxiety.

The stance I’ll be taking in this series is that God is sovereign over all creation.   Cultural trends to not arise out of random development, but are permitted as part of God’s general design of providence.   In the face of disruptive change, I trust that “all things work to the good of those who are in Christ Jesus”.

I also trust in the old doctrine of common grace – The Triune God graciously leaves shadows and hints of the gospel that ultimately point all people back to the work of Jesus Christ.  There are gospel opportunities embedded within every cultural trend.

Finally, I’ll confess that I’m a 40 year old pastor in a midsize Midwestern city.   I am nowhere near the bleeding edge of culture/society and trendwatching.   What I write about in this series will likely be old hat to a 20 year old.   This series is mainly my attempt to participate in the conversation and invite new people to the conversation.   Hope you can join in.

June 2012 Trend: DIY Dominion

People like to make things.   What’s more, people like to share what they’ve created with an appreciative audience.  This much is blindingly obvious.

The electrifying trend here centers on the arenas in which people create.  Thanks to rapid technological developments, individual creators have a greater capacity to reach larger audiences than ever before.  Additionally, the basement amateur has unprecedented access to affordable professional tools.  This combination has blurred the line between “professional” and “amateur” – it has ushered in a legion of new competitors for attention and dollars.

But the people who have suffered the most and who will have to adapt the most are not the creators, they’re the cultural gatekeepers.  Newspapers, TV Networks, Civic Clubs – all the old institutions that used to define quality and worth are now in danger of irrelevance.   And that includes churches.  The cultural gatekeepers are all struggling to re-define themselves, and those who succeed will be the ones who foster the creation of culture.

Question: which stance does your church take?  Are you a cultural gatekeeper?  Or do you foster the creation of culture?

Background to the trend

Somewhere in the 20th century, our society began to cede authority over arenas of life to the experts.   Studio-produced recordings nudged us to stop making music and simply listen to it.  Mass production enabled us to stop tinkering in workshops and merely purchase the inventions given to us.  Broadcast media lured us to passively consume culture much more than actively engage in it.   In general (and yes, this is a broad paintbrush), we trusted the experts because … well, they were experts.

Permit me to be contrarian for a moment.   Many proponents of the DIY culture say this was a horrible thing.   I disagree.   Such homogenization was a byproduct of great corporations learning how to do things better.  Simply put, that era of the experts laid the foundation for the new DIY era.

In the new DIY era, tools and markets are opened to a broader populace than ever before.  This means that the experts may have general knowledge about their field that is very helpful, but each individual’s particular knowledge of the local context can be equally helpful.    Also, we have a much richer ability to observe lateral connections among fields – these connections result that results in new and interesting mashups that drive creativity.

Manifestations of the Trend:   Techno-mavens

When I was growing up, the seeds of this trend were scattered by the few computer gurus who were building their own systems, rather than accepting whatever was offered up by IBM, Gateway, or Dell.    Now we have a burgeoning subculture of techno-mavens.

1)     Maker Faire:   The first Maker Faire was held in 2006 in San Mateo California.  Think of the old 19th century exhibitions – amateur inventors showcasing their wares.  Now add robots, flying machines, computer devices, and innovative remixes of technologies.   The Maker Faires have been taking place all across the country drawing thousands of tinkerers and gearheads.  As you look at photos, you see that the people who come to these are attracted not just to technology but to whimsy and mirth. – photo by Steve Jurvetson

2)     Hackerspaces:  Local groups of tinkerers and techno-mavens gather in hackerspaces.   There they collaborate, offer free technology seminars, and exchange skills and ideas.   These spaces have tools, components, and exhibition space so that those involved can easily share their work.  Most major cities have hackerspaces now – each one has its own distinctive ethos and flair (remember these are do-it-yourselfers; no two groups will be the same) here’s the website for ours in Cincinnati:


3)     Make Magazine:   A 21st century version of Popular Mechanics, Make, and its sister magazine Craft, are hubs of information that tie together the techno-mavens into a national movement.   Products of O’Reilly media, these magazines are but the print versions of a larger web-based empire.

Theological Reflection:

The creative urge is woven into our very identity; it is a part of what it means to be made in the image of God.   The creative urge arises out of our need to fulfill the first commandments of God to humanity:  “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.”

One great sticking point in this creative urge will be the ethical bounds of our creativity.   Our urge to create is corrupted by our urge to idolatry: an exaltation of our own creative impulse above the boundaries established by God.   To balance against the human instinct for idolatry, individual creativity has always been held in check by community constraint:  laws, customs, mores, traditions, and expectations.   These constraints were often backed up with social stigmas:  shunning, isolation, reputation, honor, punishments.   Of course, these constraints were also enforced through positive reinforcement:  approbation, honor, inclusion, success.

However, these constraints are eroding in our society – as said earlier, the gatekeeper institutions have rapidly lost their power.  Our theological challenge will be to figure out how to affirm the creative impulses of the DIY culture while speaking the truth in love to this subculture.

Ideas for ministry:

Many churches have big buildings that are mostly empty during the week.  What would it look like if a church started a hackerspace ministry:  buying tools, opening up the space, getting volunteers who can gently guide people through an ethical understanding of making and creating?

The way to gain credibility in a community is to prove that you are just as competent as anyone else.   Do you have tinkerers in your congregation?  Could they be the genesis of an outreach into the DIY community?   If you have experts in certain areas, such as electronics, auto mechanics, computer programming, or design, you might consider holding special community workshops in which they share their expertise, free of charge.

The DIY ethos stretches far beyond mechanical tinkering.   Artists, gardeners, crafters, musicians, writers, and other fields are all becoming dominated by communities who both make and consume.  Do you have space in which musicians can rehearse, writing groups can meet, or other DIYers can gather to share insights?

Some examples of churches that are addressing this trend:

St Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church  (Washington DC) – hosts the HacDC hackerspace

First Presbyterian Church, Wappingers Falls, NY   hosts the SquidWrench hackerspace

Village Presbyterian Church offers a computer ministry that provides training and refurbishment of computers to local nonprofits.

Mobile Ministry Magazine lists a number of recent conferences that address coding, hacking and Christian outreach.

TechMission has resources about building a church technology center.

What are you seeing churches doing to meet and address this trend?  Let us know.

What we’re working on:

Some trends we’re eyeing for future Trendwatching for Theologians briefings

–        Weddings by design

–        Ubiquitous technology – the “web of things”

–        Education Revolution – new ways of delivering learning

–        Military Re-integration – opportunities for soldiers returning home

We’d love your thoughts.



2 thoughts on “Trendwatching for Theologians: DIY Dominion

  1. Pretty impressive commentary, Russ! Don’t forget “That he who runs may read.” (I haven’t the faintest idea of how to apply this verse to your subject!)

  2. Pingback: The Dawning of the New Creative Era: are you ready? | Horizons of the Possible

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