innovation

Christians and Social Entrepreneurship

Hands hold a seedling. Image courtesy AlessandroZocc/shutterstock.com.

Hands hold a seedling. Image courtesy AlessandroZocc/shutterstock.com.

The concept of social entrepreneurship, which can be defined as the use of entrepreneurial and innovation principles to promote social change, is not new. It’s been rebranded with a trendy name, but the concept of developing new ways to solve social problems has existed for ages as a key mechanism to promoting social justice. So why aren’t more Christians prominent in today’s social entrepreneurship movement? 

Hack the Church

When introducing people to hacking, Ali Llewellyn often brings up Apollo 13. “Remember that scene where they dump everything on the table and say, ‘We have to find a solution, with only these materials?’ And there’s, you know, duct tape? That’s all it is! Hacking is building a way to go from here to there.”

She should know. After studying church planting and social mobilization, Llewellyn went on to spearhead community engagement for NASA’s Open Innovation Program and is now a Senior Program Manager for SecondMuse, equipping hackers and non-hackers alike for the upcoming National Day of Civic Hacking.

Llewellyn’s dappled journey — from biblical scholarship to tech-minded collaboration — reveals a potent lens that Christians across denominations are using to repurpose, mobilize, and reform the church. In hacking, they see a model for the future of Christianity.

The term “hacking” has undergone a recent transformation in the popular lexicon, back to its amorally general origins as a method of discovery and recombination. For every Heartbleed-like scare today, there are innumerable cheery Buzzfeed tips to hack your life; and while the digital bandits of Anonymous capture our imagination, “hackathons” — community-oriented workshops to solve urban challenges — have popped up in many major cities.

With this broadened interpretation, Christian interest in hacking finds context. Just as faith systems give parameters to our spiritual imagination, so technology directs our inquiry into the universe and, increasingly, our connectedness to each other. Early Christianity spearheaded technological innovations with global ramifications, most notably in the invention of the codex. Today’s faithful hackers, armed with code, workshops, and participatory-minded theology, hope to do the same.

For Innovation to Have a Prayer, It Needs to Start with Brokenness

Photo courtesy Tom Ehrich/RNS

“Innovation” is a warm and fuzzy word — until you dig inside it.

It’s like “community,” a warm and fuzzy term when taken to mean friendships, sharing, common interests, common values, perhaps working together.

But from a gospel perspective, “community” means much more. As Jesus modeled community, it means mercy — turning away from our instinct to judge and to punish. It means compassion — giving to the least, even when our instinct is to disdain.

Openness, Diversity, and Magnanimity

Mary Jo Binker of Rosslyn, Va., receives ashes from the Rev. Kyle Oliver on Ash Wednesday, 2014. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks.

I’ll just say it: I thought “ashes to go” was a great idea.

Take the imposition of ashes out to the sidewalks where people actually are, rather than staying primly inside on Ash Wednesday and hoping someone might venture in.

Thousands of clergy and lay liturgists did “to-go” this year. From all evidence, it was a great hit.

Not everyone appreciated the innovation, of course. But then not every Christian appreciates a liberation-minded pope, or songs on projection screens, or preachers in jeans, or services at any time other than Sunday morning, or ditching denominational hymnals, or coffeehouses doubling as worship venues.

The Church: Imitate or Innovate?

Inovation concept, VLADGRIN / Shutterstock.com

Inovation concept, VLADGRIN / Shutterstock.com

Several of my college buddies should work for Daniel Tosh. They have the uncanny ability to scour the Internet and find the most obscure and outlandish videos. Recently, one of my buddies posted a video called Bibleman. My eyes and ears could only withstand a few minutes before I determined my soul might wither away. I assume this was just one video in an entire series. Even more disheartening is the fact it was put out by a church.

Here is, yet again, a case where the church, in an attempt to imitate culture falls short. The result is that they wind up excelling in mediocrity. Granted, I'm sure that's not the goal of any church, but sadly mediocrity is what most seem to offer. My hope is that this comes across as an open dialogue in how we can better proclaim the message of Jesus instead of a bitter rant directed toward the church.

We all realize that a copy is never as good as the original. Unfortunately, we have a difficult time grasping this truth in the church. We have ceased innovating and settled for imitating.

We Need More Cannibals

Lately I’ve been thinking about why it’s important for an organization, be it religious or for-profit, to be more cannibalistic.

In the late 19th century, Kodak emerged as a trailblazing company that ultimately brought photography to the masses. An American-born business, the golden boxes of film became synonymous with family photos and even professional photography.

As a little guy, I had one of their Instamatic cameras, and I remember the eager anticipation of sending of the film and waiting the two weeks or so to get the results back.

Suffice it to say the landscape for film and imaging has changed radically in the meantime.

Now, practically every electronic device we carry has a still picture or video camera embedded in it. And for less than a thousand dollars, a photography enthusiast can buy a camera that not only shoots digital images that rival most professional film renderings; they also can shoot high definition movies and edit the videos on their laptop computers.

It may not surprise many that Kodak has suffered greatly at the hands of this digital revolution. The company has failed to post a profit in many years, and recently filed for bankruptcy.

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