Brian Sanders, leader of the Underground church movement, provides a simple yet profound analysis of post World War II church history (paraphrased here):
After World War II, the reality of scarcity birthed the producer / builder economy, and churches found their place in this model. Denominations became strong, and church programming took off, declaring “Build it and they will come.” This eventually led to over-building, and the consumer economy took over, based not on human need but human want. We witnessed the rise of the mega church, the hiring of youth directors, worship pastors, and other specialists. The financial crisis of 2008 was precipitated by the emptiness of consumerism, and in its place came the creator economy, led by Airbnb, Uber, and freelance contract employment replacing long term hiring. Today, Sanders concludes, the church in general is still living in the builder / consumer paradigm, but our society has moved on.
How does the church flourish in the context of a creator economy? It engages in creative experimentation, listening to the Holy Spirit’s leading while launching trial and error initiatives. In other words, it re-calibrates its DNA to be in tune with the church we meet in the book of Acts. This creates a difficult tension: the builder church thrives on excellence, getting it right the first time.
The creator church thrives on risk: taking an experimental step, listening to the Spirit to discern what fits with the Spirit’s leading and what does not, and then taking the next step. In the creator economy, every church is a church plant, and the phrase “established church” becomes an oxymoron. The builder church aspired to the priesthood of all believers, the consumer church provided a specialized ministry to meet every need, the creator church declares the prophethood of all believers.
COVID has accelerated this shift to the creator church. We who serve congregations on behalf of the CRC are now being called to serve as experiment-coaches, building capacity for labs within which the Holy Spirit can thrive. What creator church stories have you heard? How can we as experiment-coaches, encourage experimentation within the churches we work with?