26 September 2006

What the Church Can Learn From Google

Cami & I were off this weekend--doing some painting around the house. We missed hearing Jason Holm Sunday, but picked-up a tape and are having he and Sue over for dinner tonight. I hear he wore jeans . . . and the place is still standing!?
Monday Morning Insight is a website I visit on a weekly basis. It's a great spot to catch-up on what other churches are doing and new ideas in ministry. This week's collection included one that resonated with something that I've been thinking about: risk-taking. Churches have a revolutionary mission that should compel them to take great risks to be more successful in accomplishing it. Yet, most churches become very risk-adverse conservators of the status quo. As my Dad used to say when we were skiing, "If you're not falling than you're not pushing yourself." Todd Rhoades, the guy in Ohio behind MMI, offers this thought-provoking piece on that subject.

I was just reading my new copy of Business 2.0 magazine; and found an interesting article on Google. There was the story of Sheryl Sandberg, one of the Vice Presidents at Google.com who committed an error that cost Google several million dollars...

"Bad decision, moved too quickly, no controls in place, wasted some money,” is all she’ll say about it—and when she realized the magnitude of her mistake, she walked across the street to inform Larry Page, Google’s co-founder and unofficial thought leader. “I feel feally bad about this,” Sandberg told Page, who accepted her apology. But as she turned to leave, Page said something that surprised her. “I’m so glad you made this mistake,” he said. “Because I want to run a company where we are moving too quickly and doing too much, not being too cautious and doing too little. If we don’t have any of these mistakes, we’re just not taking enough risk.”

Hmmm… how does this apply to the church?

How much risk is your church taking?

Are you doing too much, or too little?

Larry Page seems to put things in this scenario:

  • Move quickly --> you do too much
  • Move slowly --> you’re too cautious and get too little done
  • No mistakes --> you’re not taking enough risk.

Google works hard to risk, try new things, and move forward, even if it means some eventual mistakes and mis-steps. Their mission is so important to them that they would rather risk doing it wrong sometimes than not doing it at all.

That got me thinking about our mission as the church.

  • Do we value our mission so much that we tackle it with as much vigor as Google does?
  • Do we give staff and lay leadership members the freedom to fail?
  • Do we support them in their mistakes?
  • Do we take risks that, more often than not, take us closer to reaching our goals and mission?
  • Or do we shrink back, moving slowly and cautiously, second-guessing every decision?

Let’s face it… the stakes are a lot higher in our line of work than that of Google’s. We’re in the fight for people’s souls. Which would you rather lead? A church that has the tendency of moving too quickly and doing too much; or one that is known for being to cautious and doing too little?

If you’re not making mistakes, you just might not be risking enough!

Clearly, mistakes are not to be desired or taken lightly. But, if you accept that they are inevitable in trying new things, they are a part of life that have to be accepted and weighed against the potential gains that they make possible. What do you think: Is WCC risking enough?


smallard said...

If you look in a Thesaurus under 'risk', one of the words you will find is 'possibility'. It seems there is a lot of similarity in risk and faith. Both are stepping forward without the assurance of success. But both hold the possibility or 'hope' of success. As believers we may not all be risk-takers, and if we aren't, we need to be sure we are not always holding back those who are as we may really be squashing their faith and squelching the seed of possibility & hope that God may have laid on their heart. Let's be a church of gophers: saying to the daring "go for it!" and then sit back and see what God will do!

Anonymous said...

Radical risk taking is understandable for a company operating in the kind of market Google occupies, such companies seem to literally reinvent their "product" regularly because their market is so fluid. Would we want drug companies to take the same level of risk when introducing new medicines? Do we think that Google is a sound model for "risk taking" as a church? I for one have reservations. There are too many things associated with our faith that are eternal, immutable, for us to embrace the same sort of attitudes about risk taking that are appropriate for certain business entities. We can surely applaud exhortations to be bold in serving Christ, that kind of risk taking ought to be characteristic of us as Christians: count the cost, and press on. Lets recall however that the power of our "product" resides in the product itself, the gospel is the power of God onto salvation: part of what is at "risk" is distorting it in our attempts to effectively teach it in our churches and share it within today's society. The early church turned their grossly pagan world upside down, by "risking" their lives and livelihoods in order to faithfully deliver the message entrusted to them by their Lord and ours. They were ambassadors, as are we: our job is not to jazz up the message, the Author of the message is happy with it as is and doesn't expect nor want us to do more than carry His message to those that need to hear it. Paul may have strived to know his audience well enough that he could communicate with them, but his message always ended up being Christ, and Him crucified. And, his charge to the churches he loved was consistent: preach/teach the full counsel of God. May these things be true of us today. We ought to be very slow to imply that those who are cautious regarding "risk taking" as it relates to church are somehow guilty of retarding the churches' progress or effectiveness. There are some old/established things that are worthy of defending rather than being "risk takers" and changing them; they are and must be the same yesterday, today and forever. (Google on that phrase to discover the source).

etoc said...


Your point is well-taken that the nature of the "product" we deal with is more fixed than the fluid nature of Google and technology (unfortunately, drug companies DO seem to be taking that level of risk these days!). A better sector to reference might be food services. Food has remained a "fixed" product--calories to burn to sustain life. But, the ways of getting it and the nature of how it is served has changed dramatically as people have taken risks to do it differently. Of course, this raises the big question of whether the risks yielded progress or not-I will NOT label McDonalds as culinary progress! The point in the article about Google, and I think the larger point about taking risks is not old/tried versus new/untested. The point is anything that is a change of behavior that may have a cost. Personally, I'd be very open to consider risking being a part of an Acts 2:42-47 church--owning things in common, meeting in our homes, meeting daily. That would certainly be a risk, but it isn't something that speaks of novelty or modern invention.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts by joining the conversation.

Anonymous said...

I think this is the key line-"Their mission is so important to them that they would rather risk doing it wrong sometimes than not doing it at all." Is the immutable, eternal gospel so fragile, that it can't stand up to our feeble but passionate attempts to deliver it? As believers, we too often focus on what we see as guarding the message, while what were often doing is guarding ourselves and our reputations. Count the cost (Lk.14:28): I would agree don't charge blindly & without plans, but ultimately Jesus following words convict me more (Lk.14:33) "any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple". Pretty radically risky!

Erin said...

Some thoughts:
Doesn't just about everything we do as Christians look like "taking a risk" to the world, and "stepping out in faith" to God?

I don't think anyone is suggesting that we alter the content of our God-given message in order to "take a risk" to reach out. I also don't think anyone was talking about "jazzing up" a message. I do think that the writer of the Google article was trying to speak to a generation of believers (including myself) who are far too comfortable with their middle-class suburban lifestyles, their boardrooms and classrooms and SUVs and climate-controlled buildings. Taking a risk means reaching out of our clean, neat, orderly spaces into a world that is dirty and frightening and complicated. And none of this is a new concept, except maybe to those of us who grew up in these sanitary places.

Here are some examples of what I think are the kind of risks Chris is talking about:
-Holding a poetry night where anyone is welcome to present their thoughts on faith in a creative way. But what if we attract beatniks and hippies and liberal college kids?
More seriously...

-Forfitting a comfortable, well-paying job to step out in faith and enter the mission field (This is a risk that costs no less than everything, but I think we'd all agree that it's worth it. And this isn't a new concept).

-Making a public apology for past sins committed by Christians (see Donald Miller or Rob Bell's work, does anyone know which book it was?) I'm sure those Christians felt like they were stepping out on a limb in a very new and controversial way, but I'm also sure they reached a lot of people.

-Creating a ministry for homosexuals. Or biker gangs. Or poker players (hey, has anyone heard that some men-of all different age groups- from our church starting playing poker together (risky stuff :), and now their non-Christian poker buddies are coming to church?)

-Funding a ministry when you aren't sure all the ends are going to meet, but knowing that it will reach out to a lot of people (I wasn't around then, but I bet our beloved family center had some naysayers, and I know the coffee bar, where I've had some of my most meaningful conversations in church, probably had some risks involved).

Throughout the Bible there are examples of people who dropped everything, defied the wisdom of their elders, and did very unpractical things,in order to follow God. Do you think they took the time to make a chart, consult a board, or analyze the cost beforehand? Not that these things are bad, but I think that sometimes we place too much focus on them. Our God presented us with a simple, uncalculated faith. I think that "radical risk" (along with a few other radicals- "radical love," "radical grace," for example) should become a household phrase for Christians.

You said it yourself, Jesus' words are "Pretty radically risky!" If a Christian as an individual is called to be a risk taker, then why not the church as well?

I would also like to make a comment on anonymous postings. We are not called to be a church of nameless, faceless commentators. Church is not (or should not be) a spectator sport. We are a family. Who are you protecting yourself from? We should be able to converse openly, even on controversial topics (or is that too risky?). If you're so worried about protecting your reputation, well, maybe you shouldn't be commenting at all. Anyone walking into any discussion forum with a paper bag on their head should not expect that they will be taken seriously.

Erin Mallard
1 Timothy 4:12 “Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young...”

Denise said...

Re: the anonymous postings
Maybe the authors are not deliberately trying to hide, but don't want to go through the hassle of establishing a blogger identity or don't know how to post with an identity. They were taking a risk in posting at all - some of this techno stuff is pretty risky business for us "older" people.

etoc said...

Thanks for the good reminder Denise! You're right--there can be a variety of reasons that do not represent ill-intent for leaving an anonymous comment. I'd encourage people to comment with an identity, but welcome the anonymous comments too. The only thing I'd add is that the more negative a comment is, the more responsibility there is for the person leaving it to own the comment as an individual. In the event that they give offense, a conversation can take place. Thanks again for your comment.