What does “open-source” mean to you? To a developer, it means a chance to contribute to the world. To the technology companies it means that their competition isn’t another company but the entire world. To technology users like you and I, it means free technology like Firefox and Skype.
“Open-source” has become a cultural buzz word. Everyone has heard it, but not nearly as many people know what it means. Over-simplified, open-source is a project model in which a company releases the super-secret product details for a piece of technology. This means that any developer in the world can work to improve their product. It also means that they can’t make any money off of their technology. Why would anyone pay for it, if they can get it for free? It sounds like a really bad business model, but it has created some of the best software in the world today. If the whole world becomes your development team, just imagine how much work can be done. The company usually still manages the changes being made to their product, but once a product becomes open-source it belongs to the masses.
Open-source is exciting for small businesses and individuals because software that used to cost a small fortune is totally free. Open-source is exciting for technology companies, because they can literally have the whole world working on their development team. Open-source is exciting for hackers because they can get all the information they need to create viruses or other nasty computer bugs. The only people who don’t like open source are the big companies who are trying to compete with it.
Open-source has become so popular; it has become more than just a way to create new software. It has become a way of thinking. Open Source says that information belongs to everyone. Open Source is about combining our skills and experience to tackle massive problems ourselves instead of waiting for Microsoft, Apple, Intel or IBM to do it for us. Open Source allows for swarm-style ingenuity.
The open source way of thinking is creeping into our culture, and without a doubt we will soon see it in our churches as well. It has been well documented that Christian culture lags behind secular, so it’s not here yet. But soon… Just wait. The natural question is – What does an Open Source Church look like? What about an open source Christian?
Imagine with me a church in which we all collaborate absolutely without organizational barriers. Imagine a world in which spiritual understanding, decision making rational and creative ministry ideas are the property of the masses. Imagine a world in which Christians tackle massive jobs like world poverty or Biblical illiteracy without waiting on an organization or an expert to tell them how to do it. Imagine a world in which we shared resources and ideas freely. It sounds a lot like the way the church should be in the first place.
The danger comes to an open source church in the same way that it comes to an open source internet browser. If anyone can contribute, anyone can do so with malicious intent. As always, the greatest strength can easily become the greatest weakness. In guarding against cyber attacks, every one of us has our own firewall, anti-virus program and spam filter. Defenses are individual, because attacks affect individuals. In closed source Christianity, our defenses have been corporate. We have made our stand on theology by attaching ourselves to the “right” organization. But when the open source model reaches the church, each of us will need to develop our own defense system to protect us against spiritual attacks. That means church leaders must train individuals to study the Word of God for themselves. In a perfect world that would already be true. Is it true in your church?
Ray Deck III is involved in ministry on two different fronts — in creative communications for Word of Life in Schroon Lake, NY, and as the co-founder of MinistryLIVE.org. You can always reach him at email@example.com.