I've Been Thinking...
I’VE BEEN THINKING........ about networks. Like many people, the computer has become more and more a part of my daily routine. E-mail and Internet are no longer strange ideas, but a normal everyday part of my thinking. I have not given up the old methods entirely. I still write out a letter or a message now and then with pen and paper. But the computer networking concept has changed my thinking as well as my life.

I find the regular mail service is still useful in areas the computer network is not. In reality however, the postal service is also a network of it’s own. And so are grocery stores, and the airline companies and transportation systems. In fact, there are few business realms that have not become networks of their own making.

What I am trying to say is - the present generation lives life moving through networks as normal everyday life.

Friendship relationships also work great in networks. For example, say I have five friends, give or take two or three. I know my five friends really well and we like each other just fine. Each of my friends have four other friends. We’re all very friendly people. I don’t know all the friends of my friends, but I’ve met many of them and they are nice enough. In fact I trust them because they are my friend’s friends. Friendship and trust are key words in this discussion.

During the big earthquake here in Kobe, Japan, it took only thirty six hours before all of my friends and all of my friends’ friends, and even most of my friends’ friends’ friends were accounted for and were being taken care of. The city of Kobe was still thinking about what plan of action it should take. Do you get my point? Networks are amazingly efficient and helpful in this day and age.

Leadership in fast-growing corporations and organizations, from what I read, is also changing to networking. No longer is it wise to have one person at the top laying out all the game plans. A single person’s vision is too small. Their ability to gather important information is too limited. Besides, they can only be in one place at one time. That’s a major limiting factor when business is happening all around the world all of the time.

Now let’s look at the local Christian church. I can only speak for what I’ve seen in this part of Japan, but what do I usually see? An active vibrant part of the moving, changing community? I wish! When missionaries and pastors target an area to start a new church do they have a modern-day networking strategy? Another link into an ever-expanding Christian body that continues to grow to fill the whole world? No, not really. They are usually hoping to find a handful of people that are willing to come regularly to a church meeting centered around one person’s ability to teach, sing, and maybe dance...and that one person is not usually Jesus.

Is that a network? No. And is this method of church growth working anywhere in the world today? Not that I know of. A hundred years ago the church was the hub, the center, the meeting place in the community and out of it flowed life, spiritual life and life for business, family, future marriage partners, whatever people needed. Does it work that way today? Not usually. Life has chanced. Society has changed. We don’t want to be stuck in dead-end activities. We want to be in networks, where everyone we meet leads us to other people, who lead us to other people till we find what we are looking for. The felt needs must be met.

The large super- churches are sometimes a network of communities in themselves, that’s why people go. But we are not going to start a super-church in Japan in the near future. But we could create networks of small churches and Christian relationships, right now, starting today.

Think about the Internet again. To use it everyone has to get a computer, just as every Christian has to get salvation. This is still the starting point. With that computer you have to make an agreement with a server. A computer and a phone line will not get you on the Internet. Neither is a Christian with his salvation and Bible going to get far on the road to real spiritual growth alone.

We are very choosy about our Internet servers. The price needs to be reasonable. The convenience needs to be high. We want someone dependable and someone who will stick around. They also must make it their goal to connect us to the world efficiently. The same needs to be true for the church in this modern age.

Though there are many people connected to the same local Internet server as I am, I’m not interested in only being able to connect to the people within that group. I want to link up to anyone on the Internet, anywhere in the world . In this day and age, the local church needs to do the same. We need to build connections between churches, between organizations, and between Christian individuals across the denomination boundaries.

I want to be able to find out about prayer from people who really pray. I want to learn about youth out reach from people who really are effective at reaching youth. I want to learn about the deeper truths of the Bible from someone qualified to teach on deeper truths. We all would like an open door to all the Christian resources, and activities and information to meet our changing individual needs.

No one church can know everything that is going on in the world. But they don’t have to. Each church only needs to make good connections with other churches and organizations with good connections, who are willing to introduce the rest of us to their friends. This is the power of the Internet. People get to where they need to be eventually by clicking links that link them to other links.

The only thing is, churches must see their role as more than gathering and keeping people. We call those places prisons. And the man on the street is not so easily fooled. I meet hundreds of people on a regular basis that are afraid to go to church. People are afraid of religion these days. They see churches as a kind of prison. We desperately need to change that image and role of the local church, in my opinion.
It will happen as we stop isolating ourselves from Christians that are different. I am guilty of this as well. And we need to begin making connections with people and groups we can trust across denominational lines. We have to see the Kingdom as a living network of people throughout the world.

“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” Think about it . Every time you eat a piece of bread you are eating the result of a very effective network. Doesn’t it make sense that the Kingdom of God is designed to be a kind of network?

Because of the radical change in society and the way people live and move these days, I honestly believe we need to rethink the way we do “church”, especially here in Japan. The message will stay the same. People’s needs are still basically the same. Simply, the way we meet people’s needs and bring them the message may need to change. I think networking is the way to go.

© 2002, Warren Okerman