Baptist Collaboration: what next?
The Baptist Collaboration Facebook Group was set up in June 2012, and now has more than 1,000 members. Founder Peter Dominey reflects on its impact, and what future online collaboration might look like
I set up Baptist Collaboration as a place for Baptists to easily connect with each other, alongside and distinct from the existing Baptist structures.
The hope was for resources to be shared, relationships built and a needed conversation space to emerge which might act as a critical friend of all things Baptist. We are starting to see signs of these things happening within the Baptist Collaboration group and other Baptist Facebook groups that have since been set up.
But things are not always great! All get to publish in this group and this means the quality of content is sometimes low and there is occasional poor behaviour. These things are an inevitable part of Facebook groups, chats rooms and online forums and we need to be less squeamish about it and help each other with good 'netiquette', as we learn these new ways of relating to each other.
But what is coming next in the world of Baptists and online collaboration? Here are some predictions...
In the next three years I see grass-roots Baptists beginning to work together in lightweight ways, informally cooperating and co-creating for the good of the family. This increased level of collaboration will be fueled by Baptists relating with each other across the churches, enabled by the internet. We are starting to realise we have the ability and permission to do it and that the potential rewards are great.
Facebook groups like Baptist Collaboration are good for connecting and catching up on the latest conversations but they don't as yet have the tools for significant collaboration between the members.
Two simple examples to make the point: have you tried finding a conversation in Baptist Collaboration from three months ago? It's almost impossible. Have you tried to work together as a little group on Facebook to co-create a liturgy or set of words? Facebook does not make these things easy.
Either through improved Facebook groups or through other internet services, Baptist volunteers will start to work together on larger scale collaborative projects which begin to reshape bits of our Baptist life from the bottom up.
Some tools are already out there on the internet to make this type of distance working possible and I predict we will see loose networks of Baptists starting to use them in agile new ways within the next three years.
I don't think we are seeing much of this self-organising, grass-roots collaboration among us as yet but watch out for hints of it on Baptist Collaboration and other internet spaces.
It is inevitable that our resourcing will also be shaped by these new ways of relating to each other. So what could happen to that resourcing as we work with each other and new tools from the internet?
1 Baptists collaborate together to create written resources and other media through crowd-sourcing.
(e.g. Some Baptists decide to create a national annual Baptist calendar. They crowd-source the best photos from photographers across our family and create a calendar to explore and express our Baptist identity, selling it to cover their costs. All this inspires some other Baptists to co-author small group resources and sermon outlines on our Baptist identity. This leads to someone creating a place on the web for Baptists to create resources together.)
2 More contentiously for some, financial resources start to bypass the existing Home Mission channel and flow directly from one church or Baptist to another.
(e.g. Some Baptists set up an internet based crowd-funding platform where our pioneers post descriptions of church planting work they seek help in funding. Individuals and churches browse the different requests for help, pledge direct financial support and then build relationships with the church planters to learn from and support these pioneers.)
3 Churches who want a minister, publicly promote the vacancy on the internet and connect with prospective ministers without going through the existing settlement process.
(e.g. a couple of churches 'risk' being the first to post their ministerial vacancy in Baptist Collaboration Facebook group and as this practice becomes more common a Regional Minister decides to share the Church Pastoral Vacancy List in the group. Regional Ministers continue to support churches in the newly emerging process and provide references for ministers directly to churches.)
If some of these things or similar start to happen it raises the question of how the existing Baptist structures and leadership respond. Will Associations and Union be willing to give up some newly acquired or remaining powers to the crowd? Will hybrids form between these new grass-roots processes and the institution? I hope so.
Peter Dominey is a Baptist pioneer who started Church from Scratch in 2002. Since then he's been involved in starting things including Incarnate Network, Shared Space (a social enterprise), Beyond 400, 57 West (church of the homeless), and the Baptist Collaboration Group.