By Eddie Pipkin
The BBC has a great website called Worklife 101 that they describe as “a global round-up of the people, ideas, and things at the forefront of the new world of work.” It emphasizes new technology, new management philosophies, new productivity strategies, and new ways of staying sane while balancing all that. I do not generally think of local churches as a hotbed of cutting-edge workplace ideas, but it is true that the portability and flexibility of new technology is making such ideas more accessible than ever. In a recent article listing 101 ways that the workplace is rapidly evolving, more than a third of the items spurred me to actively thinking about how they could be applied in the contexts of neighborhood congregations – and not only in megachurch settings.
If you’d like to read the entire BBC article, here’s the link (and within the article, you can click on individual terms to jump to more detailed explanations about what those terms mean and why people are talking about them). Some of these ideas involve the interaction of social trends with work, some are specific to technology, and some revolve around the embrace of employee mental health and happiness. It’s easy to see how many of them can be scaled to large corporate settings – but they are by no means exclusive to those settings, as each of the ideas I’m highlighting is food for thought worthy of even small staffs and volunteer groups.
100-Year Lifespan (also related, the Longevity Economy): Lifespans are on the rise, and its time to begin thinking about “seniors” as an active, still vibrant part of the community, rather than as a bunch of sedate retirees getting together for potlucks. As we are healthier longer and more interested in active lifestyles and continued engagement, our ministries should reflect this trend.
Anti-Distraction Apps (also related, JOMO): Apps are appearing to remind us to unplug and disengage from the constant alerts bombarding us from our smart devices (using technology to police our use of technology). One of the key roles that churches can play in a technology-obsessed world is helping people navigate the pressure to be “always plugged in.” We can be refuges of “the unplugged life,” providing an opportunity for people slow down, chill out, and enjoy presence with one another. JOMO (the Joy of Missing Out) is a new term, which succinctly counterbalances FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out that drives us all to stay tuned in to our technology 24-7).
Burnout: Everybody in ministry knows this term, but the gurus of the workplace are giving it a new focus related to the damage done when employees (and volunteers) are required to stay plugged in to their technology at all times (see above). As leaders we should communicate our expectations clearly (to our staff members, team members, volunteers, and those who depend on us). Let’s not have unreasonable, unhealthy expectations about instant text responses, and let’s be sure we’re all on the same page.
Co-Living (also related, Couple Inequality, Gig Reality): All of these terms relate to changes in how the people in our congregations live and work together, and how the very nature of basic relationships is shifting. More young people are sharing living spaces due to exorbitant housing costs. More couples are finding new ways to balance work and parenting. More employees are working from gig to gig, part time and job to job, with all the inherent freedoms and stresses that involves. Churches are in a position to help people navigate these shifts. They also need to take them into account when scheduling, as well as structuring discipleship and service opportunities.
Crowdfunding: The use of the Internet to bring people easily together as individuals to support a ministry initiative has been around for a while. And although it has matured as a technique (from a technology perspective), few churches are utilizing it as a strategy, thereby missing a powerful opportunity to leverage generosity.
Deep Work: More and more brain science is confirms how bad multitasking is for us. We need focused attention over extended periods of time to do meaningful, inspirational labor of the mind. This is something that should be intuitive for those of us in the business of spiritual growth, but it is important that we make time for focused work, communicate its importance to our teams, and encourage it in our flocks.
Deep Growth: Ditto the above. Nobody ever grew deeply and meaningfully from an hour of scrolling Reddit headlines or Twitter feeds. We are the people who invented deep growth. Let’s do us.
E-Residency: This was fascinating. Did you know you can – for a modest fee! – establish “digital citizenship” in an Eastern European country? It’s part of the evolving re-think of what it means to “belong” or “be a member” anywhere, including church. Can people be a part of your congregation strictly through online interaction? What does that look like? Can they be engaged in spiritual growth, worship, service, and generosity without ever coming through the physical doors? Does your congregation have a plan for welcoming such pilgrims?
Essentialism: Marie Kondo’s super popular philosophy of paring down our material possessions and keeping only those that “spark joy” is a useful guide for churches, both literally as a prod to clean out all those closets and storage units, as well as metaphorically to pare down to our essential ministry efforts (sparking joy for all!).
Humble Leaders: There is a new movement that stresses the importance of humility as a defining characteristic of leadership. Churches are both uniquely aligned with this idea – it’s not a new concept for those who follow Jesus – but also uniquely challenged to live it out: we are, after all, susceptible to cults of personality in a way few businesses are.
In-office Days: As telecommuting gained steam, people began to realize there are some advantages of actually working from the office: face-to-face interactions, more focused productivity for some, visibility to customers and team members. Church work responded well to the idea of the mobile office. There is much to be said for the “community coffee shop” as hip office substitute, but we don’t want to swing the pendulum too far. It’s important to have some established days and times when people know they can find us at the church.
Naninfluencers: Here’s a topic worthy of a future blog post! “Influencers” have become a vital part of the social media scene. They are folks who post engaging and entertaining content and are therefore followed intensely by their fans, and many have developed paid careers as they are embraced by advertisers. The new development is the impact of such influencers in very specific content areas (influence targeted not widely – defined by hundreds of thousands of “likes” – but by the focused passion of a smaller number of followers). How are local congregations doing at developing the social media clout of their own members? Or developing specific interest groups such as those who want to volunteer in the immediate community?
Office Farming: Growing edibles at the office! A little fresh parsley for the lunch salad? How are we integrating new passion for the environment in our physical church spaces?
Procrastination Nannies: You can get an app to nag you to get things done, or you can hire a coach whose sole job is to keep you checking off things on the to-do list and keep your priorities straight.
Radical Candour: A new way to do performance reviews (thank the Brits for the funky spelling).
Slack (Smart Offices): I keep reading more and more about Slack, an app that’s been around for a while and is very popular in the tech world for combining the best aspects of email and texting into a focused, seamless team communications tool. Read about how it can work effectively in a ministry environment here. There are so many technological tools out there. Has your ministry effectively embraced the ones that can work for you?
TikTok: A platform for posting short videos effortlessly. Are you doing videos (short or otherwise) as part of your ministry? It’s never been easier, and it’s a format that grabs our attention and brings information to life like nothing else.
Unconscious Biases: Social scientists are helping us understand the ways that we subtly discriminate against one another. Even as we are proclaiming our passion for social justice, we have habits so ingrained that we don’t even realize they are there. This is just as true for churches as corporations, but we are in a unique environment to explore and address these issues.
Pay Transparency: This one is sure to gin up controversy! Pay, for most Americans, is one of those deeply private things, but in an attempt to deal with pay inequality and the ever-increasing income gap, some business leaders have begun to argue that everybody would be better served if everybody could see what everybody else is making (thus ensuring a more objective process for determining pay is in place). The applicability to church settings is the value of transparency in financial decisions. Fiscal information should be available to congregation members, easily accessible, and open for comment. With such transparency comes accountability, trust, and partnership.
Those were a lot of ideas! Don’t try to embrace them all at once. But do try to stay in touch with what’s happening out there in the changing world and how ideas that have relevance in your context can help you stay focused and moving forward. Consider me your unofficial procrastination nanny!
What trends in the workplace are inspiring your staff and volunteers? How are you leveraging technology and responding to social shifts? Share your experiences (and suggestions for which of these we should explore further) in the comments section.