Since the advent of the internet we’ve seen a huge new wave of joining, affiliation, and participation, though not on the terms Putnam (Bowling Alone) was seeking. New power loves to affiliate, but affiliation in this new mindset is much less enduring. People are less likely to be card-carrying members of organisations or to forge decades-long relationships with institutions, but they are more likely to float between Meetup groups or use social media to very visibly affiliate with a range of causes, brands, and organisations, and rally their friends to do the same. They tend to opt in at particular moments, and then opt out again. We shouldn’t confuse this with a lack of engagement. Rather it is a different way of taking part. This shift has big implications for organisations large and small.
At the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado, we see many of these new power values in action.
What makes pastor Nadia Bolz-weber different isn’t the tattoos of religious stories all over her body, nor is it her media-friendly rags-to-dog-collar story. It’s her congregation’s simple philosophy: “We’re anti-excellence, pro-participation.”
Her church, the House for All Sinners and Saints, is booming, packed with millennials, clearly speaking to a demographic that mainstream Christianity often struggles to reach. Much of that success comes from the way she has structured her church to accommodate and celebrate new power values.
If you stop by one of its services, even as a first-time churchgoer, you might find yourself delivering the liturgy. Each service is performed between fifteen and eighteen ordinary attendees who grab a part as they arrive and then collaborate to lead the congregation. And why is this so important? As Bolz-Weber explained to us, it sends a critical message. “It’s like telling people that we trust you with the holy things right away, just because you showed up.”