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This guest post by Meredith Gould is part of the blog series Google’s 10 Things We Know to be True.
“You can be serious without a suit” appears as number nine on Google’s 10 Things We Know to Be True. And where did my mind immediately wander when I saw that? Clergy collars, something about which I’ve had some thoughts.
But then a more careful reading revealed that this Google truism is not about clothing, but company culture.* Here are highlights from thing #9:
Our founders built Google around the idea that work should be challenging, and the challenge should be fun. We believe that great, creative things are more likely to happen with the right company culture…. an emphasis on team achievements and pride in individual accomplishments… put great stock in our employees….Our atmosphere may be casual, but as new ideas emerge [anywhere]… traded, tested and put into practice with dizzying speed….
To consider how these principles might apply to the world of church, we’ll need to swap out some words. Please replace:
- founders with church leaders;
- company culture with church culture;
- team with committee, and
- employees with congregants.
Now let’s focus on three principles that Google holds dear and ask, “How might we be and do church better if we…”
1) Encourage creativity and new ideas.
Google’s company culture is structured to generate, incubate, and launch new ideas. At Google, new ideas are “put into practice with dizzying speed.”
What happens in the world of church? Most denominational expressions of Christianity are structured to uphold and sustain traditions. Most churches at both the local and judicatory levels wait until circumstances become dire before even considering doing anything new and different. But it’s one thing to venerate tradition, quite another to use it to discourage or mute the creativity that galvanizes change.
- How might we foster a church culture that encourages creativity and welcomes new ideas?
- How might we support church leaders who wish to honor church traditions in new ways?
- Where might you seek and find support for your own creativity in the world of church?
2) Emphasize committee achievement.
Google is keen on creating teams, building teams, and rewarding teams for achieving goals through…wait for it…teamwork! Teamwork involves working collaboratively and synergistically. The whole of what any team creates is acknowledged as greater than any single contribution and that’s just fine with everyone.
What happens in the world of church? For one thing, we generally avoid the words “team” and “achievement” because they tend to imply competition and, gee, where’s the Christian love in that? (Setting aside Philippians 3:14, of course.**) Instead, we form committees to meet – not achieve – goals. Any “dying to self” tends be tolerated as “redemptive suffering” rather than a way to find new life with right company.
- How might we foster authentic collaboration and cooperation within – and between – church committees?
- How might we better gather people with complementary gifts and skills?
- How might you encourage individual congregants to delight in working with others for a greater good?
3) Put great stock in congregants.
Google hires the best and the brightest, and then supports excellence and creativity. No employees = No products and services.
What happens in the world of church? Ok, so we don’t hire congregants but we do, in fact, recruit them. Depending on the church culture, recruitment efforts are characterized as “evangelism” or “mission development” or “church planting.” And after they join?
Again, depending on the church culture, new and even not-so-new members are pretty much ignored after the first flurry of welcome. Or, they’re tapped for their “time, talent, and treasure” and then, well, reread my previous points. Maybe eventually they’ll be voted or appointed to a council or vestry or other advisory group – if they distinguish themselves from other congregants.
- How might we authentically convey appreciation for every congregant’s potential participation in all aspects of church?
- How might we breakdown systems and structures that tend to relegate congregants to a lower caste?
- What will help you remember that by virtue of your baptism, you belong to the “priesthood of all believers”?
Churches differ from for-profit corporations in several significant ways, but that needn’t stop us from studying those secular organizations. Google is only one company from which we might adopt then adapt structures and processes for every purpose under heaven.
My translation for “You can be serious without a suit” is this: You can share Gospel values with joy and gladness without being ordained, appointed to a committee, or elected to church leadership. Seriously.
*Had #9 been about work-related clothing, I would have happily trotted out all my never-lukewarm opinions about clerical collars and added some about vestments. More specifically, what I call the Chasuble Wars. FWIW, my husband (@RevWeb) refuses to wear one – in any style.
** ICYF: I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (NIV) I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. (NRSV)