March 22, 2016

Open Source

Steve Jobs and Apple have much to teach the church: both things we should embrace and tenets we should push away.

As I nursed a hacking cough this weekend, I finally caught the movie, Steve Jobs. Like many, I have long been a fan of Apple’s commitment to innovation and to the user-experience. This is a place where the tech company has much to offer the church. As we face significant changes in how people communicate and connect, we have the opportunity and challenge to develop new ways of being church, from how and when we worship to the types of relationships we seek and develop. Much has been made about improving the user-experience. This includes tweaks like offering an easy-to-follow worship bulletin to adding clear signage throughout a facility.

But as much as I like my iPad, iPhone, and big iMac, I took away a more important lesson from the movie. Steve Jobs was a closed-source fanatic. By that, I mean he didn’t want his products to interact with others already on the market. He was so committed to this principle that the MacIntosh computer required a special tool to open. A regular Phillips head screwdriver wouldn’t do.

Our churches need to be—must be—are called to be open source. In computer ease, open source means that the “software with its source code [is] made available with a license in which the copyright holder provides the rights to study, change, and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose. Open-source software may be developed in a collaborative public manner” (so says Wikipedia). In English, this means that open source is accessible to everyone and open to improvements or changes by users.

The church has for too long operated on a closed-source model. A few years ago, I offered free advertising and marketing materials to Episcopal communicators. The first feedback I received was shocking: “So what’s the catch?” Honestly, there was no catch. We had developed advertising materials that I thought could be helpful to the wider church, so I offered it to folks. The cynicism of the response reflects a broader issue: We haven’t created an environment where sharing is the norm, so when someone does it, we’re taken aback and become suspicious.
I’ve long thought that one of the primary goals of communicators (from parish to diocese to churchwide) is to share successful programs and tools. St. X developed a fantastic stewardship campaign, so why not give it to St. A to launch and hone? St. B has a great formation program so share it with St. M. We’re all on the same team, right?

Perhaps one of the best examples this week of an open-source church is the creation of an Easter video by the Acts 8 Movement. This free video is offered as a gift to the church. No strings. No copyright permissions. Just use it to invite people to experience the amazing story of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And the creators of the video have embraced the open-source concept of collaboration as well. Feel free, they say, to adapt it for your local use. Make it better. Make it work for you. And, share your experience and feedback so the next video can be even more helpful.

None of Jesus’ parables talk about open-source computing, but maybe it’s no coincidence that the allure of an apple tempted Eve and angered God.

Editor's Note: ECF Vital Practices is also a place to share successful programs and tools. Subscribers can post to this site in the Your Turn section; anyone can suggest things to share by emailing me at Please repost or share anything you find on - all we ask is that you note that the material is from ECF Vital Practices.

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