A few weeks ago I was in a learning cluster with a few friends of mine discussing our journey with church and the different models or operating systems of church. In the midst of our conversation, one of my friends used a computer analogy to paint a picture of what is going on in our experience. In trying to choose the right operating system for church or our computer, most of us find ourselves in one of the following conundrums.

We may be overwhelmed and paralyzed with all the info coming our way about which operating system is the best, so we default to the system that we are used to or feel most comfortable with. Some of us are stuck in our current operating system because the price tag of changing is too high, i.e. to convert and sync everything over to Apple is too pricey or to switch to Linux and create our own system is too time consuming. Many of us are living with a hybrid of two operating systems, i.e. having an Iphone4 with an Apple operating system, while our PC at home runs on a Windows operating system. These same scenarios are being played out every day in people’s journey of church.

Though I am by no means a computer guru, here’s a comparison of the strengths and weaknesses between the three major computer operating systems, Windows, Apple, and Linux, and their analagous operating sytems in the church world. Windows is like the big box, centralized, megachurch operating system. The programs have been developed for you; all you have to do is show up and “pay the fee”. Little work is required by the individual to operate the system. There is a sense of familiarity, predictability and security with the traditional Sunday church model. You can go on a Sunday morning and “be fed” by a brilliant communicator, experience worship through gifted musicians, have your kids cared for in a well run program, and be out of there by 12 p.m. This suits busy people who are looking for predictability. Yet the “one size fits all” operating system does not leave a lot of room for ownership or creativity to tweak or overhaul the system, and is prone to being targeted by viruses and hackers that can collapse the whole thing.

Apple’s operating system is like “seeker sensitive” or “emergent”   models of church. The system is sexy, trendy, and has all kinds of bells and whistles that are very attractive. The fact that you can sync all of your techie devices to this one operating system is a selling feature. From what my friends who swear by Apple tell me, Apple is less apt to get viruses and thus is a safer system to run. Yet like “seeker sensitive” models of church, the Apple operating system will cost you more. It is still quite centralized and controlled.

Then there is Linux and the more decentralized, simpler, tailormade operating systems of church. Linux offers a platform from which you can individually create your own operating system that best suits your needs. It is free. Thus there is a high degree of ownership required and it is the least susceptible system to being infected by viruses. Yet for most of us, Linux is intimidating because we’re not sure we have the time or computer savy to create our own operating system. Esther and I have noticed this same reality applies for many in their journey of church. Most folks still would rather someone create the program, operating system, or structure for them, even if they have to pay a fee and lose some individual freedom in the process. Freedom is a dangerous thing. Yet many who taste of freedom do not want the personal responsibility or mess that goes with it. They would rather go back to the security and safety of the structures they’ve known. The other reality is that many are developing hybrid expressions of church that take the best of the Linux operating system while still enjoying the benefits of Apple or Windows.

With the hybrid forms of church, many will have a Linux operating system when it comes to their small group expression of church, yet on a Sunday will go to a Windows or Apple version of church to get their needs met for corporate worship, a kids’ program, or to hear a good preach. Often, with a married couple, one is happy with simpler, more relational models of church, and the other wants more of the programmatic, predictable operating system, so they work out a hybrid form of church or they go to two different types of church.

is Linux Better Than Windows?

Another observation we have made is that how people are wired often determines which operating system best works for them. 1o% of people out there are initiators or explorers, 20% are early adopters, 60% are late adopters, 10% are laggards or resistors. The initiators are the ones drawn to the more creative, inexpensive, tailor made, and de-centralized operating systems like Linux or simple church. The early adopters are quick to join them or choose an Apple system. The late adopters are the ones still comfortable in either a hybrid of operating systems or in the existing Windows operating systems. The laggards resist all of the above or any change.

We often get caught up with the questions, “What is the right operating system or what is the best operating system or Will Linux swallow up Windows? Maybe the question should be, which operating system best serves who you are and what you value? What system will best serve the practices you want to live out? For example, Esther and I want to see neighbourhood based forms of simple missional community that are intergenerational and don’t require a big shot, big budget, or building to operate. We’re not opposed to the latter, and believe big churches have their place.  Being explorers and initiators, we are drawn to operating systems like Linux that give people a lot of freedom and ownership. Yet we also find ourselves dancing between operating systems as we recognize that in this season of transition in the church, hybrids of operating systems are helpful in helping folks navigate change!

What operating systems are working for who you are and the practices of the Kingdom you are trying to live out? Where do you find yourself stuck? Where are you tempted during times of change or crisis to default back to “old” operating systems for a false sense of security or safety?

A Stumbling Explorer,

Tim Schultz