The Horizontal Church: the Networked Church
The Vertical Church, sometimes called organized religion, could draw a chart of its network. Some will be bold enough to start with a person. Others will recognize the true leader, Christ. In their network they are likely to have congregation members floating around a pastor and all of these floating around a regional leader of some sort and all these floating around a centralized authority of another sort. Neat. Tidy.
This had a purpose in the days when all of society was similarly structured.
This structure is increasingly being recognized as less necessary. The connections with the upper tiers of the network are no longer needed for communication, learning, budgeting, services, and maintaining doctrinal identity.
That last item is likely going to be used as the argument for continuing to rely on the Vertical Church. The authorities are the frontline guarding against the practice of cults, they will say. Actually, they aren’t. The only ammunition against cult-thinking is the nurturing of independent thought and the Vertical Church has a poor record in that regard.
The ease of communication today is in itself a protection against cult-thinking. The Vertical Church can no longer guarantee that news, information, music, publishing, leadership, or opinion-sharing will be filtered through their watchful eyes. They are as welcome as anyone to participate in online dialog but they won’t be able to stop any member, regardless of their theological pedigree, from analyzing, criticizing or initiating thought. So far church leaders are slow out of the gate when it comes to online dialog.
Our increasingly connected society will change the structure of the Church. The faithful will rally around those whose ideas resonate. Denominational lines will fall in the process.
In the Horizontal Church one member might consider himself to be a follower of a half dozen churches. One member might attend worship regularly but find the writings of an online pastor to be more inspirational. They might adopt the cause of a congregation on the other side of the globe. They might choose to divide their giving between many entities.
This is happening already. 2×2 is an example. Our subscribers are all over the world and from many denominations. We have not abandoned our Lutheran roots. But we reach beyond that.
This may be scary to denominational loyalists. But think. How do you reach all over the world if you vet every person you encounter—if all your associations are with the already like-minded?
Will there be false prophets? There always have been—even within the Vertical Church. But now they can be more easily outted.
There will be some turbulence as religious thinking shifts. There will be bruised egos and territorial disputes. This will help us to be intentional about the decisions we make as unfettered Christians in a wide world.
The Horizontal Church is really kind of exciting!