MissionInsite.com relies on data from the Mosaic research of Experian. Recently they updated that information, and it raises some interesting questions about spiritual leadership. I may reflect on some of them in time to come. But the most obvious is in regard to communication and shopping preferences.
It should be no surprise that internet dependency is growing, but here are three interesting trends:
Smaller hardware, greater mobility, and multiple data bursts
Lifestyle segments that have been late adopters for technology are getting more involved, so the quality and interactivity of websites will be increasingly important. This means that “Constant Visitors” and “Constant Gardiners” will be pushed to become more internet and email savvy. They will need to learn to make on-line empathy as effective as in-person empathy … and yes, it is possible to express emotions like love, acceptance, and respect digitally as well as personally. I don’t mean emoticons. I mean recovering a lost art of writing. More crucially, spiritual leaders in all identities will need to figure out how to meaningfully celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion through internet long distance participation.
The greater challenge, perhaps, is among early and middle adopters who now do most of their communication through smart phones (not computers or tablets). This means less space and less time for spiritual leaders (especially Extreme and Organic Leaders) to share ideas or motivate actions. Visionaries are challenged to maintain unity and accountability among their followers. Mentors and pilgrims are challenged to “go deep” in smaller data bytes. I think the art of communication will require a kind of “staccato” communication rather than integrated messages. Fast, short, repeated bursts of insight. But it is much harder to be profound, and much easier to become superficial.
Here is the bigger question: How do spiritual leaders share the fullness of God in smaller and smaller databytes? The answers may lie in using images and music more than words.
The paradox of privacy and publicity
Confidentiality is becoming more and more challenging for spiritual leaders. It’s not just the risk of inadvertent blabbing of personal information through social media. Social media is becoming so interconnected that even when leaders believe communication to be confidential, they may be wrong. And hacking is becoming more common. Furthermore, in a culture more and more hostile to organized religion or classic Christian faith, messages can now be intercepted and altered, websites can be defaced, and personal credibility smeared.
Constant Builders and Relentless Futurists (CEO’s and Visionaries) will be more challenged because their priority is often publicity. They need to connect regionally or globally with a wide spectrum of lifestyle segments. This is clearly becoming easier and riskier. And lifestyle segments who are early adopters know that manipulation or abuse of power is becoming more common via the internet.
Here is the bigger question: How do spiritual leaders sustain credibility in the emerging digital world? The answers may lie in expanding transparency to the scrutiny of more cross-cultural agencies and leaders.
Macro and Micro shopping
Internet shopping is taking over the sale and distribution of mass marketed generic products. Many have compared the department store and the mall to mid-sized and denominational churches … both dinosaurs in their sector and fading fast. This threatens Constant Leaders (more traditional clergy anchored by more traditional religious institutions). Many have also compared the vulnerability of big box stores and mega-churches, who are competing to become more multi-site. But there are only so many “sites” available.
A more promising phenomenon is the emergence of specialty or niche retail. I think of the new food stores offering specific ethnic products, organic fresh produce, meat, etc., that spring up after the old grocery store has closed. More and more lifestyle segments, regardless of affluence or age, are combining macro and micro shopping (packaged food from the internet, fresh produce from the local market; large orders from the internet each month compared to small intentional purchases form the niche store each day).
I a similar way, there is a clear trend among many lifestyle segments (and particularly, it seems, among some boomers and millennials) to seek spiritual support for “generic” existential anxieties from large churches … but combine that with spiritual support for unique or niche existential threats from high-accountability, daily accessible, spiritual communities or networks. Opportunities for Mentors and Pilgrims are multiplying, even though many Disciplers and Gurus still live in the illusion that the people in their large venue “belong” to them.
Here is the bigger question: How reliable are the claims of Constant and Organic Leaders that they are increasing followers who are allied to their particular perspective, when in fact lifestyle segments are being fed by multiple spiritual sources? The answer may lie in greater humility and expanded collegiality.