Have you ever used Kijiji, Uber, Airbnb, Tinder, on-line dating, or GoFundMe?
Billions of people have taken a leap and used these systems to trust strangers.

How trust flows through our society is changing dramatically.
We’ve stopped trusting institutions and started trusting strangers.
Churches, we’ve got to pay attention.

I watched this Ted Talk by Rachel Botsman “We’ve stopped trusting institutions and started trusting strangers” a number of months ago now and my mind has been churning on it ever since. 

If people trust strangers and not institutions – What does this mean for the local church?  

I’ll share a few of Rachel’s ideas and then unpack some preliminary thoughts on what it might mean for the church. However, I need your feedback and help in thinking this through?! What does this mean for the local church? Please engage with me and let’s think this through together.

Rachel highlights for us that technology is creating new mechanisms that enable us to trust unknown people and ideas. Think of Uber, you are taking a major trust leap by getting in a car with a stranger, trusting they’ll take you where you want to go and keep you safe.
Trust, as defined by Rachel, is a confident relationship with the unknown.
These new apps and systems have figured out ways to help us trust strangers by enabling us to see other’s names, a little bit about them and their reviews. The apps reduce some of the unknowns for us.

People have stopped trusting institutions.
It is not just that people have seen scandals and corruption and so have lost trust in institutions. It is also that institutional trust was not built for the digital age. Trust is no longer top-down and central but is increasingly distributed trust. Distributed trust is more transparent, inclusive, decentralized, accountable and bottom up. 

Isn’t this good news for a people that believe in the priesthood of all believers and freedom of conscience?
I think this is a great opportunity for the church.

First, help me try to understand what is going on when we use these platforms that allow us to trust and share with strangers? Why do we do it?

Here’s what I can come up with, examining my own motives:

  • Some of it is financial, if we can spend less money then “yes please.”
  • The platform allows us to connect with more possible options than just our small network of family, friends and colleagues.
  • We prefer our money to go to a person and stay more local rather than our money going to an unknown institution.
  • We want to be in control of our choice and tailor it to our needs and schedule.
    • E.g. Choose exactly where my Airbnb is and what features it has.
    • E.g. Share a car trip with a stranger rather than have to stick to the bus/train schedule and its stops.
  • We’re willing to take a trust leap because these sites have found a way to reduce the risk and unknowns. It’s not blind trust, there is built in accountability.
    • E.g. We can find out lots about other “user”, see reviews from others, see pictures and more, long before we commit to the next step.

This is a fascinating phenomenon to watch. Hopefully is not just reducing humans to commodities to be exchanged, but is allows humans to help one another, share with one another, be more dependent on one another, have greater accountability among one another and fuels an entrepreneurial spirit that helps us see we can work together to make good things happen.
If trust is what enables change and innovation, we certainly need it in the church today!

What does all this mean for the church?

Here’s where I need your help and best thinking.
Here is what I can come up with so far. These might need modifying, so please give me your input.

1. Introduce people to people, we still need community

build in opportunities for it to become increasingly normal for people in your local church to share life together with other Christians AND with all kinds of other people in the community. Within your church and within your town/city build in opportunities for people to get to know one another and start building trust. Encourage people to – share rides, eat in peoples’ homes, share stuff (lawn mowers, snow blowers…), attend community events and meet others. The need for community – to be known, respected and cared for – never goes away as a human need. Figure out how as a church you can be a good, welcoming, trust-worthy community to those in your town and city, especially those that desperately need more genuine community. Who could you help connect? Young adults needing mentors? Single Moms or Dads? Students needing to go get groceries? It’s relationships, it’s people, that God uses again and again to change lives and change neighbourhoods. Get to know people. Help people get to know other people. Help people help each other out.

2. Be a movement, not just a tagline or a church name

Invite people into a purpose, a movement, not to a building or to an institution. If your local church has clarity of purpose and is living out the unique difference God has invited you to make in your community – people will see the tangible difference you are making. They will see the good news starting to be lived out in front of their eyes. People use these apps and social economy platforms because it helps them and helps others.

People need to see how your time, money and talents (and there’s too if they join your movement) will make a tangible difference here and now, not just to an “institution” or to vague “others” but to real people and to your neighbourhoods. #1neigbhourhood

Stop expecting people to trust you or come because of your denomination, titles, building….
Rebuild your trust quotient as a people who have joined God’s mission of reconciliation and healing wrongs in our world. People won’t trust your church because of your denomination, your name, your building, your titles or because you’ve existed in the town for a long time. Reduce the trust leap for your church. Give others ways to safely interact, explore, see you out in the community and see what you’re up to as a people of faith in making a difference. Others will start to trust you if they can see how you care for the community and how you care for others. That’s like getting the best reviews over and over again on Airbnb. Everyone will want to experience time with you.

3. Be a safe place to explore

one of the features most sharing economies have in common is you can search different options and users until you find one you are comfortable with. They give you names and ratings of other users, which makes it easier for us to trust others. The lesson here for the church is look at your church (including what you do inside the church, outside the church and on-line) through the eyes of an explorer. Is your community understandable, helpful and safe for an explorer of faith? One thing many local churches could immediately do is make next steps clearer. When someone comes for the first time (or has been visiting for a little while) is it easy to see what their next step is when they are ready to take the next trust leap and lean into your community more or learn more? I’ve discovered next steps are often very unclear in our churches – for newcomers, for those ready to learn more about who Jesus really was and is, and for those wanting to get more involved in the mission of the church. No, saying “Please talk to Jean after the service if you’re interested” is not helpful to the new person.
Reduce the unknowns, so it’s easier for people to take the next trust leap in your church.

4. Your online presence matters

technology is changing how much information we can gather quickly about your local church and leaders. Technology is giving people the opportunity to check you out long before they decide to interact with your community. Guaranteed people are checking you out, picking up cues about you, gathering information about your presence or lack thereof in the community…all from looking on-line at your website and social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter…). Your on-line presence allows people an option to safely explore (see #3 above) you at a distance. Guarantee they are deciding how much they trust you, even before they meet you.

So what? Make sure your on-line presence captures who you are, who you are becoming and the movement you are a part of in your community and world. Give opportunities for people to interact with your church and people on-line. Give lots of options for people to see what you are up to, listen to messages, know what to expect if they join you at an event in the community or come check out a program at your church.  On-line is a great place to reduce the unknowns.

5. Get Christians into these networks

get followers of Jesus out there in the world and engaging in these different platforms that invite people to trust strangers. Do you know what we have tended to do as Christians? Huddle together and create our own Christian version of these platforms – Christian Airbnb, Christian “Settlers of Canaan” nights, Christian Mingle…
We’re suppose to be in the world, but not of the world.
If we are separate from the world, we can’t be salt and light.
What if instead, we infiltrated the existing economy sharing systems and used our gifts of hospitality, generosity, sharing, listening, time…? Be authentic, honest and generous – showing God’s character – in all your interactions. 

I do think it is good news that how trust flows through society is shifting towards distributed trust.
We never should have relied on our buildings, titles, or institutions to earn us trust.
This will force us, as the church, to take a more humble position and remember what it means to build trust, transparency, connections and accountability both within our churches and in our wider communities.
We’ll actually need to depend on each other more.

I invite your feedback.
Let us think on this more together – what does it mean for the church that people have stopped trusting institutions and have started trusting strangers?

Hope this helps.