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  • Writer's pictureRyan Panzer

Google Docs and the Great Church Leadership Revolution

Our most widely-used digital technologies are built upon a collaborative foundation. This likely does not surprise you. We share docs, we comment on slides, we send direct messages and post to group channels, and all of this is part of a typical, digital age day-in-the-life.

Yet implicit in the adoption of real-time collaborative technologies like Google Docs, Microsoft Teams, Slack, and others is an accelerating commitment to egalitarian participation, to the flattening of hierarchy. While the impact of digital technology on our culture is broad and diverse, the impacts on leadership is pointed and decisive: we expect opportunities to meaningfully contribute, we insist on opportunities to frequently participate, we demand collaboration. The story of the digital age is a rapidly unfolding march towards more collaborative forms of leadership in organizations, in government, and particularly in the church.

Some institutions have been more adept at pivoting towards more collaborative and shared forms of leadership. The technology industry in particular has made a commitment to busting bureaucracy, leveling hierarchy, and creating collaborative feedback loops throughout its teams.

As a former Googler employee, I recall filling out countless surveys asking me if various processes at the company were becoming too hierarchical and thus having a negative effect on my productivity. At every tech company I’ve worked for, bureaucracy and hierarchy have been viewed with more hostility than any possible external competition!

Churches, often seen by those on the outside of organized religion as excessively hierarchical, have been slower to adapt to the new cultural norm of shared leadership. Even the most technologically sophisticated congregations operate from a “sit and get” model, where members of the church are relegated to consumers or viewers with checking accounts.

While many have predicted that the mass adoption of digital tech in religious institutions will be the next big wave of reform in Christian practice, I would argue differently. To truly connect to a tech-shaped culture, our churches don’t actually need to use more technology. Instead, we need to think deeply about how this technology changes what it means to lead in this digital age. That’s the real revolution about to take place in the church.

2021 affords churches innumerable opportunities to test new approaches. Let the coming year be a time of change and innovation in leadership. This process of innovation can be simple. Invite more communal feedback and input, from inside and outside the congregation. Be intentional about establishing pathways to involvement, for guests and members alike. Most pressingly, reevaluate your mission and vision in light of the significant challenges this year has wrought, and let the reevaluation take place in community.

Google Docs and other forms of collaborative technology have indeed initiated a great leadership revolution. Shared leadership is an idea whose time has come. May it’s implementation be atop our church’s New Year’s Resolutions for 2021.


@ryanpanzer is the author of “Grace and Gigabytes: Being Church in a Tech-Shaped Culture,” a book that explores how our digital culture continues to reshape the practices of Christian Leadership. For more on the book, check out the full-length trailer!

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