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following Jesus, the Word made flesh
April 21st, 2008

Church Architecture as User Interface

Since joining Logos, my business card says “Information Architect”, which means i’m supposed to be thinking about the structure of information, as well as what we used to call the user interface (the preferred term among practitioners these days is “user experience”). In a nutshell, the user interface (UI) is the practical means by which people access and interact with your system. The term applies to many kinds of systems and devices beyond computers: you can think of that handle on your refrigerator as part of its UI.

Do churches have a user interface? Well, not exactly, but a recent survey conducted by Lifeway Research found that unchurched people preferred church buildings that resemble a medieval cathedral over more contemporary styles, by a ratio of 2-to-1. The study was sponsored by a group of firms that develop church facilities, and found the preference was especially strong among those ages 25-34.

Here’s one conjecture about their finding: systems and devices that have familiar features also tend to be more usable. There are lots of ways you might imagine to control the direction or transmission of a car: but most people have learned to use steering wheels and console-based shifters, and consequently you can get into most any car with no confusion about how to operate it. (in UI design, these features are called affordances) I suspect many people prefer Gothic-style buildings, not because they work better, but simply because they present a more familiar user interface that matches their expectations of how the outside of a church “works”. Lifeway’s Ed Stetzer points out in the article that, just because unchurched people say they prefer a particular architectural style, that doesn’t mean they’re any more likely to actually attend such a church.

(Hat tip: DJ Chuang at Leadership Network)

August 31st, 2006

New RSS Feed Test

This is a test article, posted to all current categories, to make sure people who are redirecting their RSS readers here from the old site have something new to look at.

Management apologizes for the interruption …

March 1st, 2006

Connecting the Modern and the Classic

The Modern

Several in the blogosphere have commented on this diagram from Bradley Horowitz of Yahoo! about how social communities scale. Horowitz divides the community of value creators into three camps: creators (those who might start a thread), synthesizers (those who participate actively and comment), and consumers (lurkers who read or otherwise benefit from the content). He sees an order of magnitude relationship between the groups: 100% of the community benefits (consumers), though only 10% (synthesizers) are active participants in response to the actions of the 1% who actually create. His fundamental point: “social software sites don’t require 100% active participation to generate great value.”

This kind of power law relationship is common to a lot of human activity, and there’s a whole literature around Zipf’s Law (including a few Blogos posts). As one example, churches are typically directed by a small handful (pastoral staff) with a vision and a full-time commitment to accomplishing it. Typically a significant cadre of committed personnel (the core) are required for public worship services, including music, facilities, etc. And then there’s the congregation (or attenders) as a whole: the consumers. I’ve been in many churches that struggle with “how do we get more people involved in leadership?” (which usually means “helping run the organization”). But i think this is just the way groups behave: while it’s a nice ideal, it’s not realistic to expect 100% of your attenders to get actively involved, and it’s not necessary for them to derive benefit.

The Classic

One of my Valentine’s Day gifts to donna was an audio lecture series (42 CDs!) on Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition. She listens to them as she’s exercising, and i’ve been doing the same. It’s a great academic overview and sampling of literary history, from the earliest (Epic of Gilgamesh, and the Old Testament) to William Faulkner.

In today’s lecture on Aeschylus, the classic Greek tragedian, the speaker was describing the organization of a Greek play, and the relationship between the actors and the chorus. Typically there would only be three actors, and therefore each played a variety of roles, using masks to identify their different roles (and to hide the distraction of it being the same person each time). The chorus would be 15 or 18 people, often from the margins of society (the elderly, or slaves): their role was not to actively tell the story, but only to comment on the action, providing background information, or representing the opinion of the common person. And then of course, there was the audience, often numbered in the thousands, watching the play itself.

The old becomes new again …

February 4th, 2006

God on the Internet (FirstThings)

Courtesy of ThinkChristian, there’s a pointer to a very lengthy piece at First Things about the state of Christianity on the Internet. It’s mostly from a Catholic perspective (it took me several re-reads of the first paragraph about Pope Michael to figure out what was going on!), but has a nice survey of major sites, blogs, on-line worship, etc.

January 6th, 2006

Making Disciples and the Lord’s Prayer

“You should pray like this:

Our Father in heaven,
help us to honor your name.
Come and set up your kingdom,
so that everyone on earth will obey you,
as you are obeyed in heaven.
Give us our food for today.
Forgive us for doing wrong,
as we forgive others.
Keep us from being tempted
and protect us from evil.
(Pericope 073: Jesus teaches about prayer; Matt.6.9-13, CEV)

I take it as given that Jesus didn’t provide this model prayer just for rote recitation Sunday mornings in church. Though conventionally known as the Lord’s Prayer, it is really the Disciple’s Prayer (which i’ll call Our Prayer): a model from our Lord of how we should pray as his disciples. As a model, Our Prayer has implications both for how we think (cognitive aspects) and how we act (behavior). As disciples, our prayers are both requests of our Lord, but also expressions of what we believe and want to be true. We have so institutionalized Our Prayer that we easily miss what praying like this means for us.

The cognitive side of being a disciple includes at least two things: our view of reality and the world around us (our worldview), and our values. (By the way, if you’ve never read James Sire’s 0830827803, go order it now and read it: i’m not kidding, it’s that important!) Our values overlap with our worldview to some extent, but also include what we consider important. Another cognitive dimension of Our Prayer is adjusting our priorities: in our increasingly ADD, entertainment-addicted, 0062515519, multi-tasking society, what we pay attention to can be more important than what we say we believe (but ignore in practice).

The behavioral side includes both our attitudes and our (external) actions. Just because attitudes are internal doesn’t mean they’re not behavior: how we think about something is still a choice.

(Read the rest)

January 5th, 2006

Faceted Browsing for Scripture

I’ve been reading some material at work on faceted browsing, a different paradigm for searching large information collections. Rather than trying to find just the right keywords to retrieve just the right documents, . You can see a nice demo of this at facetmap.com, where they show browing a collection of information about wines (“resources” in their parlance) via facets like type of wine, region of origin, and price (using a slider interface).

Faceted browsing has some significant advantages:

  • The continual exposure of the next level of detail helps you understand the nature of the data more than the sodastraw view of keyword retrieval. I don’t need to figure out what subcategories of wine types are, or how they’re named: i can see them and select them directly
  • Adding information about how many resources fit in particular facets reduces blind alleys
  • Even an enormous collection can quickly be reduced to just the items of interest through the intersection of several facets

I posted previously about a prototype browser for New Testament Names using Longwell from the Simile Project, a nice faceted browser that runs off RDF.

So now i’m thinking more about the Composite Gospel and what facets would enhance search. Once i finish NTN (alas, still a work in progress, and too slow progress at that), person and location names are two obvious facets that will then be easy to add. There are some obvious top-level categories as well:

  • historical periods in the life of Jesus (birth, ministry of John the Baptist, Holy Week, his Passion, etc.)
  • parables, other teachings
  • a collection of imperatives, that is, commands that Jesus gave, whether general or specific (another yet unfinished project). Once i’ve got an initial catalog, i’d like to organize these in an ontology: imperatives about prayer, about our relationships with others, about our attitidues, etc.

This really comes back to a deep and fundamental issue: why do we read Scripture? The basic factual tasks are to understand the history of God’s interaction with people and his revelation in Jesus (as well as the history of the early church). But beyond this, it’s really about change: learning a different cognitive framework or worldview, adopting new attitudes, and changing the way we behave. How do we structure this information in a way to make it easier and more transparent for disciples to grasp and internalize, resulting in their own transformation, and subsequent teaching and training of others? That’s a cognitive and learning challenge behind the task of making disciples in the 21st century.

April 9th, 2005

What’s Your Church Really About?

Two interesting articles in Leadership Journal recently discussed how to determine your church’s ethos, the normally unacknowledged culture that dominates what really gets done, and what the values are. Ethos is defined by the author, Angie Ward, as “a set of shared attitudes, values, and beliefs that define church and shape its practices”. Of course, these things aren’t usually written down anywhere, and in fact are often in direct conflict with “mission statements” or other explicit goals. As Ward points out, we can aspire to being a “seeker-sensitive” church, when in fact our practices are downright seeker-hostile.

The two articles are: Discerning Your Church’s Hidden Core Values and a follow-up, 9 Clue to Secret Core Values.

June 17th, 2004

Worshipping at Home

There’s an interesting and engaging description of a house worship experience at theOoze, from a Methodist church planter.

June 15th, 2004

The Two Things about Church

From Glen Whitman: the Two Things.

A few years ago, I was chatting with a stranger in a bar. When I told him I was an economist, he said, “Ah. So… what are the Two Things about economics?”

“Huh?” I cleverly replied.

“You know, the Two Things. For every subject, there are really only two things you really need to know. Everything else is the application of those two things, or just not important.”

“Oh,” I said. “Okay, here are the Two Things about economics. One: Incentives matter. Two: There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

Ever since that evening, I’ve been playing the Two Things game. Whenever I meet someone who belongs to a different profession (i.e., a profession I haven’t played this game with), or who knows something about a subject I’m unfamiliar with, I pose the Two Things question. (read the rest, including a long list of Two Things for various professions …)


I don’t normally quote so extensively, but i love how the Two Things game gets to the heart of what a field is all about. Even if you’re not as clever as Glen’s contributors (i’m not), it can really help to think at this most basic level.

My contribution — The Two Things about Church:

  1. The purpose of the church is to express God’s love to humanity (including members of the church itself)
  2. The church is like a body, with Christ as the Head

May 30th, 2004

The One Anothers in the New Testament

If you’re seriously interested in house church, you might be interested in the National House Church Conference

Prowling the House2House website, i found this interesting list of the One Anothers in the New Testament … one way to view what it means to be church.