Shanzhai is a Chinese word that means “guerilla fortress,” and has, over time, become a nickname for cheap Chinese-made knockoff brands made in Shenzhen. These are the sorts of items that are sold on the streets of Los Angeles, or New York. Think “Guuci” purses or “Aapple” iPhones, or “Samsong” cell phones, or “North Faith” jackets.
But then a funny thing happened.
The quality improved. The durability improved. These cheap knockoffs began to rival the real Gucci, Apple, and North Face.
Then something fascinating happened.
The cheap-knocks off and clones started improving on the originals. They began getting innovative, doing things the originals could not. Phones started showing up with two sim cards, built-in counterfeit money detectors, etc. And it was happening fast. So quick, the “name brand” companies couldn’t keep up with the speed of innovation. They began adopting the “shanzhai” ideas into their products, although at a much slower pace.
The “shanzhai” innovators were taking the leftovers, the broken or trashed cell phones, stripping them down and reusing the parts. These “shanzhai” innovators were reusing, rebuilding, repairing, recycling, remixing, and reproducing everything they could.
The “shanzhai” innovators or Shenzhen started building things that existed nowhere else.
So what is my point you ask?
The “shanzhai” innovators remind me of how important volunteers can be in a church or ministry when we push the work of ministry, the leadership of ministry, out of the center, out of “name brand” of “qualified” or “credentialed” staff, out to the edges. There is innovative power when ministry is moved from the hand of the core of a staff and a few “key” leaders, and moved to those without all the supposed credentials.
Moving ministry out to the edges allows those on the outside to do ministry or lead ministry in ways we did not create or in ways we did not anticipate.
When we move away from dependence on “name brand” staff to do ministry, and, instead, we allow “knockoffs” or “impostor brands” to do the work we create opportunities to see things we have never seen before.
We create environments where our volunteers can build things that have existed nowhere else.
When we trust credentials over competence, then we limit our ideas to those who have the right degrees, the right position, or who get paid to do ministry. We limit our ideas.
We limit their potential. We limit our potential.
There is no “name brand” in ministry volunteer.
There is no “trusted source” in ministry volunteer.
Everyone can be creative.
There should be room for the “cheap” volunteer, the “knockoff” ministry, the “built it from left over parts” ministry leader.
It is possible if…we trust.
Trust scales. Trust innovates
It is possible if…we empower.
Empowerment scales. Empowerment innovates.
It is possible if we move past the “name brand” for the
Staff often fear failure because they fear the loss of reputation, position, or resources. But, volunteers don’t have to fear these things. If we can trust and empower more volunteers to “do” and to “lead” in their cheap knockoff ways, we just might see them do things that have never been done before, in ways that we have never thought of before.
This creates a few advantages
Risk Over Safety
If you have never learned ministry is done a certain way, the “name brand” way, then any way becomes possible. New paths to pursue because available because there is no map to follow. When volunteers are trusted and empowered, they can find new avenues.
A small change, a little idea, can have significant results and impact. So, the more possibilities for ideas you create, the more likely an asymmetric idea will surface.
A volunteer can walk away from ideas that don’t work because they are not worried about reputation, pride, prestige, or loss of resources. And when you know you can walk away, you don’t stay committed to something that is not going to work to protect reputation or pride.
Push innovation out of the core of “name brand” staff and let the impostor brands, the knockoffs, the cheap imitations, have a go.
You can do much with credentialed, pedigreed, and affirmed priests of the temple.
But imagine what you might do with a no-name tax collector and a few generic brand knockoff fishermen?