Reaching The Online Generation

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Acorns, Oak Trees, and Online Community

Posted on | April 29, 2009 | 1 Comment

Is an acorn an oak tree?

Oak trees produce acorns, but I don’t think most of use would say that a mighty oak and such a little nut were the same thing.  Yet, that nut has all the DNA required to become a mighty oak.  Sure, the conditions must be right, but every acorn has the potential, the capacity, to be an oak tree.  But an acorn isn’t an oak tree.

Is an oak sapling the same as a 100 year old oak tree?

Sure, a sapling looks more like a tree – kind of.  It has leaves and a stem.  But, depending on the age, it doesn’t have bark yet.  I can run over a sapling with my lawn mower, but I can’t run over an oak tree.  That being said, a sapling has more of the charactaristics of an oak tree than an acorn, but I’m not sure it is an oak tree yet.

Acorns, saplings, and oak trees all have the same DNA.  They all require the same conditions to activate their DNA and fulfill their potential. Yet, they look nothing like each other.

How do you get a 100 year old oak tree?

You plant an acorn in the right soil and, given the right conditions and 100 years, you’ll have a 100 year old oak tree.  Pretty simple really.  Squirrels do the planting.  God does the watering.  Earthworms take care of the soil.  

It just takes time and the right conditions.

What do acorns and oak trees have to do with online communites?

I think that all the debate about online community stems from the fact that we are comparing acorns to oak trees and forgetting about saplings altogether.  We want to equate connections (acorns) between people with fully developed cities and civilizations (oak trees).  At the same time, we overlook emerging communities (saplings).  

The DNA exists within humans to form communities, but the right conditions do not always exist.  

Saplings do not have all the characteristics of oak trees.  Emerging communities do not have all the characteristics of entire civilizations.  But to completely disregard the emerging nature of a sapling and it’s potential to become an oak tree is rather ludacris.  Likewise, I think ignoring emerging online communities because they don’t look anything like mature offline communities is rather silly as well.

What We Need

I’ve discussed developing a three dimensional fluid definition of community here.  Additionally, we need a list of characteristics that help identify the maturity of emerging communities.

Why is that important?  Acorns, saplings, and oak trees all have different needs.  Similarly, online connections, emerging communities, and mature online communities have different needs.

Discovering and meeting needs of groups of people – at whatever state of community – is an important part of sharing the Gospel and demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ.

Additional Musings

Why is an oak tree known by what it becomes rather than the fruit it bears?  Pecan trees bear pecans.  Mango trees bear mangos.  Apple trees bear apples.  But oak trees…oak trees bear acorns.  Maybe because people are supposed to look at an acorn and see the vision of what it will become – an oak tree.  The purpose of an oak tree is to produce more oak trees, not produce acorns.

Maybe that is why pioneers in online ministry call connections and emerging communities, well, community.  Their eyes are full of the vision of what it will become given time and the right conditions.

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One Response to “Acorns, Oak Trees, and Online Community”

  1. John King
    April 29th, 2009 @ 2:47 pm


    Dave Ramsey has asked, “When are the two best days to plant an acorn?” Answer: “The best day was 20 years ago, because it will be big enough to give shade.” The second best day is, “Today.”

    I commend you for the analogy and for wanting to reach these emerging communities with the gospel today rather than waiting until they are twenty years mature. God blesses the capacity to see the not-yet-seen. It is called “faith” in Hebrews 11.


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