Free by Chris Anderson: a post about the church

This is one of the first reviews I wrote on what eventually became Bookwi.se. I am reposting it because Noisetrade is giving away the MP3 version of the audiobook. It is also available for free as an ebook or an audiobook from Audible.com (see links below)

I am a fan of Chris Anderson’s writing. I really like his first book “The Long Tail“. This second book is good as well. The central idea is that fundamentally the price point of Free is changing the way that we interact.

He believes that free is the common price on digital good, not because all digital good are free or should be free but that most digital goods will be free and the paid versions will support the free in inverse relationship to goods that have atoms. In other words, free goods in the physical world are supported by paid good in a relationship of around 5% or less free to 95% or more paid.


In a digital world the percentages are reversed. He is not suggesting that businesses should no longer make money, like some have charged, but that businesses should find new ways to make money because we need to “waste bits” in order to find new models of business.

I am interested in the church application of this book. Many churches are supported by a small group of people giving the majority of the money. Many, if not most people, that attend church receive whatever they get for free. It is not that those that are not contributing do not value what they receive (Anderson talks about this in relation to pirated music), but that the way that they understand value does not have a monetary value.

I am probably an example of this. I value my church, I spent several years volunteering in the nursery. I attend virtually every Sunday. I have started listening to the service twice a day (once in person and once online on Sunday evening). I speak very favorably about the church to many people. I follow every staff member that I am aware of on Twitter and regularly pray for those that I know of. But I almost never give money to our church. It is not that I don’t give, but I give to friends that are missionaries, to the children I sponsor overseas, to the revolving loan funds that generate income and jobs for women that are trying to provide for their family. About 1/3 to 1/2 of my gifts are physical goods that I give to people that need them. Those goods don’t provide tax deductions, but are no less gifts that I give in honor of the God that we serve.

The lesson that I think we need to understand in the church is that the church’s role is to equip people for the life that they live seven days a week. It is not the role of the church to equip people to be better volunteers in the programs of the church. I have no issue with equipping people to volunteer or even the programs themselves. Those programs serve a need, and they need volunteers to run them. However, the role of the church should be to abundantly and freely give into people’s lives. We should be “wasting” time with people (to loosely paraphrase a ongoing theme in the book). When we waste time with people there will be results that we can’t predict. When you waste computer bits and processing power you come up with amazing uses of computers that no one would have predicted. When you waste time and energy on people the same thing happens.

Free by Chris Anderson Purchase Links: Paperback, Paid Kindle Edition, Free Audiobook from Audible.com, Free MP3 Audiobook from Noisetrade, Free ebook (including a kindle version) from Archive.org

4 Comments

Thanks Adam,

Your summary and personal application are very helpful. So, any insights on how this could apply to NPPN?

    I think you are already doing this. You are providing a ton of blogging content. You work with several good organizations and provide a lot of church consulting that is actually free. But that work then gives you a platform that gives you credibility to work with others that actually pay something sometimes. I think you are actually a good example of how the ideas of this book work in a non-profit setting.

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[…] been removed from the site.  I have never heard of the author before.  It is a great example of Free being used to introduce people to authors.  Evidently Schroeder isn’t a new author.  He has […]

[…] series is also a good example Chris Anderson’s concept of Free.  The first book in this series was free, temporarily.  I read the book based on the free and the […]

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