I recently watched a “TED Talk” with Joe Gebbia, CEO of Airbnb. If you don’t know about Airbnb, they are a company that provides an online marketplace for people to rent apartments, rooms, homes, hotel rooms, etc… Much of their business relies on personally owned lodging resource sharing. In other words, you can rent a home or room etc. that a person or family owns and quite possibly lives in. In return, they act as your host - similar to hotel staff.
Upon learning about Airbnb my first reaction was, “Ummm, Nope…” There was too much risk. “Prove to me that it is actually safe.” Now, 10 years after its beginning, Airbnb is widely used around the globe and is a multi-million dollar company. So how did they overcome the trust issues that I (and likely many, many others) had?
Mr. Gebbia bet his whole company on the belief that people can trust each other enough to stay in one another's homes. In the TED Talk video, he explains his ideas about how to get people to trust at that level. Gebbia’s dream was to create a company designed to help foster community and connection instead of isolation and separation. The example he uses to set the stage about how he imagined people felt about opening their homes to strangers and how strangers might feel staying at a stranger’s home is this:
He asked the crowd to take out their cell phones. Next, he asked them to unlock them. Then he did the unimaginable. “Hand your unlocked cell phone to the person on your left”. As you and I might guess, there was a very audible nervous laughter that filled the room. Gebbia describes the “tiny sense of panic” as a microcosm of what it feels like for “Hosts” of Airbnb rentals when they first open their homes to strangers. He also explains the sense of responsibility that accompanies holding someone else's unlocked phone or staying in someone’s home.
Now, my point is not to be an unpaid advertisement for Airbnb (although if they want to make a donation to St. Theodore’s I’d be good with that). The purpose for sharing this is that there is a lesson about trust, about being a neighbor, about being Christian.
As the study that Mr. Gebbia refers to says, “we are much more likely to trust someone who is like us. The more we have in common, the easier time we have in building trust with someone.” It seems obvious enough, but what Airbnb was able to do through their online reviews was to create a reputation that told people they were safe. As Gebbia states, “High reputation beats high similarity”. The idea is that by designing the right format, they could help overcome one of a person’s giant fears.
So how does this relate to us, the Church?
In my view, we are supposed to be doing a very similar thing to what Airbnb is doing. We are opening our “homes” (our churches, our selves) to the possibility of relationship - with ourselves and with God. Not only that, we are inviting “strangers” into what we have made the most personal of relationships of our lives - the relationship we have with God. It is clear by our resistance to talk openly, to share freely, to invite others to see the intimacy of that relationship that we have made it personal - perhaps even gone to great lengths to hide it. But that is exactly opposite of what God designed us—The Church—to do.
We are people meant to live in community, meant to share our lives. In ages past, to offer the stranger, the traveler who showed up at your door a place to stay and to keep them safe was the norm. It was expected. Today most of us live in homes with doors to lock and maybe even alarms to keep the strangers at bay during the night. We lock our churches and look for ways to keep people out.
Again, that is not what God designed us to do. Instead, we are to be welcoming, inviting, radically hospitable to strangers. We are called to be trusting and trustworthy - building a reputation of love, hope, and care for others. Because that is God’s reputation.
Somehow the church has missed the mark. People are now relying on companies to create and foster community and connection instead of isolation and separation. That is the work of the church. We have, in places—to some people—failed God’s reputation.
What review would you write of God’s house? What review do people write about St. Theodore’s? How are we building trust for strangers to feel safe and welcome in God’s house? How are we opening our “Home” for people to build a relationship with God? How are we creating and fostering community and connection rather than isolation and separation?
Fr. Will +
To watch the Ted Talk video click here (or go to https://www.ted.com/talks/joe_gebbia_how_airbnb_designs_for_trust)