Gatherings of Christ followers are emerging in Silicon Valley corporate conference rooms. Employees meet to discuss the Bible, encourage each other, and occasionally to hear a guest speaker offering a biblical message. Is this a new form of Church? Maybe.
These high-tech gatherings harken back to the early church in which believers met in homes and other settings.
I have had the opportunity to experience some of these fellowship gatherings as a guest speaker at Apple, Cisco, LinkedIn, Google, and 8×8. It is inspiring to meet these tech workers who are doing amazing work at their companies and honoring God in the process.
Each group is led by an employee or employees. In addition, the groups have an outside spiritual mentor to guide and encourage them. His name is Roy Tinklenberg. Roy is an ordained pastor who not only mentors these groups but also leads a church plant in Mountain View that he started one and a half years ago. This church is called Compass Christian Church. Roy calls his mentorship to Silicon Valley high-tech companies “Compass Connections.”
In addition to weekly or semi-monthly fellowship meetings at the tech companies, Roy puts on a quarterly Night of Worship in which people from all the groups gather to sing, pray, and worship God. I attended two Nights of Worship, most recently on April 12. Both gatherings hosted over 100 young tech workers. It was an inspiring experience. The next event is scheduled for Friday. June 10.
To find out more about Roy’s work and these gatherings, I posed a series of questions to him.
Skip: Are these gatherings a “new form of church?”
Roy: Yes and no, Jesus said that wherever two or three are gathered in his name he’s there with them. So yes, that’s “church” in a sense of the word. But it’s not church in a formal, institutional way. The members of these workplace fellowships are often very active in local churches throughout Silicon Valley. Their churches, and leaders like me, are equipping these Christian workers to be effective in their places of work.
Skip: I find it interesting that companies allow these gatherings. Is this because others groups are allowed to meet as well?
Roy: Yes, there are other diversity groups on tech campuses. In fact, sometimes the various diversity groups host diversity day fairs to let people know that they can join their groups. These environments are usually very hospitable and tolerant of different cultures and faiths – but some teams and workplaces are more open than others.
Skip: How do these fellowship gatherings help the participants on their spiritual journeys?
Roy: It’s interesting that you ask how we help people on their spiritual journeys because we use the acrostic HELP to state our main objectives. Compass Connections exists to help Christians positively influence their workplace by:
Honoring God at work
Encouraging each other
Loving their coworkers like Jesus does
Praying together for their coworkers, their companies, and our city
First of all, we are at work to work. And we want to make sure that we are excelling in our work. The Bible tells believers to do our work as if we are working for the Lord. We see work as an act of worship. Worship is not just something Christians do for one hour in a weekend worship service. We give God the other 167 hours of our week too – and many of those hours are at work. So we want to work in a way that honors Him.
Second, we encourage each with fellowship and God’s word. There are some who experience negative vibes from their coworkers who are not sympathetic to the Christian faith. So we encourage each other in our faith and work. If a colleague is experiencing hostility or discrimination at work we want to go through the fire together with that person. I like to say we are called to “be Shadrach and Meshach for Abednego.” I haven’t found many Christians experiencing intense levels of animosity but when they do, it helps to know that we are there to encourage them.
Third, Jesus said that the way that people will know that we are his followers is by our love. We want to make sure that we are being the best representatives of Jesus we can be. I hate to admit it, but the animosity that some of our coworkers have towards Christians hasn’t come out of nowhere. Christians have not always represented Christ well. So a lot of it is our own fault. We want to bring out the best of the Christians in their workplaces.
One woman was recently asked by a client if she were a Christian. When she said yes, the person responded, “I thought so because you are always so nice to everyone.” That’s the stereotype that I would like our co-workers to have when they think about Christians at work.
Finally, we pray. I don’t believe that the spiritual climate in the workplace is something that has to get us down. I believe that prayer can change the spiritual climate. I also believe that our prayers benefit our companies and our coworkers. When God is present in the workplace that workplace can begin to experience his favor and blessing.
Skip: Do you also sense that it helps them to be better employees as well?
Roy: Yes, absolutely! I remember when we started our first gathering. We met from 8-9 AM on Thursdays. We would grab breakfast at the cafeteria and then go to a conference room to fellowship and pray for each other. After about 4-6 weeks of meetings, one of the participants said, “Thursdays have become my most productive day of the week. I come here, get encouraged and then get off to a good start on my work right away.”
Later during review season, one of the guys in that same group was discouraged because he had worked really hard to get a promotion but didn’t get one. He felt that he had done everything required but that his efforts were not being recognized. He burned the candle at both ends by coming in early and staying at work late. The guys in the group saw how his discouragement and burnout were impacting his attitude. They spoke into this, warning him that he was in a “bad place” emotionally, encouraging him to continue working hard even though it isn’t being noticed, and admonishing him to take care of himself. They circled around him and prayed for him. By that time the next year, this employee had not only been promoted but the committee feedback was that he could have been considered for a “double promo.”
Skip: Please describe some of the issues followers of Christ face in the workplace and how the fellowship gatherings help them?
Roy: First of all, followers of Christ experience all the same issues that everyone else experiences: deadlines, pressures, travel, experiments that don’t work as planned, bugs in their codes, balancing work and family responsibilities, etc. Recently I asked a friend at Google what was the hardest thing about being a Christian in the workplace. He told me that his biggest challenge is overcoming stereotypes that people at work have towards Christians. He said that if he tells the people in his work group that he’s a Christian, they will immediately jump to judgments about him – that he must be anti-intellectual, unscientific, a bigot, or a Bible thumper. I know this guy and he’s none of those things. But he contends that it is just easier to never let people know that part of him.
Therefore, I think that the biggest issue is isolation. Because workers have teammates that have biases against Christians, many Christians don’t feel like they can be themselves at work. So they hide one of the biggest parts of who they are for fear of being rejected or unfairly judged.
But fear of rejection is just that — fear — and nothing more. One believer told his coworker about his faith and the people on the team were not biased against him. Rather they respected him for being a cool guy and having faith too.
There are thousands of people like this in companies all around the Silicon Valley. Some are more open about their faith. Others keep it to themselves. I have noticed that when they start to meet other believers in their companies they find a new freedom to be who they really are not just at church but also at work. Even if it is just for a few minutes each week – the fellowship, the encouragement from God’s word and the prayer times lift them up. And that makes the workplace a more positive environment for the Christians in the workplace.
In the 1:30-minute video below, Roy describes the benefits of workplace ministry.
Skip: Describe the quarterly Nights of Worship.
Roy: I realized that I had the incredible privilege of meeting these amazing Christian workers from all around Silicon Valley but that they didn’t have an opportunity to meet each other. So we decided to host a worship night where Christians could meet each other and meet God together in worship. Worship nights start with worship leader leading us in worship and centering our thoughts on God’s great love for us. Then we have time for testimonies where we get to hear stories of “God at Work.”
We have had four gatherings so far. They have all been hosted by Compass at the German International School of the Silicon Valley. I’ve been so encouraged to hear how God has brought people together and answered their prayers in their workplaces.
Skip: Which fellowship groups do you work with today? If someone reads this and wants to connect with a group in a company or start one in their company, how do they get in touch with you?
Roy: I have helped start groups and/or support group leaders at Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, Cisco, Microsoft, Skype, 8×8, Oracle, Genentech, Yahoo, VMware, and EBay — plus groups staff at Foothill Community College and Stanford University. Several others are pending.
Starting a fellowship at work is not as difficult as it appears. It is often just as easy as hearing God’s prompting and obeying what he says. I recently heard about one worker who was reading John 13 where Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. He felt like God was calling him to apply this passage at work. But he couldn’t go into work and wash everyone’s feet because that would just be weird. Then he got this idea. He could clean everyone’s computer screens. So he started to go into work early to clean all the computer screens on his floor. One day a coworker asked him why he was doing this. This led to a conversation about Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. And that since it would be too weird to do that, he washed computer screens instead. When, as a result of this story, people discovered that he was a Christian, he found other people of faith and started a workplace fellowship.
If you want to start a new workplace fellowship group, maybe you can start washing computer screens or you can contact us to help you make some connections. We would love to hear from you. Also, people are welcome to attend our next Night of Worship on Friday, June 10 from 6:30 to 8:30 PM at Lakewood Park 834 Lakechime Drive Sunnyvale.
You can register for the Night of Worship here.
For more information, email Roy at [email protected].