SAN FRANCISCO — Silicon Valley is home to some of the most brilliant minds in technology and innovation. Their skills are put to work at places like Apple, Google and Facebook – a win for their companies, but a loss for the church.
As a minister at Menlo Park Presbyterian, Kevin Kim watched Bay area churches miss countless opportunities to learn from those filling their pews.
"Within the 3,000 people that are sitting in our pews there's so much human capital, there's so much potential," Kim told CBN News.
"We have leaders in politics, leaders in government, leaders in medicine, leaders in technology, leaders in finance – but then when you try and take a look at how are we deploying these people: we're asking them to lead a VBS or usher people to their seats," he explained.
That realization led him to learn more about people's gifts and how they could help bring innovation to the church.
"The church needs to be more creative, needs to be more disruptive, I mean God deserves the best of our imagination," said Kim.
Hosting "Hack-A-Thons" for the Kingdom
Out of that way of thinking came "Code for the Kingdom." It began as a modern-day idea session, or "hack-a-thon." Kim's friend Neil Ahlsten, a Google business development manager, helped him get it started.
"A hack-a-thon is one of the most common events here and the idea is you get together for a weekend and you solve a problem and you solve it by hacking. Which means not creating something that's awesome and permanent, but it answers a question," Ahlsten said.
"Our first one we brought in 250 of our friends who were designers and developers at these major tech companies," remembered Kim.
21st Century Solutions for Age-Old Problems
"Friday night you come in, you meet everybody and then you pose these big innovation challenges in front of them. So you say, here's the orphan problem in the world, and here's global poverty and here's anti-human trafficking and here's evangelism. So we had all these kind of big innovation challenges and then we cast it out to the 250 people. We said what ideas, what platforms, what technology would you create to move the dial on this?" Kim said.
"The ideas and the product that they came up with, they were pretty amazing. In fact, so much so, that this leader of a major Christian tech company who happened to be there, wanted to check it out, he said what you guys did in a weekend, my guys couldn't do in six months," Kim continued.
Kim, Ahlsten and their friends hosted these events for five more years. During that time they came up with thousands of ideas – but noticed they were beginning to lose momentum because of a disconnect in getting those ideas to market.
Losing Momentum, and Shifting Gears
"It's really hard to sustain the kind of projects that are going to make a difference and an impact and that's something that both Kevin and I have worked really hard at, is making sure that it continues to live on," said Ahlsten.
Neil did that by going out on his own and launching the faith-based tech company called Carpenters Code.
"I was never intending to leave Google when I was working on the hack-a-thons. I thought I could mentor people and be an advisor and let them leave and go do it – and then I got called into doing it! I think that was a course correction that I wasn't expecting," Ahlsten confessed.
Carpenters Code developed a prayer app called "Abide."
"Abide gives you guided audio meditations and they vary from about two minutes to about 15 minutes and they're all focused back on scripture. So we take a verse of the Bible and a topic around that and then really just take you through a time of reflection," Ahlsten explained.
Meanwhile, Kim took what he had learned and started his own company focused on missional tech work. It's called Basil Technologies.
Turning Great Ideas into Real-Life Solutions
"The idea is that God would fill us as technologists, developers and designers with his Holy Spirit to do his Holy work – and so our focus was product development. We didn't want to be all about ideas and, 'Hey what about this, what about this,' we were like, 'We will do fewer ideas, we will work more closely with these ministries and non-profits and then we will develop product,'" said Kim.
Each Monday night, Christian volunteers from some of Silicon Valley's top tech companies talk about issues facing Christian organizations. They harness their creativity, innovation and expertise to come up with solutions and then they implement them.
One of Basil's current projects is a partnership with the International Justice Mission.
"We had IJM come in and we did a brainstorm with them which was led by one of our team members who is an expert in design thinking. In this brainstorm session, we discovered from International Justice Mission that these perpetrators of human trafficking were using technologies for their evil purposes. So a lot of our people who work in tech were like, 'Man that can't happen, we want to do something about it,'" said Kim.
The team hopes by making major tech companies aware, they can come up with effective solutions together.
At only about a year old, Basil has plans to eventually expand.
For now, however, they plan to fine-tune their process and slowly spread the word, by putting some of tech's best and brightest to work – for the Kingdom.