By Laura Gossman

World Wide Open is a non-profit organization that provides a free, online tool to help connect and empower Christians, churches and non-profit organizations to make an impact, anytime, anywhere. In a recent interview with Sam Melvin (co-founder), he shared the story of how WWO started. 

Jesus told His Father that He wanted all of his disciples to ‘be one, perfected in unity’. He went on to say that the deep connectivity between His followers would be the evidence that Jesus is God’s Son and that God loves people.  Now, in 2013, there are billions of Christian disciples spread across the globe and this charge to be one body, perfected in unity is not only complex, but often seems unrealistic. This gap is where World Wide Open was birthed.

Ultimately, their dream is that Jesus’ followers would be one, perfected in unity so that the world would know that God loves them and that Jesus is God’s Son. (John 17:20-21)

While they believe that it is God’s Spirit that ultimately unites us, they also believe that a far better job was needed of connecting the followers of Jesus by introducing them to the relationships, resources and opportunities that fit their God-given interests, aptitudes and location.

That is why World Wide Open exists.

Sam states, “turns out, we live during an exciting time in the history of the world, where all of the world’s information has been organized and can fit in your pocket…”

Remember what life was like before all of the world's information was organized and could fit in your pocket? WWO believes that the Church has yet to uncover the real value of the mobile internet. Hint: it's about 'connecting' not 'broadcasting'.

Remember what life was like before all of the world’s information was organized and could fit in your pocket? WWO believes that the Church has yet to uncover the real value of the mobile internet. Hint: it’s about ‘connecting’ not ‘broadcasting’.

However, there were all kinds of obstacles in realizing this dream, and many of them they are still wrestling with.

One of the big obstacles has been pursing a narrow focus. They have a big dream that they can get really excited about, but they also have had limited resources. World Wide Open originally believed that if they could just build a big database of Christians, churches, organizations, resources, opportunities, that it would spark something that would change the Church. As a result, the initial version of World Wide Open (which is still out there right now) is very broad and not very deep.

They are now working hard to focus the next version on a real, felt need of a specific user, which will hopefully lead WWO to reach a scale that will allow for their other features and ideas to be realized.

Here is a new design idea for version 2.0 - you're looking at customized content, delivered to the user based on their interests, aptitudes and location.

Here is a new design idea for version 2.0 – you’re looking at customized content, delivered to the user based on their interests, aptitudes and location.

Another obstacle was finding smart and experienced people who were crazy enough to get involved. Sam shared, “we are a tech startup, organized as a non-profit – with all the risk and no reward, financially speaking. While we have a really cool, working model for monetization, with the goal of self-sustainability, I think that many foundations and donors have been burned by technology investments in the past, which makes it tricky to get the type of funding that is typically needed to start a tech company.”

Lastly, solidifying their message has been a major hurdle.  As Sam puts it, “unity isn’t concrete. You don’t go walk out the door and do ‘unity’. Unity is not an input, but rather an outcome. That has been tough to figure out a message for.” They are playing with some ideas right now for how they might message and re-message World Wide Open. The vision is still the same, but Sam is all too aware that it won’t get accomplished without the why, what and how being completely clear. With hopeful reflection Sam shared, “the great thing is that unity is an outcome of the new commandment that Jesus gave the disciples right before he went to the cross. He commanded them to love one another. That will be the focus of the new version… loving one another.”

Sam is deeply thankful for the growing number of people, including board members, donors and advisors, who have jumped in with both feet to continue to push this vision forward. Despite the many times where they sat around and wondered if they should keep pushing or shut it down, God has continued to provide in very unexpected ways, from last minute unsolicited donors to unplanned opportunities to scale.

One of those times came in 2010, when The Lausanne Movement approached WWO, completely out of the blue, to see if they could host/support their Lausanne Global Conversation with their technology. “There was no common connection,” states Sam, “and to this day, I am not sure how they actually found us. So, we gladly accepted and as a result, we went from a few hundred users to hosting their network of more than 12,000 leaders in 100+ countries across 8 different languages in a matter of months.”

In 2012, WWO was selected to participate in Praxis, which is a high touch, accelerator program for Christian entrepreneurs. All of the sudden, they were immersed in a sea of brilliant, Godly thinkers who cared about WWO, its mission and helping it move forward. “I can’t tell you how much that program has shaped our future. Between the people that are now involved and the ideas that were shaped through the exciting and tough conversations, Praxis was a major step forward for us,” reflects Sam.

Sam Melvin (Co-Founder) presents World Wide Open at Praxis in Washington DC.

Sam Melvin (Co-Founder) presents World Wide Open at Praxis in Washington DC.

Even since this rapid growth, Sam and his team hold things loosely, with open hands. Since the day WWO was founded, they have challenged one another to be willing to abandon ship and throw all their resources toward someone or some group that shares the same ideals and is farther down the road. He states, “the vision of unity in the Church is so big that no man-made product or organization could possibly contain or fully embody it. It’s also small enough that each of us can participate, in fact we all HAVE to participate in order to be one! We believe that unity is an outcome of our obedience to the new commandment which Jesus gave us in John 13:34 – that we love one another like He loved us.”

Laura Gossman lives in Pasadena, California. She is the Director of Operations at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership and a recent new mother to son Benjamin and wife of Adam Gossman. She received her M.A. in Cross Cultural Studies from Fuller in 2006.

Fieldnotes Magazine is a publication of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. We would love to hear from you about people, businesses, or other organizations we can interview or feature. Please email the editor at Fieldnotes Magazine.

 

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