It’s a given fact that a lot of churches are embracing technology in a major way. By “technology,” I don’t just mean a microphone, electric lights, and a telephone line. Today’s churches are going big time with the cutting edge stuff.
The question is no longer “Are churches embracing technology?” The real question is how is the influx of technology affecting the church? Can you grow your church by embracing technology? Should you? Before we answer, it’s important to think about some of the dangers that technology might usher into the church. Are the following scenarios realistic, legitimate, or are they even dangers?
- “My church has a podcast now. I just can’t make it to church in person much anymore, but the podcast is great, especially since I can listen to it anytime. A lot of times I just listen to it while I’m working, or on the drive to work.” Technology as a substitute for attendance at worship.
- “My teens love the fact that we can go to church and watch more video clips than we do listen to our pastor. We love our pastor, but you’ve got to admit that he can be pretty boring. But we really enjoy the video clips that he plays!” Technology as a substitute for pastoral exhortation or biblical teaching.
- “Ok, I’ll confess. Since our assembly encourages tweeting, I sometimes do more Internet surfing and emailing on my iPhone than I do worshipful tweeting during the service.” The distraction of technology.
- “Worship tends to be kind of a dead end for me. I get so worked up by the loud music, lights, and the show that I feel more like a spectator than a participant in worship. It’s more like going to the church to watch the show rather than engaging in worship.” Technology for the sake of entertainment.
- “Every week I get a devotional email, a bunch of Twitter feeds, and several Facebook posts from my church. It’s great and all, but with all the spiritual stuff coming at me, going to church on Sunday is a bit anticlimactic. It’s slow, time-consuming, and, besides the music, is pretty much a drag.” Excessive emphasis on daily technology to the exclusion of integral Sunday worship.
- “At our church we have small group Sunday nights. On Superbowl Sunday, instead of our normal Bible study, we watched the Superbowl on a “58 screen. (Don’t worry, we had a devotional during halftime.) Wow. Now, I am so getting a “58 screen…if I can convince my wife that we need it.” Cultivating covetousness for technology.
- “When our church released the 2009 budget, we spent four times as much on technology stuff as we did on missions. Something about that just doesn’t feel right.” Overspending on technology.
- “Whenever a pastor or someone says something about ‘check out the article on the church website,’ or ‘don’t forget to sign up online,’ it really makes me angry. Don’t these people realize that I’m 74 and don’t even own a computer, let alone have an e-mail account? Why can’t we just be like the first century church?” Alienation of people without technology.
Some of those fictional comments may exhibit naivety, fleshly thinking, or an immature Christian understanding, but do you see the dangers? No, technology is not the bugaboo of the Christian church, but I think it does have some dangers. (If you disagree, I welcome your feedback.) Rather than do a pro/con analysis of technology in the church, it is important instead to consider some solutions. How do we overcome the dangers of technology in the church?
- Relate technology to the church mission. Without a clear church mission, any church is bound to flounder in all areas, not just technology. A strong church mission serves as a tether to secure churches to a biblical mooring. This is not the place for a discussion of church mission, but it may serve you well to give serious thought to developing a church mission, and then relating church technology to its proper place within the mission of the church. Remember, the mission should come first, followed by integration of technology.
- Consider technology as less important than human interaction. For all the benefits of technology, it may tend to steal from the actual personal involvement upon which the church is built. N.T. Wright makes some insightful observations on the dehumanizing effect of technology, in this interview from Bill Kinnon. (NT Wright on Blogging/Social Media from Bill Kinnon on Vimeo. Does not imply Sharefaith’s endorsement of N.T. Wright in toto)
- View technology as one component of church ministry. Technology can be very alluring. The hype of having a bigger screen, higher resolution, better sound, and additional projectors is very real. Besides, with everything going WiFi, the church has got to have bigger servers and more powerful broadcasters. Oh, and you need to hire a new full-time media guy to handle all this stuff. So it goes. Before long, technology becomes a budget item that outstrips all others. But is it really that important? Technology is important, but not more important than the other components of church ministry. Don’t let the exciting buzz of new technology outstrip attention to other aspects of ministry–urban outreach, missions, senior ministry, care for widows, children’s ministry, etc. Yes, technology can enhance other ministries, but when it robs them, it’s time to reevaluate the level of importance your ministry places upon technology.
Now, we return to the title of this article: Grow your church by embracing technology. By “grow,” we mean enhance, improve, and cultivate. Many proponents of the Church Growth movement have degraded “church growth” to a get-more-people-in-the-pews approach to doing church. You can grow–enhance, improve, cultivate–your church by embracing technology in the right way.