Archive for October, 2006
Technology in Ministry
Technology touches our lives in more and more impacting ways everyday. Our lives are filled with gizmos and gadgets that were only figments of our imaginations 20 years ago. It seems as if everything has a computer in it these days. Our cars, our refrigerators and even our toasters have all become “smart” with the use of microchips and circuit boards. Dick Tracy’s futuristic two way video wrist radio seems almost like a child’s toy compared to today’s cell phones that do everything but brush your teeth for you. (If you don’t know who Dick Tracy is just ask the nearest person over 50, they can fill you in!) Just like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, we seem to have awakened in a whole new landscape. For some, this new world is frightening and intimidating, to others it is challenging and exciting, to still others (especially those under 30) it just seems perfectly normal. One thing is certain however, things have changed forever. Technology is here and it is not going away. Simply look around and it is easy to see that just like Dorothy, we are not in Kansas anymore.
And yet while this flood of technology sweeps through our lives there is one segment in which technology seems noticeably absent – the church. I mean let’s face it; the terms “technology” and the “church” are not exactly synonymous. We are not what you would call “early adopters” when it comes to integrating technology into the Lord’s work. Oh sure, more and more preachers are starting to use PowerPoint to assist with sermon delivery, but even that has been adopted slowly in most places. Now, before I get email about this let me state, very emphatically, that just because we have technology does not require us to use technology in the church. There is no command from the Lord to use PowerPoint or websites or any other technology for that matter. But while there is no requirement to use technology, we should ask ourselves if there is a way to leverage these tools to the glory of God. It seems to me that there is a stewardship issue involved here. Jesus said to whom much is given, much is required (Matthew 13:12). Clearly we have been given much…what are we going to do with it?
Ephesians 4:11-12 tells us “And He gave some as apostles, some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ.” While it is true that the church no longer has apostles and prophets in living form, we do have evangelists, pastors (shepherds), and teachers (and preachers). Throughout this series of articles I would like to present ways in which each of these groups can and should use technology in their ministry for the Lord. We will explore ways in which technology can assist us in “equipping the saints for the work of service” as well as for the “building up of the body of Christ.” We will discuss tools and techniques that can help us evangelize, shepherd, teach and preach in ways that were not possible just a few years ago.
While technology certainly has its benefits in some areas, there are certain myths that need to be “busted” before we can proceed effectively:
Myth #1 – There are not enough people using technology to make it worth the effort and expense.
Admittedly, I hear this argument most often from people that are over 65 that don’t have email (or even a computer) themselves. While it is true that not every person on the planet has Internet access and e-mail, the number of people that do is staggering. Recent surveys show that by the end of 2004 the world-wide Internet community reached over 938 million users and is projected to reach 1.21 billion users by the end of 2006 (Population Explosion). A Neilson/NetRatings report in 2004 reported that 75% of US households now have Internet access. An April 2006 study showed Internet use increasing in all age groups; 32% of 65 and older, 71% of 50-64 year-olds, 84% of 30-49 year-olds, and 88% of 18-29 year-olds now go online. But one of the most interesting items in this report showed that 87% of 12-17 year-olds go online regularly.
Surprisingly, access for women (81.7%) and men (80.2%) in the 35 to 54 age group is almost a dead heat and this age group tops all other age brackets. The Web has become the “new normal” in the American way of life; those who don’t go online constitute an ever-shrinking minority. Even in under developed countries, Internet cafes and public Internet access is becoming more and more available.
Not only do millions of people have access to the Internet, they are using it to seek God. A Pew Internet report, from April of 2004, showed that 64% of Americans with Internet access have used it for spiritual or religious purposes. According to a June 2003 report from the same organization, 3.8 million people search the Internet for information on God and religion EVERY DAY! People are using technology to look for answers about God and we, as the Lord’s church, should be there to help them. The fields are indeed white for the harvest – we need to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send reapers out into the fields.
Myth #2 – Technology is too expensive for a small church like ours
While this myth was somewhat true a number of years ago, times have changed dramatically. Most congregations can build and maintain a website on the Internet for less than $300 a year and reach tens of thousands. David Sargent, preacher at the Creekwood church of Christ in Mobile, Alabama (www.creekwoodcc.org) has developed an evangelistic email tool called Living Water. This email relates a common story with the importance of the gospel message and ALWAYS includes the plan of salvation in the conclusion. This program was started about 4 years ago and Living Water is now being emailed to over 30,000 people each week in 115 countries. With traditional paper mailing, the postage alone for this project would cost over $5000 every week (not to mention printing costs), but by delivering this through email the cost is almost nothing – literally. Think about this – Living Water reaches 1,560,000 people each year with the plan of salvation with a total annual cost of less than $300. Technology makes outreach like this affordable.
Myth #3 – A website is a great way to let people know where we are and what time we worship – it is good advertising.
When you really consider the reach and scope of the Internet audience, this type of thinking can kill you before you even get started. Clearly, people in your local community will look to your website for this type of information, but they will no doubt make up the minority of people that actually visit your site. Think about it. Does a person from New York City, or London, or Shanghai really care where your building is located or what time services start? Your website needs to give them something more. Jesus gave us the charge to “go and teach.” That is our commission. You have an opportunity to share the gospel through teaching the truth. Make sure that your website contains the information people need to come to knowledge of the truth! Where you are and when you worship will become secondary. In future articles I will discuss at length how to address both the local and the global audience effectively, but in the mean time ask yourself why anyone would make a second trip to your website. If the answer is that they probably wouldn’t then you have some changes to make.
Myth #4 – Technology will revitalize our struggling congregation
While it is true that new projects can create new activity within a congregation, we must be realistic. Even those of us that advocate using technology in the church must realize that technology is not some magic
bullet to turn around a lagging church. Technology will not save a struggling or dying church. Strong, spiritual leaders with committed, growing Christians is what is needed for the church to thrive. Technology can be a wonderful tool and a powerful ally in the effort to build the kingdom, but it cannot make people with little spirituality, spiritual.
Technology certainly isn’t the end all and be all of doing ministry work, but we have these tools available to us – we should look at how best to use them. Certainly, the all knowing God of heaven foresaw this age that we live in. We have tools today to truly fulfill the great commission and go into all the world. Even small churches can have a tremendous influence by using these tools effectively. But as with anything else, new skills need to be developed and new thinking needs to be encouraged. Stay tuned as we discuss some of these new and exciting opportunities to expand and strengthen the kingdom of our Lord.