Are you a digital native or a digital immigrant? If you’re familiar with those terms being bandied around the last few years, it’s because of the guy who coined them: Mark Prensky. Prensky published a thought-provoking article in On the Horizon in 2001 that you ought to read if you haven’t (view the article here). Prensky’s audience was educators, but his premise that the sweeping changes technology has made to our culture affect the young and old alike.
How “into” technology is your ministry? Is it possible that technology may actually have some adverse effects on our church? While I consider myself pretty with it when it comes to technology and applications (complete with 3 GAFE accounts, a smartphone, 3 ipods, 2 tablets, a Chromebook, and 2 laptops), I also wonder at times whether less may be more. In our church media ministry, I use Planning Center, PowerPoint, Prezi, Slides, Audacity, Samplitude, EmCee Pro, Movie Maker, Adobe, Media Player, Graceway and Igniter Media, and I also manage our website, cloud storage, stage lighting, and service scheduling. I certainly don’t consider myself to be on the cutting edge of technology, but I’m pretty comfortable with using tools such as these to make our services more interesting and aesthetically pleasing. However, the deeper I go into church media, the more I recognize the tendency of technology to make us so efficient that we streamline right around people. Here’s a few limitations of technology I’ve garnered along my own digital–immigrant pathway as I relate to church technology:
- Technology won’t preach your message. Many of us Millennials remember the pressure we felt when we started speaking in public. Whether it was speaking in church, school chapels, Sunday School, or Adult Bible Fellowship, we felt compelled to impress our audience with a trendy presentation, complete with cool sounds and mind-blowing transitions. I’ve since reflected on the amount of time I wasted on presentations that I should have been committing to content or communication. Was the audience impressed with the presentation? Maybe. Were they impacted long-term by the content? Hopefully, but probably not as much as they could have been. Keep technology in perspective, and keep the main thing the main thing.
- Technology won’t knock on doors. Have you ever attended a church that was built during the “hey-day” of the Independent Fundamental Baptist Church movement? I wasn’t alive to see the movement unfold fully, but some of my early childhood memories involve large churches with full auditoriums, large Christian schools, and vigorous bus ministries. Why are many ministries now just the shell of what they were then? Did all the lost get saved? Were all the needs of people met? Or more likely, have we lost our zeal for outreach? Technology may impress a crowd and may even bring them back, but technology will never replace “boots on the ground” in our community. Use technology to interest a crowd, but don’t forget how or why we need to draw one.
- Technology won’t inspire people to be more faithful. Post-Industrial Age America took some time to realize and resent the fact that technology replaces people, for better or worse. Companies boosted profits by reducing their workforce, eliminating jobs, and increasing manufacturing, all through the new-found capacities of machinery. The perception of an automated, people-less factory practically capable of running itself, must have been quite a deflating feeling to the people upon whose backs the company was built. Do our church members feel the same way? Does technology create the perception of such a pre-packaged, people-not-needed worship service that church members are less inclined to find areas for service? Technology will always need people to run it and fix it, but technology can also diminish the perception that ministries need people to volunteer and serve–Not just for the sake of the ministry, but also for the sake of the servants. Technology might replace people, but technology has no spiritual nature to be matured in the process.
- Technology won’t replace relationships. In the church where I grew up, every churchgoer at every service was welcomed by a friendly older man named Mr. M. This southern gentleman had a memory like a steel trap; Everyone was greeted by their first name, even us goofy teenagers. The impression of his hand in mine is unforgettable because he was missing the two middle fingers of his right hand. I never thought to ask him what happened to his digits, but the lack of them certainly didn’t curb his friendliness at the gate. Thousands of people no doubt remember that weekly welcome and disfigured palm as I do because he was faithful at his post for many decades. Years from now, will people still recall the warm greeting they received from a person in the church lobby, or will they reminisce about the announcements slide show on the faceless digital screen? Technology can impress, but it can never replace a memorable relationship with a real-life person.
Technology can without a doubt be used to enhance relationships with Christ and with people. However, I think if we’re honest, we have to recognize that technology fosters an independence and autonomy that can weaken the influence of people on people. Use it, love it, and improve it, but don’t let technology dehumanize the human influence of the ministry.