The Christian Education movement in the 1960s and 70s produced great debate. I recently saw a seminary thesis from 1970 entitled, “The Use of the Overhead Projector in Teaching the Bible.”
Over the past year or so, we have been noticing how congregations communicate. Some leaders and congregations are early adopters, using the latest technology, while others are late adopters, holding back for all kinds of reasons, including theological ones.
Some still use flannel graph, some of it recently purchased, to tell Bible stories; yet I have preached on several occasions to a congregation of 400--500 mostly 20- to 30-year-olds who expect me to respond, as part of the worship service, to questions they have texted as I preached. Some congregations are still using technology from the 1940s and 50s; others are as current as the latest software.
I would like to make two suggestions to leaders and congregations dealing with today’s fast-paced changes in a culture of information where technology is king.
First, missional congregations are in tune with the culture and use it to communicate the gospel message to as many people, and in as relevant a way, as possible. A national study of multi-faith congregations revealed that the establishment of web sites and the use of email to communicate with and serve the congregation has doubled in the last decade. Nine out of 10 congregations use email, and three out of four have websites. Many also use electronic data to track members and participants and use some form of technology in their worship services. More and more congregations intentionally use different forms of social media. Not surprisingly, the use of these technologies correlates strongly with congregational growth.
I believe a big reason for this correlation between technology use and congregational growth is that missional congregations are much more open to change. The message of the gospel never changes, but the way that message is communicated changes constantly. Missional congregations are able to use the technology to better communicate their mission, vision, and values. They are able to stay in touch with people who are used to communicating and connecting digitally. Many of the younger generation see the congregation reaching out to them on their terms rather than demanding that they become involved with the congregation on its terms.
My second suggestion is to remind us all that technology is always subservient to the message and the gifting of the messenger. Spiritual gifts can be enhanced by the use of media. For example, effective preachers today have a much broader audience since people around the world can view their sermons, worship services are streamed live, or podcasts are networked through websites. Still, the electrifying work of the Holy Spirit, not the electricity of a network, provides the gift. A gifted teacher can teach a child very effectively with flannel graph, but a poor teacher will teach poorly no matter how advanced the media. The bottom line is the message of good news. The next to bottom line is the means used to communicate that message. Gifted missional leaders use current technology to enhance their gifts in communicating the life-giving message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
PAUL BORDEN is Executive Minister of Growing Healthy Churches, an organization dedicated to growing healthy churches by networking, resourcing and encouraging church leaders and congregations (http://www.growinghealthychurches.org)