In a recent conference about technology in church ministry, Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church (Lake Forest, California, USA) said, “Every time there is an advance in technology, the kingdom advances.” Technology has a huge impact on our mission—not the “what” of our mission, but the “how.”
The Gutenberg Bible was the first book printed on a printing press. Invented by Johannes Gutenberg around 1440 AD, the printing press ushered in a technological revolution that sparked the Protestant Reformation. I was surprised to learn recently that it was also used to print Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses. Apparently, someone took Luther’s Theses to Gutenberg, who printed them, thus helping his words and impact spread across Europe.
Radio and television reached further than any previous method. Billy Graham was the first evangelist to use television to reach a national audience. ABC Television said his 1951 Hour of Decision program reached a national audience of seven million viewers. According to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, that’s more than had heard all of his sermons combined!
Pastors began using faxes to reach many in the 1980s. Saddleback Church claims to be one of the first churches (starting in 1992) to use the Internet to reach its community and beyond. Today, most churches are on the Internet in some form.
Is Technology Changing the Church’s Mission?
In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus gave us the Great Commission: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Nearly every church or ministry mission flows from this verse. Advances in technology do not change our mission to fulfill Jesus’ command. As many have said, the message does not change, but the way we communicate it does! There are some great tools available (and even more coming) that are impacting how we fulfill our mission.
Current Technology Trends
Many today have access to—and have become comfortable with—the Internet. Email and social websites have made it possible to communicate very easily. In 2009, the largest user group on Facebook was those 50-54 years old, and Facebook declared itself the sixth largest nation on earth! It now has more than 400 million active users, over seventy percent of whom are outside of the U.S. Churches are among the 1.5 million “businesses” that now have Facebook pages in addition to (or instead of!) websites.
But today’s younger generations don’t like talking on phones or using email. They prefer text messaging and consider the other communication tools as those they need to use at work or for school. Twitter was discovered accidently by a group of programmers and has become a major communication phenomenon. It is built on the concept of text messaging technology which limits each message to 140 characters. Although one cannot say a lot in 140 characters, one highly regarded secular communicator said it’s a great way to start a conversation.
The trends of text messaging and Twitter point in the direction of things to come—namely, mobile computing. Some in the information technology (IT) field are predicting that notebook computer sales will slow to a trickle in the next couple of years as smartphones (cellular phones—like the iPhone, Blackberry, and Droid) with the ability to access the Internet and run applications become more prevalent. What does this mean for the Church and how it fulfills its mission?
First, mobile applications and information will become key. Some churches are already redesigning their websites to recognize when they’re being accessed by a smartphone and then reformat themselves to fit the smaller screen.
Second, many church management software companies are designing smartphone applications that can access a given church’s database to do congregant lookups, post attendance, and more.
Third, some churches are beginning to take advantage of their congregants’ use of cell phones. Here are three examples:
- Inviting congregants to text questions during sermons, some of which are given to the speaker to respond to during the message. Inviting congregants to respond to a poll whose results show in bar or pie chart format on a screen in real time.
- Using cell phones to text a parent when their child needs their attention in the nursery.
- Sending text messages to members who have opted into their communication system. They receive prayer requests, meeting reminders, volunteer commitment reminders, etc.
One of my favorite mobile applications is the YouVersion Bible published by LifeChurch.tv. It runs on many smartphone platforms, has almost every popular translation, and it’s free. (While speaking to a graduating seminary class recently, I told them I rarely use a printed Bible thanks to the great resources available on my phone and computer. I think some gasped.)
Because of the increasingly widespread use of smartphones and their processing power, cloud computing is growing in popularity. Although I don’t believe it’s reliable enough yet (it should be in the next year or two), this concept will enable those with smartphones to do anything on their little mobile devices on which they previously needed a notebook computer. Cloud computing is the concept of centralized data and applications available via the Internet. They might be on a public system like Google, or they might be on a church’s servers. Some smartphones are even coming out with little projection systems built into them to help display a larger image.
It’s about Communication
Ministry has always been about communication. Whether we are sharing the gospel, learning of someone’s need, or organizing a group of believers so they can focus on accomplishing ministry, communication has been necessary. With the growing strength of mobile computing, we will have many new ways to share, serve, lead, and follow. The Church should be planning for this next wave of technology that will help advance the kingdom.
In Warren’s message to the church technologists at that conference, he said technology “is the frontline of evangelism. Churches will be larger in future generations, and one benefit of technology is to make the big church personal.” Whether you’re leading a big church or a small church, an established church or a church plant, use every technology tool available to increase your ability to communicate and reach more for Jesus.
© 2010 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved