Friday, February 27, 2009

How Technology Might Harm Intergenerational Ministry

Thanks to Ed Stetzer for posting Barna's recent research on the use of technology by different generations in the church.

The people who make up the church of Jesus Christ are young and old, richer and poorer, tech-savvy and not-tech-savvy.

As churches like Christchurch increase their use of electronic communications technology, there are pitfalls we must avoid.

First, we must remember that our online efforts to improve church communication may miss entire generations. Some of God's people aren't online, and that's not a sin. Blogs and email are great, but we still need to send out a church newsletter via the USPS, if only to reach older, less tech-savvy people.

Second, social networking tools like facebook groups can foster cliquish-ness. How would you feel if you couldn't afford a computer (or had finally learned how to use email but didn't have a clue what facebook was yet), and then went to church and heard everyone else talking about something funny on this unknown thing called "Facebook"? Left out. Fight cliquish-ness by inviting newcomers and older folks into a face-to-face conversation.

Third, tech-y church culture often uncritically picks up the world's materialistic gadget-lust. I really want an iPhone to compliment my Apple products collection. It may even improve my ministry! But is it a good pastoral example to always be a technological early-adapter? I don't think so. Jesus would not be pleased if all my disciples had iPhones but didn't know how to share the gospel in their own words in the course of a normal conversation. If my flesh had it's way, that's what would happen.

Fourth, instant online communication breeds impatience. Imagine being that guy who can't afford a computer and is surprised by a new proposal at the church business meeting. He asks a question. A question that has already been discussed and resolved by everyone else in the group via email. How much grace is he likely to feel from the church if God's people are not intentionally fighting against technological impatience?

Fifthly and finally, Barna reports that younger adults rely on technology to facilitate their search for meaning and connection. And if we believe Barna's other stats, we must admit that search isn't going so well. We live in the age of the text-message break-up and the satellite church campus.

But thank God for Christmas! Our celebrations of the incarnation of Jesus are annual reminders that God sent a person, not a status update. I'm all for pastors being tech-savvy. But pastors must recommit themselves to the principle that pastoral authority is built upon pastoral relationships. I mean pastoral relationships that are built through real-life, time-and-trial tested, face-to-face, Bible-open, eye-to-eye interactions. As technology continues it's exponential advance in this culture, the church must recommit itself to face-to-face gospel ministry and congregational meetings where believers from every generation sit under the Word of God and observe baptism and the Lord's Supper together. The church of Jesus Christ remains God's institution for providing every generation with meaning and connection, and there is a young generation out there that will continue dying until it learns this unchanging truth.

God, please help us use our technology with self-control and in a way that brings glory to you. May the love of our face-to-face fellowship in our churches stand out more and more in this culture of people increasingly separated from one another by little screens. Use the internet to helps us initiate new relationships, but rebuke us whenever we attempt to replace a person with a piece of technology. You made people in your image, not iPhones. Help us to love you and to love people more. In Jesus name, Amen.

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