One morning I was in the shower, (which isn’t as uncommon as some of you believe) and I was deep in thought. I was processing my 21 years as the son of a pastor, thinking through the typical church experience, wading through my life as a web developer and designer, and trying to rectify all of that with what I was studying about the early church. It was a borderline out-of-body experience.
Out of that came a two to three year tear to learn anything and everything I could about fostering deep and authentic community within the local church. And as a tormented techie, it is only natural that I’ve obsessed over how technology is connected to community.
Is technology bad for church community? Does that kid texting in the third row mess up your flow? Is there no such thing as authentic relationship because it’s so easy to have digital relationship knock-offs? Is progress neither good or bad? Or, is technology good?
Here’s how I’ve found technology improves community. And also, how every once in a while it might not.
#5 IT ALLOWS YOU TO SPEAK IN A LANGUAGE PEOPLE UNDERSTAND
If someone is deaf it doesn’t matter how often, or how well you speak–they won’t hear you. If someone is blind it doesn’t matter how bright or big your warning sign is–they won’t see it.
People communicate very differently now than they did even three to five years ago–and how we communicate will continue to change. Think about it. How many people today use AIM? How many of you still chat with your co-workers on Yahoo Messenger? Do you still peruse MySpace to see what your friends are doing? And that was all pretty recent stuff. Communication methods have changed more in the last 5-10 years than they did for centuries.
NOTE: If you don’t believe in the big bang, please disregard the graphic used for the beginning of time. Additionally, if you hold to a new earth creation, please disregard the old earth point of view to which this image apparently adheres.
When it comes to communication, major technological advances used to emerge every 300 – 500 years. By the mid 1800’s, change began to pick up at a more rapid pace–and now, communication innovations occur every 1 – 2 years. This wouldn’t matter, except for the fact that people are adapting with the technology. If you fail to keep up with and utilize modern modes of communication, your voice will become as obsolete as whatever medium you are using to communicate.
It takes a good deal of time, energy, and resources in order to keep up with the curve–but it’s well worth it. Why waste all your time talking in a language that people no longer use or understand? One of the things we recommend to pastors or leaders in any field is to plan a week or two every 2-3 years to study the culture they’re currently living and serving in. We’re all missionaries, and need to constantly work to assimilate and contextualize–especially when it comes to how we communicate.
#4 GROUP COMMUNICATION AND COLLABORATION IS EASIER THAN EVER BEFORE
Imagine how much easier Paul Revere’s job would have been if the patriots had a private facebook group or he had a twitter account?
If you are looking to improve the depth and vibrancy of your church community, you can’t just focus on what we’ll call “micro communication” (person to person), you have to also have a plan in place for “macro communication” (the broad group). And you need different strategies for different groups. You could be attempting to convey a message to the whole church body or just to a community group. Technology helps by allowing you to communicate quickly, clearly, and to a very broad or very specific audience.
When I was running a community group in Lynn, MA–we had a diverse group of people. There were 12-18 people and the ages ranged from 14 to 65ish. We had dinner to coordinate every week, lessons to get out ahead of time, and often had to collaborate on a location. It would have been a ridiculous amount of work for me to call or text everyone multiple times a week just to try and establish a plan. We decided what fit our community best was a Facebook group. Everyone wrote what they were bringing, we could post the lesson easily, and collaboration was a breeze because everyone was notified when someone commented. This is a small example, but it was a lifesaver for us.
Technology also greatly improves the efficiency of mass communication. If you want to keep people posted on what’s going on in your church, it’s as simple as setting up an online calendar, a blog, an email blast, or a church Facebook account. Group communication has never been easier, thanks to technology. The key is actually communicating.
#3 TECHNOLOGY PROVIDES MORE ON-RAMPS FOR INTROVERTS
True story? I’m not an introvert. Despite the fact that I could spend 3 days playing video games alone in the dark–I love being with people. People energize me. I feed off the group dynamic. My wife though? Not so much. She loves people. She loves people more than me–but new connections take a great deal of time and energy for her (maybe because she loves them so much). Often we expect people to seek out information about getting involved. This can really freak people out, and they won’t say anything–they’ll just leave.
To pull from one of the best books I’ve read in a long time:
Evangelicalism has taken the Extrovert Ideal to its logical extreme…If you don’t love Jesus out loud, then it must not be real love.
Community often suffers because introverts come on Sunday and either don’t know how to get more involved, or don’t see a way that they can. They won’t approach someone to ask, they may not respond to your hospitality person’s constant request to do lunch–not because they aren’t interested, but because they aren’t comfortable yet.
While they may not sign up for a group, they will sign up for an email blast. They might request more information on your website–even if they won’t go up to your information table (for the same reason people don’t want to go to a used car store). They may sing along to your worship set in the privacy of their car–even if they look stone-faced on a Sunday morning. Ultimately, it will be much easier for introverts to take steps toward active involvement in your community if your church is utilizing technology.
#2 TECHNOLOGY CAN HELP SHARE THE EMOTION AND STORIES OF A COMMUNITY
One of the biggest hurdles any church faces is how to get people plugged into community. Bridging the gap from “attendee” to “participant” is not easy, but (as you guessed, I’m sure) technology can help.
There is something irresistible (not TULIP irresistible) about God’s grace lived out and through the lives of the people around us. It’s awesome to be a part of a community where you can tell God is doing some really cool stuff in people’s lives, and people are also doing amazing things for one another. Once you find a group like that, it can be hard to ever imagine life without it.
Technology allows us to share not just our experiences with those outside our community, but the emotion of those experiences. Having someone get up and share a testimony every couple months is great, but there are a plethora of communication strategies that can and should be employed alongside the public, (sometimes awkward or fumbling) speaking strategy.
Creating testimonial videos with accompanying graphics and music can be more effective, especially if they’re done well–because music helps us connect emotionally, and the camera allows for more intentionality when it comes to content. People can also connect with a community atmosphere visually–whether it’s through images on your website or flyers you create. You can make people’s stories available online, allowing people to access them and share them with family and friends. In the end, there is a myriad of ways technology can help people connect emotionally with the idea, and the benefits of, community.
#1 TECHNOLOGY PROMOTES INTERACTIVITY AND INVOLVEMENT
Any team that lives and dies on the performance of its superstar won’t last very long (with the exception of the Miami Heat). It’s the same when it comes to the community dynamic within a church. If everything is on the pastor’s back, it will fail. If everything is always on the back of the community group or small group leader, it will fail. In deeply rooted, authentic community, everyone plays a role.
Technology helps promote group-wide engagement in a few different ways:
- It makes the feedback gathering process easy and strips away the “bandwagon” dynamic. If your method for gathering feedback is verbal and group-wide, you’ll generally only receive good feedback or very one-sided feedback. This is because it’s easier to say nothing or to piggy-back on what someone else is saying than to say what you genuinely feel.
- It allows for more transparency. When there is a lack (or perceived lack) of transparency, there is often nothing anyone is trying to hide. Much of the time, people are just under-informed. Technology allows for more consistent real-time communication which promotes a culture of openness.
- It levels the playing field. One of the things that kill the group dynamic (at least a healthy one), is when there is an “us vs. them” mindset among the group’s members. Technology allows groups to work through different questions and issues as a group rather than the leader acting as the all-knowing sage. There often isn’t enough time to deal with all the town-hall topics during your regular meeting times, and technology ensures you can keep an open, non-intimidating, line of communication open throughout the week.
So those are a few of the ways I believe technology can be of great benefit to a church or community-based organization. There are however, a few caveats.
BONUS: THINGS THAT TECHNOLOGY WILL NOT DO FOR YOUR CHURCH
- Technology does not make bad communication into good communication. If what you are saying is of no value, technology will not give it value, it will simply make more people aware of the fact that you communicate poorly. There are too many people out there who think it’s quantity over quality. It’s not. You must write well, be concise, take your time, and be clear. On a related note…
- Technology does not make what you are saying interesting. As stated previously, quality matters. If you are using artwork, don’t just pull a low-res photo off google images (you’re probably breaking the law anyway). Just because you are speaking the right language (which is GOOD), doesn’t mean people are listening. Spend time creating good artwork, saying interesting things, and keeping people informed and up-to-date on issues and topics that matter to them.
- Technology cannot automate community. Technology provides a ridiculous amount of tools you can use to communicate effectively, but it does not communicate for you. Community is all about real life, flesh and blood, human people. Auto-responders and auto-posting twitter reminders will not grow deep and authentic community. People will.
I GET IT, BUT IT SOUNDS LIKE A LOT OF WORK
It is a lot of work, I would never say otherwise. But it’s work that is well worth it. There is nothing more valuable than a church family that really understands and has fostered deep community, and as leaders, we should be doing absolutely everything we can to ensure that we develop that.
If you want any advice or want to set up a consultation, please email me at [email protected] or call (781) 346-1829. We offer a series of technology and media management packages for churches and would love to help you grow your communities deep and wide (to pull from Andy Stanley’s book title).