Given our essential mandate — to communicate the gospel — and given our Reformed tradition as a connectional church, let’s envision a wired presbytery.
A “wired” presbytery requires just two indispensable components: an Internet connection for literally every church office in the presbytery, and presbyterywide computer software standards.
Just as the 20th century connected us with highways, so now the Internet highway beckons. Many churches in each presbytery are already on the Internet. But until ALL the churches in the presbytery are so connected, the presbytery is not wired and connected. While the capital outlay and monthly costs to accomplish this are not great, clearly the more financially secure churches will have to underwrite the costs for the rest. With strong leadership this could be accomplished within a few months.
Agreeing upon a software standard for all the churches in the presbytery will provoke the most discussion until the presbytery acknowledges that this standard has already been set by the culture and is not worth debating. Microsoft Office wins. Period. Like it or not, Microsoft operating systems have 91 percent of the desktop PC market. Their flagship product, Microsoft Office, is a seamless set of applications that allows the user to merge text, spreadsheets and pictures into one document. You can then place this document on the Web or send it easily to anyone on the Internet.
The latest versions of Microsoft Office are compatible across both the PC platform and the Apple Macintosh platform. If the objective is to focus on the content and messages shared within the wired connectional presbytery, then the only questions are how to provide the software and the training for every church office and relevant staff person. To debate whether or not to accept Microsoft’s software standard is a waste of time — an observation made here to state the obvious, not out of any great affection for Microsoft Since these two necessary components — Internet capabilities and Microsoft Office — already exist in scattered fashion in every presbytery, some presbyteries are quite close to realizing their connectional potential. They just have not yet viewed their isolated efforts in a systematic and theologically compelling fashion. So these presbyteries, which are already on the technologically prophetic fringe, can develop a wired strategy that will allow them to exercise their biblical mandate.
The benefits of conducting ministry within a wired presbytery hover just over the horizon of our imaginations. To digress briefly: two decades ago the trustees of a particular congregation debated for four months whether or not to purchase an office copier. Several trustees saw no reason to replace carbon paper. Finally the prophets won the day and the board placed a Xerox copier alongside the church office IBM Selectric typewriter. By the following trustee meeting they wondered how they had ever functioned without it. A recent survey of office equipment in one presbytery showed that, after the telephone, an office copier is the single most common type of office equipment, duplicating everything from memos to bulletins to newsletters. The copier facilitates communicating the gospel.
A wired presbytery will significantly advance communicating the gospel. Contact with other colleagues, both friend and foe, will dramatically increase. With bulk e-mail capabilities one pastor can easily and cheaply send a memo, a letter, a petition or a sermon to every pastor (and elder) in the presbytery. Mailing costs from the presbytery office will plummet. Church secretaries, church treasurers and clerks of sessions will become star-struck by the amount of information available at the press of a key.
Real-time chat rooms will allow presbytery committees, subcommittees and task forces to meet face-to-face without leaving one’s own desk. And the more advanced among us will quickly learn the advantages of on-line educational classes. A class taught at one church will be available to every other church (and home), complete with sounds, slides, artwork and video. Shared resources will include everything from educational materials to combined purchasing plans for paper supplies and toilet paper.
In a wired presbytery we will become a connectional church to an extent unimaginable by any previous generation of Presbyterians. Equally critical, a wired presbytery will provide for the possibility of future Presbyterians even existing. Those groups and institutions that do not ride the technological beam soon fall into oblivion. Just as today it’s difficult to buy a black-and-white TV set, it will be nearly impossible to find a church in the next decade that is not fully using the Internet. Becoming a wired presbytery involves both faithfulness to our theological mandate and a desire to survive.
Posted Oct. 16, 2001.
J. W. Gregg Meister is president of Interlink Media, which maintains the Web site www.PresbyterianChurchUSA.com. He has previously served as pastor, Lakeside church, San Francisco, where he had an extensive radio and television ministry.