A read a blog post a few years ago about “The Oregon Trail generation.” Well, that’s me!
The article focused on the unique perspective Gen Xers (those of us born in the late 70s and early 80s) have in relation to mainstream technology. We were the last group of kids who experienced a childhood that was at least somewhat devoid of mainstream technology. Consequently, I can remember when we got our first IBM computer with DOS on it at home. But, I also remember using card catalogs in the library, microfiche and old school projectors. I remember using a mixture of online and “offline” sources for papers in high school because certain things just weren’t accessible on the internet yet. And I remember getting my first laptop for college (which was by no means small) and Facebook showing up on the scene just after I graduated (and wondering if I was too old to use it at that point).
So … while I don’t think technology can ever replace the physical community of Christians that the church offers, for the most part, I am pro technology in church (though I confess I still do like to read paper magazines!). Specifically, I have found the following technology especially helpful in ministry:
- Digital sermons: The church I served as associate pastor for in Rockford, Illinois, for four years videoed sermons and then posted them on the website and on YouTube. This was useful for our own members to catch up and listen again, but they were also for anyone outside of the church. This media was also invaluable when I was searching for a new call. It allowed prospective churches to review my sermons without the cost it would take to fly me out initially.
- Church website: This is a necessity today. Even though I remember phonebooks, I don’t own or use them anymore – and neither does anyone I know. So for prospective members to find and research churches, the church’s online presence is the go-to informational forum. Not to mention, an updated and sleek website gives the sense of current and happening ministry, while an outdated or cumbersome website gives just the opposite impression.
- Media in worship and sermons: I do think this can be overused, but media (TV, movies, photos, online content) is such a huge part of the U.S. lifestyle that using this content as illustrations or examples during worship just makes sense. It keeps worship fresh, relevant, exciting and relatable. Not to mention, this is so much easier than it used to be. I actually just rigged up a non-complicated setup to show a brief video to open my sermon this Sunday, and my church doesn’t even have a screen or monitor permanently placed in the sanctuary.
- Social media presence: Depending on the church, the importance and type of social media that your church engages with will vary. But, some type of presence is very helpful because it is another opportunity and tool to communicate with your people. If your church pops up daily in their online interaction, that is a good thing!
- Church emails: Snail mail is just that – too slow for communication these days and texting doesn’t leave enough space for all the info. So, some type of a weekly church email makes sense. It is a quick way to update members on current events, changes, and community needs.
Overall, I have found technology to be incredibly helpful in ministry, and I have often been a proponent of implementing basics such as church Wi-Fi, display monitors and an updated website.
I am, however, not a fan of anything that keeps the community from connecting in person. So, though I see the value in online church, I am a bit skeptical of technology that makes it possible or even encourages us to keep to ourselves or refuse to interact with one another. Yes (especially for introverts like me), everything may be easier and take less effort in our pajamas and at our computer screens, but the purpose of the gospel was never to keep us comfortable and lazy.
So perhaps the real question we should be asking when it comes to technology and church is: Are we using technology to enhance our ministry, or are we using technology in place of ministry?
JULIE RAFFETY serves as the pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Franklin, New Jersey. Julie is a violinist, aspiring writer, snowboarder, runner, identical twin and crazy about popcorn.