The five year lag

The other day I had a brief twitter conversation with @johndyer (whom all my readers should follow) about technology in the Church. John often hears complaints that churches are “five years behind the rest of the world” technology-wise and, being a thoughtful technologist remind the complainers, “Look, its 2011 and George Lucas has JUST gotten Star Was on Blue Ray.” It’s a good point, the rest of the world is sometimes not as far ahead as we think.In our exchange however, I pointed out that the irony was that Blue Ray was a DOA medium anyway, so John may have picked a better example. His response was, “Doesn’t that make it a better point?” Again, he has a good thought, people are so keen on “catching up” that we end up running blindly into dead ends. I agree, which is why I think that John wasn’t really talking about the “five year lag” at all. Our conversation ended with me asserting that the real problem facing churches is not a five year lag in technology, but rather the continued assumption that technology is just another gimmick “to get young people in.” Full disclosure, the quoted segment made no appearance in our twitter exchange – I was thinking it, but didn’t write it.

As churches, we need to stop looking for “the next big thing.” It is a dead end which leaves us looking like the outcast in the corner who has no confidence in their social skills but keeps on shouting, “Look at me, look at me, I can be cool too!” We owe our Savior, and the world, something better than that. What we’re seeing now is not a fad to be latched on to until something better comes along. We are seeing a significant social shift in the ways people connect with each other that is literally re-mapping our brains. It is powerful, pervasive, and has been going on longer than we sometimes think (I’d argue the telephone started the transition in earnest when it started entering people’s homes).

There is much in this shift to be heralded. For example, the speed and accuracy which which information can be passed and acted upon is something to be marveled at. Yet there is also much to be cautious about. Our communications shift is having an effect on our ability to memorize information (accelerating a process which began with the Gutenberg Press). It also further blurs the line between “urgent” and “important” because all of our data seems to demand immediate attention. This blurring creates an inability to be “present” in any given situation, which creates problems for spiritual activities like worship and prayer.

If churches drop their tendency to see technology as just another gimmick, then we can deal with both the positive and negative aspects of our communications with much needed wisdom. For example, we can accept people’s packed schedules by moving our “meetings” into an online space like a private email list or forum. This would give people an opportunity to interact with ideas over time, and become part of their daily rhythm. On the other hand, we can make deliberate moves to slow worship and prayer down. Instead of succumbing to the “more more more!” ethos of our culture, we can teach people the beauty of the contemplative prayer traditions and the freedom they bring to our communion with the Triune God. As we engage the positive and negative aspects of our cultural shift perhaps we’ll stop complaining about a five year lag in the tools we use and start contemplating on how we can communicate the Gospel well in this world.

Thanks, John, for spurring my thoughts!

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  1. From your tweets, I initially thought you were saying churches needed to be better at implementing technology more quickly and I was trying to say, as you put it, “the rest of the world is sometimes not as far ahead as we think.”

    So I’m glad you wrote this, because what you’re saying about carefully weighing and understanding technology rather than using it as a gimmick is really well put. Good job, sir!

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