Leveraging Technology for Ministry
Leveraging Technology for Ministry

By Jim Estep

I recall Dave Stone once saying something like, “You can’t reach an MP4 generation with 8-track methods. The problem is that half of you are asking, “What’s an MP4?” and the others are asking, “What’s an 8-track?'”

It is not just that technological innovation continues at an unprecedented rateI actually think Dave said, “MP3 generation”or that its presence within our culture and our lives grows more pervasive daily, but that technology has changed how we perceive our lives, society, and especially the church.

The simple lesson is this: We either will learn to leverage technology in our ministries, or we will lose opportunities as we grow increasingly disconnected from an ever-increasing digitalized world.

I recently read a meme that said, “Technically, Moses was the first person to download information onto his tablet from the cloud.” Fifteen years ago, this meme would have been meaningless, which serves to demonstrate how our thinking about the world around us, and our expectations of it, have changed. (By the way, 15 years ago there were no Internet memes.)

I know some of you are probably asking yourself, What’s a meme? This feeds into the larger point and my main question, which is this: Are we prepared to embrace changes or will we be left behind by them?

What are your church’s ministry hours?

Many readers would say, “Our office is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every weekday.” That may technically be true, but it also indicates ministry is limited to when the office or church building is open and accessible. However, in a digital age, the church can be accessible 24 hours a day. People can go to websites 24/7 to gather information, access previous sermons and lessons, watch video announcements, listen to recorded messages, see introductions of staff members, and explore links to related resources. All of these things extend the ministry of the church beyond office hours or service times.

What is your congregation’s first impression?

Your church’s first impression is not the church sign, parking lot, greeters, or worship center. It’s your website! Let’s be honest, before we go shopping or out to eat or to a movie, we consult a website or an app to check it out. If the store, restaurant, cinema, or movie has a bad digital presence, we don’t even bother to go. Instead, we change our plans.

If someone visited your congregation’s website or app, what impression would it leave? How does it represent your congregation? Is it still, stagnant, stale, and nonengaging; or is it dynamic, visually appealing, informative, and interactive? (Read more in “Your Digital Screen Door.”)

How do you receive tithes and offerings?

It’s been a long time for most of us since a boss or office manager handed us a paycheck or we paid a bill by mailing a check or we carried cash in our wallet. For generations, it was normal to do such things. However, younger generations live in a world of direct deposit, automatic payments, and debit cards. What are these young folks supposed to do when someone hands them an offering plate?

Many congregations that use “giving apps” or offer online giving options find that the majority of their folks prefer these modern methods over the traditional passing of a plate. It’s not a matter of either/or, but both/and to accommodate the community of all believers.

How fast do you communicate?

I’m from a time when the congregation disseminated information through a weekly or biweekly printed church newsletter; some older congregations, in fact, continue to do this. However, the information in a printed and mailed newsletter is often a few days old by the time it arrives in the mailbox, and once the newsletter is sent it cannot be readily updated or corrected.

Many churches have archaic rules they must follow. “The bylaws require two letters sent over a two-week period at least two weeks prior to. . . .” It seems only reasonable to upgrade to more modern, flexible, and updateable means of communication (websites, email, and social media).

When will we do another church directory?

I remember my home congregation scheduling a photographer, gathering the most current information, and awaiting the release of the up-to-date, comb-bound church directory. Honestly, it was out-of-date upon its release, and within a few years it was completely inadequate. New information could not be added; there was no accounting for people moving or dying, or for staff changes.

A digital directory, however, can be kept current regardless of these inevitable changes. Some congregations even use a private social media platform as the church directory. Once again, a digital directory has distinct advantages over a printed one; plus it’s far less expensive and there’s virtually unlimited space.

How do you connect with the modern ear?

We no longer live in a world of overhead projectors and static visuals. Today, videos are omnipresent, from our smart watches and smartphones to our tablets, laptops, and flat-screen televisions. The old Bible maps suspended from an aluminum tripod are not comparable to a high-resolution, color image on an illuminated 105-inch screen. Likewise, we no longer need to paint a word picture of a movie scene to illustrate a sermon or lesson; now we can simply show a clip during a worship service or class session. With the ready availability of digital media, contemporary teaching and preaching has become augmented oration . . . words accompanied by relevant videos and images.

A cautionary note: Technology is not a solution to every problem. Technology is certainly no replacement for personal relationships, sharing the gospel with others, teaching the truth in love, and mentoring others into the kingdom and toward Christlikeness. Technology is a tool that can aid, support, and extend our abilities, but it can never replace doing ministry.

Jim Estep serves as vice president of academics with Central Christian College of the Bible, Moberly, Missouri, and as event director with e2: effective elders.

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