This is an open letter to the future church pastors who will have grown up with the Internet, mobile devices and real-time social media their entire lives so that they can leverage future technology to serve the local church effectively.
The local church you’ll lead will not look much like the churches of today because you will have a built-in perspective that sees the world through the lens of a digital native. Whereas the rapid changes in technology that shaped the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries found their ways into local churches slowly and with apprehension, the church you’ll lead will include augmented reality that will be used day-in and day-out by you and your congregation. The ubiquitous nature of technology will mean that how you think about church gatherings, venues, and operational management will not be based on the old patterns of weekend church services, but have a cadence that is more organic than structured. It will have a more community-infused flavor of relational dynamics that will make physical proximity to a church campus less important than it is viewed as today.
Your view of technology is your default. It simply is a part of your day-to-day. There is no part of you that makes a distinction between life with and life without technology. It permeates every part of your life and the culture you live in. While your parents have adopted technology into the fabric of their lives, you have only known it to be an ever-present part of your life. Because of this, your leadership will be informed by this viewpoint such that the use of technology will not be in support of the local church you’ll lead, but as part of the local church. Where your grandparents had fights over the use of video projection in the auditorium in the 1990’s or the addition of a “.com” to the church name in the 2000s, you will see technology as an extension of work and ministry.
In the early 21st century, the rise of multi-site churches heralded the first major adoption of technology as a service. For the first time, technology played a leading role in the delivery of weekend services. From this, the local church learned how to decentralize and empower local church campuses to facilitate the work and ministry previously done in one location. The need for technology — especially audiovisual technology as it was called back then — was paramount and the technological advancements made it possible. You’ll still see vestiges of this around your in other churches, but what you may not know is that many of those churches once started out as a satellite/multi-site campus from one large church. The network effect had its heyday in pushing for the expansion of churches via sermon-on-demand. However, the emergence of ultra-high speed broadband internet to most locations combined with the rapid growth of augmented reality, the need to replicate the ‘mothership’ church service to other campuses declined and was replaced by micro-sites and church resources on demand. The ability to share and connect with augmented reality devices meant relational proximity held a place of greater prominence than physical proximity.
It is the micro-site that allows you the freedom and flexibility to forgo expensive venues that are primarily opened only on weekends, and these are empowered through technology infrastructure that is scalable, portable and easily affordable. The ‘meet anytime, anywhere’ mantra you’ve heard applies to you and the church you’ll lead one day, largely because the technology shifted from major installations to the proliferation of micro-communities that are a part of your congregation. No longer tethered exclusively to permanent facilities, your church has the ability to reach and influence far beyond the staffing considerations of a local venue. Sure, you still have a pool of people and resources, but what we called in our day ‘remote employees’ is your normal. From your way of thinking, of course, people work from wherever they live, right? It wasn’t always that way. Augmented reality isn’t common yet as I write this letter to you, future pastor, and it’s seen as more of a novelty today than a normal part of connecting with people for work, life and ministry.
Where we had to overcome technology considerations to implement the connecting of people to the message, you get to take for granted the technology that you’ve known your entire life. What this means for you, however, is to not look to technology as the answer, but as the opportunity to build relational bridges. In our time, social media was used primarily for either personal gain (or vanity) or business promotion. For you, it’s a real-time pulse into the narrative of community. Shaping technology to serve people is as important for you as it was for us. Otherwise, the tail will wag the dog.
Though you may feel more connected to your circles of family, friends and influence due to almost-instant access to most anyone, what must be guarded is relational empathy. There is no level of technology that will ever replace the warmth of another person’s touch, the invisible connection that happens when meeting eye-to-eye (without technology) or the hope that is transferred when you simply serve another person in a tangible way.
You may have the technology we always dreamed of in our day at your fingertips, future pastor, but your responsibility and calling is the same as it has always been: to be a shepherd of hope, love and truth for people. No amount of technology can do what you were made to do; in some cases, even the best technology will still get in the way.