I am in the final edits of my next book Changing the Way We Do Church, which is a second edition of a book I first wrote in 2009. In this second edition, I include an entire section on the role of social media
and technology. I ran across this excerpt from chapter 15 as I was editing and thought I would share it with you. The book should be released in about two weeks. I realize that those who probably need to read this excerpt cannot because they do not utilize social media, but I thought I would still send it along to those who do.
One of the statements I made in a magazine article I wrote in 1979 was the following: “In this age of highly technological media bombardment and of intense competition for the attention of people, Christians face a formidable, yet crucial task, both of hearing what God says and effectively communicating it to one another and to the world.” We had no idea in 1979 what “media bombardment” was when we compare communication then to what it is today. We had no Internet in 1979, no social media, no cell phones, no cable TV, no email. There were only a few channels available on our television. Because of today’s ever-present technology, some church folk and entire churches have opted out of the onslaught, choosing instead to barricade themselves behind a technological barrier and ignore the noise of the attack.
I liken it to the example of my dear grandmother who came to the United States as a young woman to marry my grandfather in the early 1900s. She taught herself to read English, gave birth to 13 children, and woke up every morning to fire up the coal stove so she could cook for her brood. Later in life, two of her bachelor sons served 20 years in the military and came home after they retired to live in the house in which they were raised, making renovations that included installing a landline phone. Before that phone, if we needed to get in touch with my grandmother, we called her next-door neighbor who would go and fetch my grandmother, who would then walk from her home, stepping over the stream that came from the outhouse toilet, and walk about 25 yards to the neighbor’s house.
The image I have of believers who have checked out of the social media culture is of my grandmother who made do with what someone else had in order to stay in touch. She was cute and old fashioned, but out of touch. In fact, if we search for an example of people who are out of touch with cultural communication norms, we have only to look a few hours from where I live to find the Amish, who have rejected all technology, including vehicles, electricity, and other modern advancements.
The Amish are cultural freaks and people travel from far and wide to see them, buy food from their farm stands, and learn of and marvel at their out-of-touch ways. Yet no one wants to become an Amish. No child comes home to say, “Mom and Dad, I have decided to convert to Amish-ism so I can wear a straw hat, grow a beard, and be a farmer (or wear a head doily and dress modestly).”
My point is that the Amish are so out of touch with the reality of modern culture that their Christian witness is a private affair with no power to impact the world around them. That is how some churches and Christians will be if they continue to avoid social media and modern culture. Fortunately, the pandemic has awakened the Church and believers to the power of social media, but time will tell if it is a permanent awakening or if we return to our old-fashioned ways when the all clear signal is given.
Let me say before we proceed that I am not insinuating that social media will replace the Church. Face-to-face contact is always the norm for worship and Christian assembly. I am saying, however, that there is much more the church can do to incorporate technology into its ministry work, not as an afterthought but as a vital part. And in a time of crisis like we are currently experiencing, social media is the next best thing to being present with one another.