If you can imagine for a moment what life would be like without the Internet as we know it today. For some of us older folks, that isn’t so hard to do. In fact, if you came of age before the early to mid ‘90’s, it should not be too much of a reach to imagine what life was like without so much instant information at your disposal.
I have been thinking about the Internet and the church for sometime now, along with how other current realities may affect the Body of Christ as we march forward in this new century. Technology, like it or not, has a great potential to help churches both meet the needs of its members in this fast-paced day and age, and further, has even greater potential in reaching those who are still outside the faith. The question before us is: To what extent is the church currently using this valuable tool and what are the future directions this use may take?
Christian researcher George Barna has recently completed a study dealing with churches and their use (or lack of use) of technology in general and the Internet in particular. The findings of this study are both interesting and enlightening. With proper reflection, these results are also quite educational.
Let’s start with something basic, like web sites.
In 2000, 34 percent of Protestant Churches had web sites. By 2005, according to Barna’s findings, this number had jumped drastically to 57 percent. Since that time, the number of churches with a web presence has grown slowly and is currently around 62 percent. While this is a significant percentage, it does raise some interesting questions.
Recently, I attended a small group meeting of local pastors and church leaders, during which several topics were discussed related to church growth and future trends. The use of the Internet was among the topics on the agenda and I found that here in the Bible Belt, although an increasing number of churches had web sites, most of these sites primarily functioned as venues for delivering information to members. A significant number of these sites, located mostly in North Alabama and South Central Tennessee, had as their primary content information gleaned from the church bulletin passed out at the door of the church the previous Sunday. There was little material included that dealt with evangelism, discipleship, or even the most rudimentary Bible teaching. Instead, worship times were printed and various and sundry announcements relevant to congregational activities were prominent.
A majority of those pastors and church leaders (elders, deacons, and the like) admitted they had never considered using the church web site for any other purpose than to provide up to date information for their members and to let outsiders know when the church gathered for worship. In discussing the matter, most acknowledged they would be open to expanding the content of their respective web sites, but just about every person in attendance agreed that they would never want to do this at the expense of informing their members of what was going on. To a man (and two women pastors), this group saw the primary function of Internet presence for the church as dispensing information that members could easily obtain by other means. A few agreed that evangelism might be a worthy use of web space, but no one felt discipleship could be done through electronic means.
I found this most disturbing as one of the primary missions we have here at LifeBrook Ministries is providing discipleship materials on the Internet. When I raised this issue and discussed it, I met with a cordial response but might just as well have been speaking a foreign language.
I should say that this particular group consisted mostly of rather conservative pastors and leaders, mostly Southern Baptist, Church of Christ, and Assembly of God. When I launched the same discussion in another setting with Methodist, Presbyterian, Nazarene, and Independent Charismatic leaders, the response was much different. In fact, many of these leaders were already working toward adding things to their sites like Pod casting and Blogs.
All of this spurred me to look into the research on the matter and that’s how I stumbled upon the recent findings by Barna. Let me share just a few of these findings with you:
One out of every four Protestant Churches (26%) now has a presence on social networking sites like MySpace.
Pod casting is now being implemented by one out of every six churches, roughly 16%.
13% of Protestant Churches now have blogs.
These numbers represent a major underutilization of perhaps the most efficient tool for reaching large numbers of people available to churches today. Further, it indicates reluctance on the part of many church leaders to invest in new, creative ways to do evangelism, discipleship, and other functions normally carried out by congregations. What are the reasons for this?
First, there is resistance for resistance’s sake. Some folks, church leaders included, a hesitant to embrace change out of fear or lack of information. In other cases, smaller congregations appear to feel that they simply cannot afford these sorts of technological innovations due to small and shrinking budgets. Even larger churches sometimes avoid services like blogs and pod casts because they fear the expense would be too great. The problem with this line of thinking is that it isn’t grounded in reality. There numerous avenues whereby pod casts, blogs, and other up-to-date services are available at little or no cost. For some churches, lack of a knowledgeable person to design and maintain the site is yet another factor creating resistance.
Whatever reasons a church may offer for not utilizing this important resource, I believe it would be to their benefit to move past their resistance and get on board. The potential benefits are just too great to be left behind scratching their chins and wondering what happened.
Barna sums things up quite well I think:
The Internet has become one of the pivotal communications and community-building tools of our lifetime. Churches are well-advised to have an intelligent and foresighted Internet strategy in order to facilitate meaningful ministry.
Without a doubt the importance of the Internet and its impact on ministry both inside and outside the traditional church setting is going to continue to expand. The question each church must ask of itself is, “Will we keep up with these positive changes and exert a growing influence on our culture, or will we wait patiently on the sidelines while other spiritual groups, philosophies, and secular movements leave us in the dust?”
It is really up to you to decide.
(c) L.D. Turner 2008/All Rights Reserved