A new hope
By Joel Guthrie
In this series, we’ve talked about the past and about the current state of technology in the church.
In this third and final installment, let’s talk about the future.
I’ve worked with some of the world’s largest tech companies, and one thing is apparent: change is coming, and faster than ever. All the tech we use all day, every day didn’t exist 15 years ago — that’s insane. The way we operate, shop and communicate is dramatically different from how previous generations did these things.
With change coming faster than ever, it’s clear that “what got us here won’t get us there.” The world, the culture, the influences, and the way we experience church are all completely different.
So, how do we continue to grow the church and reach the next generation?
Don’t worry: this isn’t a guide on how to become a megachurch whose pastor wears skinny jeans and rare Nikes on TikTok. It is about embracing the inevitable change that’s coming; being brave and innovating new ways to reach people in our communities.
I believe two technological trends are crucial for the church to grow and reach the next generation:
#1: You have all the data in the world — use it
The amount of information we have access to is incredible (and maybe alarming at times). It’s our greatest asset for continually tailoring our ministries to be more effective.
As church-specific technology continues to advance, you’ll be able to make even more strategic decisions based on the data you already have — where to allocate funds, where to start a new campus, or where to hold an event.
With the data you can get from social media and other statistics sites, you can even tailor the stories you tell on stage to resonate more with congregants. This isn’t creepy — it’s personalizing your message, just like Jesus used stories and metaphors specific for the audiences He was teaching.
It’s worth repeating that what got us here won’t get us there. We must adapt. I feel this already, and I’m a Millennial!
I volunteer with my church’s high school youth group, and it’s completely different now. When I was in high school, we played sports; now I’m playing Call of Duty on my phone with my 10th-graders and talking about their computer science classes. (I really want to put an emoji here, but I’ll resist. Yet another example of how things have changed.)
My point is that we need to be willing to embrace these changes. Ask these people in your community how they’d like to be served. Church isn’t a country club; it’s a safe place for broken people to hear the love and grace that only Jesus brings. The goal is to reach people not like us. With this posture and the combination of technology, we can deliver the most personalized and welcoming experience.
Which brings me to my next important point …
#2: Be authentic
I know what you’re thinking: Wait, I thought you said these were tech changes? What about the robots? Stick with me.
Over the past few years, I’ve seen a trend of “We need to be like ______ Megachurch.” It might be the fast-growing church down the street, or the popular megachurch you study. But there’s a place for each of your churches in this world, and the goal to be exactly like another church defeats the purpose of yours.
Every church is gifted and called to reach specific groups within your community. Your service, teaching and ministries resonate with that group. Don’t be closed off to other parts of your community, but do stop trying to be different.
One of the biggest reasons Millennials don’t want to go to church is that it feels fake or inauthentic. Remember that your next generation of leaders is the social media generation — the generation of filters, Photoshop, and instant access to the universe. We have a really accurate “BS meter,” but we’re desperate for authentic relationships. We don’t want to you to be watered down or politically correct. We want you to be real, honest and authentic. We’re the generation that knows the pressure of the anxiety-inducing world we live in.
We’re also technological natives. We’re the ones who’ll take the torch for your church and carry it on.
So, as you continue to adopt and implement more technology, start with open arms. These tools are a catalyst to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth and to better understand our neighbor down the road. The church should be the most excited about technological change because it’s another resource to reach the people in our world.
Thank you for going on this journey with me. This series isn’t intended to express negative thoughts against the church; it comes from a place of love and passion for it. I want to see the church thrive and grow across all regions and denominations — and I believe technology is how we’ll do it.
Joel Guthrie is Senior Content Marketing Manager of Faith Solutions at Blackbaud, and host of The Church Engagement Podcast.
He has been on staff as a worship leader and youth leader at a church in Bellevue, Wash., and is currently one of the worship leaders and 10th-grade-guys leaders at his church in Austin, Texas.
Guthrie has studied audio engineering and has a career working in marketing in the tech space, servicing large tech companies, including Microsoft and Amazon.