Wired for Ministry
Technology Forges New Opportunities to Influence Lives
by David Kinnaman
© The Barna Group, Ltd.
Can you think of a memorable moment when technology altered your lifestyle?
I can vividly remember the day my dad brought home our first videogame system, an Atari that someone had given to my father (a lifelong pastor) for Christmas. (How could a pastor’s kid forget that?) My sister and I played “River Raid,” “Pitfall” and “Kaboom” – our favorite games – until our fingers were numb.
Like many households, a videogame console was our family’s first consumer technology beyond the Big Three (television, radio and telephone). Now, less than 25 years later, the array of technologies used by Americans seems like science fiction: cell phones, DVD players, mobile and desktop computers, the Internet, handheld and console-style videogame systems, sophisticated car stereos, home theater systems, GPS devices, answering machines, mobile music and video players (like iPods), digital cameras and video recorders, satellite and cable television and so on. And many of these technologies are not just limited to one per household but often each person in the family possesses his or her own personal device!
Indeed, Americans embrace technologies to bring control to their fast-paced lives. That means using technology to work from wherever they choose, to stay connected with others, to use entertainment on their terms and to access information in unprecedented ways. Consider how technology has changed just since the turn of the millennium:
The boom in home entertainment. Currently, 84 percent of households have a DVD player. This type of home-based entertainment device has grown more than 400 percent since 2000 and – combined with home theater systems and powerful televisions – the home has become a cozy, personalized sanctuary for personal entertainment.
Computers have become ubiquitous. In 2000, only about half of all households had a computer. Now, access to a home computer is nearly universal (85 percent have one).
Mobile technologies have flourished. Almost all Americans now possess at least one mobile device, the most common of which is a cell phone, currently owned by 72 percent of adults. Two-fifths of all adults have at least one mobile computer, double the proportion of just five years ago. But one of the fastest-selling technologies has been the mobile music and video player. These devices allow people to enjoy vast libraries of music and video wherever they go.
The Internet has woven itself into life. Six years ago, about half of all adults had Internet access at home. Now two-thirds of people have such access, and nearly half have high-speed connections. This makes it feasible to watch short video clips and download more content than ever before. Among other things, people are using the Internet to help them deepen their faith journeys as well.
Making Sense of Change
Age, of course, plays a prominent role in technology ownership and usage. This is probably no huge revelation, right? True, young adults have always been at technology’s cutting edge. But more than that, they actually use and think about technology differently than do older generations.
For example: to a 50-something, a cell phone is merely a way to make away-from-home calls. But to a 20-something, it is a mobile communications hub. It is a place to take notes in class, a game center, a place to stay connected with friends (via text and picture messaging), an avenue to the online world and much more.
The implication is that you can’t ignore technology if you want to influence the spiritual lives of young people.
Another important reality is that Christians own and use technologies in ways that are virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the culture. People in your church are likely to be actively participating in these broader tech trends. This means your ability to minister with relevance will be affected by how you and your church embrace technology.
Not every church has the same resources or the same interest in or comfort with technology. So what should you do?
First, do not try to “keep up” with other churches. Ask God for wisdom and ask your leaders to help you develop a clear philosophy about how you will integrate technology into your efforts.
Second, enlist laypeople in the congregation to serve as “tech missionaries.” Chances are that at least a handful of people in your congregation are technology wizards. They might help upgrade the use of video and technology during worship services, consult on technology purchases, train church staff, help build or maintain a church Web site, implement electronic-funds-transfer tithing, and so on.
Third, consider ways to help congregants talk about how they are using technology to shape their faith. Your church could provide a forum for recommended Web sites, DVDs, technology services and the like that would help congregants find valuable spiritual resources.
Finally, remember that your goal as a church is not to “wow” people with your technological proficiency. It is to transform lives for Christ. Technology is important, but it is just a tool (though it does make a great Christmas gift!).
—David Kinnaman is vice president and strategic leader
of The Barna Group, Ltd., in Ventura, Calif.
More information is available about the firm’s research