When Gutenberg’s adaptation to the burgeoning technology of moveable type mechanized the printing press, Europe rocketed out of the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance. The stranglehold of information was redistributed from the seats of power and wealth to the common men and women throughout the civilized world. Massive change was afoot and the institutions of learning and leadership would be propelled into a new age of enlightenment and change
That same revolution catapulted the Church into a new age as well. The Bible was transformed from a hand-scribed document to a book that could be mass produced and placed in the hands of the masses. This technology helped to make Martin Luther the first “best-selling” author; transmitting the “95 Theses” he posted in Wittenburg, Germany to the London printing presses in only 17 days. His translation of the New Testament into German sold 5,000 copies in its first two weeks, and his writings from 1518 to 1525 accounted for a third of all the books published in Germany. (Dave Roos, 7 Ways the Printing Press Changed the World, August 28, 2019 https://www.history.com/news/printing-press-renaissance)
Five hundred years later, we are in the midst of a second global communication revolution powered by the internet. Just as the printing press placed knowledge in the hands of more people around the world, the internet has connected people in the far corners of the world to a global knowledge network and also literally places it in the palm of our hands. But the wave of change doesn’t stop with the world wide web. Advancements in nano and bio technology as well as the manipulations of virtual realities and artificial intelligence are moving the science fiction of my childhood into real world applications.
The question is will the Church ride the wave of this global tsunami of connectedness and information or will it be drowned in the crashing waves of change all around it?
The Church, as a whole, has lagged in its adoption of the new technology as a real tool to share the Gospel and make disciples. The problem with waiting to change is that technology is transforming at a breakneck pace, leaving the Church behind holding its Gutenberg Bible in one hand and their smartphone in the other. If you want to lean into the vision of technological change and how it affects the human race and the Church, I recommend you read Rings of Fire: Walking in Faith Through a Volcanic Future by Leonard Sweet. Dr. Sweet asks the tough questions and poses the ethical dilemmas we face as technology hurdles forward at a breakneck pace. For example, he tells us that we should stop fearing that robots will take our jobs and worry that they will take our judgement through artificial intelligence machine learning.
Now, in March of 2020, we are facing a global pandemic in the form of the Covid-19 virus. In an effort to quell the spread of the virus, Americans have been asked to minimize public gatherings to less than 10 persons and to keep a 6 foot personal space from other people when we are in public spaces. In some of our largest cities, certain areas have been ordered to “shelter in place” in their homes. This has forced church services to be cancelled all over the country to adhere to national guidelines. Last weekend, churches scrambled everywhere to figure out how to get “online” to share a message with their congregations and collect an offering. But we have had access to new communication technology for several years, why weren’t churches ready? Well, I am not one to cry over spilled electrons, so let’s move on.
In my opinion, the implications for the church are not that they will be silenced due to decreased giving revenue; we all are facing financial implications from this pandemic. No, the real danger to many churches is that they will be forced into irrelevance because they have been blind to changes all around them in connecting with people and deaf to the cries of the people in need all around them. The reality is that the pandemic has forced the church into a new reality, a new norm and we are not going back to “business as usual.” The Church is facing an opportunity to not only embrace the changes in our society, but to forge new partnerships that will help us continue to be the source of hope, love, and wholeness in the world.
The firm I founded and lead, ChurchCMO, was built on the foundational belief that the local church should be the catalyst for sharing hope and love in their community, by connecting with one person at a time. We believe when the local church connects with more people, together they can change the world! Today, more than ever, we have more ways to connect with people in our communities and engage their hearts than any other time in history. Are you ready to accept the new norm and embrace it as the new reality? If you are, but aren’t quite sure where to begin, give me a call, my mission is to help pastors and churches use new ways to connect with their communities.
Be safe, be fearless, be bold… and know that you are loved. Amen