We enjoy technology on a daily basis. In fact, we are enjoying it now through the Internet by means of this blog. However, I’ve noticed that many times technology can create problems rather than delivering solutions. Technology and the church have a love-hate relationship. For information, technology is a good thing, but for community, it often isolates us and limits real relationships.
We have a class at our church for prospective members which is four weeks long and provides a presentation of the gospel and an overview of our distinct marks as a church. Each time the class rolls around, I begin class #2 on the church by talking about technology and the church.
I typically begin by asking how many people remember the old TV show – The Brady Bunch? This is a question that typically reveals ages fairly quickly. However, even the younger generation has often seen an old rerun on TV Land at some point. The show begins with a mixed family all appearing in little screens (boxes) on one big screen and while the theme song is being played, they are waving, conversing, and communicating with one another. As I point out – this was long before the boom of technology and the modern invention of Skype and FaceTime. What they were unable to do in reality – we enjoy in our present day.
The same thing is true regarding the old cartoon – The Jetsons. Although we are not able to fly around in our personalized spacecraft, we can talk to one another through computer screens and personal mobile phones. Who doesn’t love that type of technology? When we take trips away from our family members, we can see them and talk to them while being across the ocean. This is fascinating technology.
We live in a time in church history where steeples are being replaced with iPads and the presence of the preaching pastor is replaced by an image on a screen. The digital revolution has come and we continue to see the expansion of new ideas and methods that are largely influenced and updated by technology. However, as we think honestly and critically about the church, we can see that technology has many limitations.
The Limitation of Physical Presence
Some churches are going the e-church route with Internet campuses, websites, smart phone applications, and live stream preaching technologies that provide them the opportunities of being more mobile and less committed to a physical campus. I do think it’s important to disconnect the church from the building, but in a real sense, a physical presence is necessary in order for a church to exist.
In the pages of the early church, we see that the people gathered together. In fact, if you look at Acts 2, you will notice the word “together” is often repeated in the description of the newly founded church. Two times it’s used before the salvation of the 3,000 souls and two times it’s used after the explosion of growth. The point is clear – they made it a point to be together. In fact, they wanted to be together.
The Limitation of Personal Touch
When I travel for ministry, I often find my family and I gathered together on a screen. However, no matter how many conversations we have in the FaceTime world of technology with the ability to blow kisses, see facial expressions, and talk to one another while smiling at one another – there is something special about being in the presence of each other at the airport. My children often run and embrace me with my youngest clinging to my leg and hugging me. What technology could do in providing the physical sight of my family, it failed to provide personal touch.
We have a young couple who is presently going through our membership class who have recently moved here from Spain. We’ve had discussions about the proper way of greeting in Spain within their church being a kiss on both sides of the cheek. They have explained how hard it has been to transition away from that personal touch and embrace with fellow Christians in their new church culture in the United States. Personal touch matters. In Romans 16:16, we see Paul write these words, “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.” He repeats these same words in 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, and 1 Thessalonians 5:26. The point is clear – the early church greeted one another and there was a physical presence and personal touch among the people. This was a means of encouragement to one another in the midst of difficult times, a harsh culture, and an often unforgiving world.
The Limitation of Actual Community
In Hebrews 10, we see the important warning about neglecting to assemble together with the church. Community is important. If you look at Hebrews 10:24-25, you notice that the purpose of assembly was far more than filling a seat in the worship service. It involved stirring one another up in good works and encouraging one another. This takes place through physical presence in assembly and personal touch in greeting as well as intimate prayers, preaching, and other aspects of assembly.
In a real sense, we can gather as a church in the world of technology. Our presence can be visible through the online digitized representation of our physical body. We can use technology to talk to one another through the screen. We can assemble and hear a sermon preached through the lens of an iPad. We can have online giving setup and contribute to one account that will be used for operating costs of our ministry and missions. We can pray together. Much of what we do as a church can be accomplished through technology, but at the end of the day, there will be massive limitations.
As I teach the membership class, I like to propose the following question:
As you can see, we are sitting in one of the oldest parts of our church campus. We are a 173 year old church and we have a campus that is pieced together with buildings from different eras. Maintaining a church campus is not for wimps – especially an older campus. Last year we spent $70,000 on HVAC upgrades. There is constantly a need that arises from parking lot holes to paint on the walls and it can be quite costly. What if we all decided to liquidate our assets as a church and bank a few million dollars and transition our ministry into an e-church where we meet online? What if we meet online and do everything we typically do on a Sunday and Wednesday, and then meet once per month in a local school gymnasium for worship, the observance of the ordinances, and a fellowship meal – would this be sufficient? Think about how we could use the money for missions and church planting. What do you think?
Not one time have I had someone who actually took the bait and went with the idea. Everyone, no matter what age and how tech savvy they are, they see the holes in technology. They sense a need for real community. They understand the limitations of technology and the church assembly and fellowship. Just last week when I posed that question in our membership class, one of the men going through the class said the following:
My vote for an online campus is no. I’ve been responsible for launching them and know that it is an easy way for people to halfway go to church. They don’t engage and get to actually have human interaction. I’ve actually grown to despise many things that technology brings to a worship service. It easily becomes all about the tech and “what can we do?”
While we can continue to use technology within the church for the glory of God, we must be willing to admit that technology comes with a definite set of limitations. Although the world of technology will continue to expand and broaden into the future, we will never see a day where technology replaces the personal touch, presence, and interaction of a group of redeemed sinners assembling for worship and fellowship.