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The Church Is Still Recovering from This 20th Century Mistake

I’m a traditionalist when it comes to church. I love being among God’s people, opening his Word, praying, and singing together. I love seeing lives changed, burdens lifted, and needs met in the body of Christ.

 

But I’m beginning to see a big problem—one that started decades ago.

 

The simple version: we’ve mixed up our message and our methods. The gospel never changes, but our methods must. And because we’ve gotten it backward, we’ve made it a virtue to villainize change. 

 

Before I lose you completely, let me explain what I mean by “change.” Hebrews 13:7 tells us, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” The Great Commission (Matt 28:16–20) hasn’t moved an inch, and our mission as members of God’s kingdom is the same as it has always been. But our methods? Well, let’s just say ads in the Yellow Pages don’t work like they used to.

 

Social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok are booming—and some churches are using them to create community. Which leads me to update Larry Norman’s old song: Why should the devil have all the good tech?

Is tech a threat to the Church?

You may be thinking: “If I put too much of ‘the church experience’ online, people won’t physically come to church anymore.” I get it—your weekly gatherings are one of the biggest things that make church, church. 

 

But here’s the truth: online discipleship avenues aren’t a threat to in-person gatherings. A poll taken while churches couldn’t meet says that 48% of regular attendees hadn’t watched online church in four weeks. Your congregation already knows it: online church cannot replace being together in person.

 

Now, we’re nearly two years into the pandemic, and church attendance isn’t bouncing back as expected. It’s easy to blame the dip on digital ways to participate in the service—“online church isn’t church,” I’ve heard it said. There’s a nugget of truth in it, but many people I know aren’t just jumping into YouTube on Sundays to tick the “church” box. I could tell you stories of people who changed churches because they felt left out when their church went back to 100% in person before everyone was comfortable with it (particularly those who have health issues or work in a potentially high-exposure field). Or they left because they felt invisible during the hardest days of lockdown but were asked to start serving before they even came back in person.

 

For people like these, digital options aren’t keeping people from attending in person—they’re giving people a way to stay connected with your church and community when they can’t return in person.

Everything—and nothing—has changed

Does it seem like I’m making a small problem look big? Look at Luke 9:1–6, where Jesus sent his disciples into the villages to proclaim the gospel. Or skip to Acts 17, where Paul preached the gospel everywhere he went, from the synagogue to the marketplace to the Areopagus. Fast forward 1,500 years to when Martin Luther used the printing press to distribute Bibles in the vernacular. Or a few more centuries when Dwight L. Moody began piping the gospel into millions of homes using the radio airwaves.

 

All these examples point us to one unchanging reality: our task is to reach people with the truth where they already are. (That’s the simplest definition of evangelism, by the way.) And the result in each example above: people became Christians and joined the Church’s mission.

 

We should absolutely invite people to church with us. We should find outreach methods that work (“come and see,” the woman at the well said in John 4). But we cannot wait for people to come to us. We have to go to them.

So, where are people now? 

Easy: they’re on their phones. (Maybe you’re reading this on your phone right now.)

 

Tech can’t replace your church’s in-person gatherings—and it shouldn’t. But it’s a huge opportunity to reach people where they are and nudge them toward healthy, long-term spiritual growth.

 

Recent stats tell us 96% of Americans have cell phones, and 81% of those are smartphones. That includes 53% of people 65 and over (that one surprised me). In a separate stat, only 14% of Americans read the Bible daily, and another 21% read it at least once a week. Even with more Bible access than ever before, biblical literacy is still abysmal.

Stewarding the message with smartphones

So here’s the question: Can technology really make a difference when it comes to reaching people with the gospel and discipling them? Can we encourage people to go back to the source (Scripture)?

 

Yes. 

 

No technology can replace the power of the Spirit, but it can help us steward the gospel message in wise and creative ways. And at its best, technology makes the work you’re already doing more meaningful. 

 

  • In addition to weekly services, encourage small group and Bible study participation by allowing your members to sign up online through their own member profiles.
  • In addition to the awkward mid-service meet and greet, help your members to connect with others anytime by making your directory available online (with a login to keep everything secure).
  • In addition to receiving regular ministry updates, easily send emails with devotionals, Scripture passages, and prayer opportunities. Even better, share relevant insights or events with particular groups within your congregation, like moms, teens, widows and widowers, retirees, and more.
  • In addition to taking attendance at your services, track every interaction your ministry has with members so that you know who’s struggling or needs someone to reach out to them. 

 

When you look back at the ways the Church has used technology over centuries—millennia, even—their creative solutions never replaced weekly gatherings. They stack on top of what the Church has always done together so that people are better equipped to live out their faith in their everyday lives.

 

Today, churches have practically unlimited ways to foster community and discipleship among their congregations. So how do you choose what’s best for your church? I suggest making sure it is:

  1. Focused on people
  2. Designed for connection
  3. Built so everyone can use it

 

Those three things will help your entire team—particularly those who interact with people in the congregation—stay laser-focused on what matters most: discipleship. 

If you’re looking for tools that meet those requirements, take a look at Servant Keeper. It’s a church management system built for churches like yours that is designed to connect people with discipleship opportunities. With robust reporting, customizable communication, and built-in member directories, you can keep your congregation informed, engaged, and growing all week long. Learn more or schedule a demo today.

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