Follow me on Twitter @revbrock

Friday, April 19, 2013

Should A Local Congregation be “All-In” on Technology?

I recently attended a lecture at Northminster Baptist Church in Jackson, MS on trends in the interaction of church and culture presented by Dr. Roger Paynter. Paynter, who is Pastor of FBC Austin, Texas, is also a former Pastor of Northminster.
Paynter’s perspective deserves attention precisely because of these two ministry posts. In Jackson, Paynter led what is probably the most progressive Baptist congregation in the city. In Austin, Paynter leads a Baptist congregation in one of the most progressive cities in the nation. By returning to the South he could offer insights into what is coming in the next years for the church in Mississippi, a state that is notoriously behind the rest of American culture. Because of his ministry experiences in Austin, where Christianity is anything but the dominant voice in the culture, Dr. Paynter is something of a prophet to our Baptist communities in Mississippi.

One of Paynter’s points was that the local congregation can no longer operate in the old paradigm of “attraction ministry.” By that he means that in generations past the church could depend on people coming to worship; now the congregation must find ways to interact with the community outside of itself to grow. Such a dramatic shift reflects changes in American culture at large vis-à-vis Christianity and should motivate changes in the Church’s evangelistic and ministerial strategies. Sadly, such changes are often ignored by the congregation, leading to ministerial and congregational decline.

A point that Paynter emphasized was that the church cannot delay in adopting the technological resources that the broader culture uses. He recommended a robust presence on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram so that the church could interact with the community on its own terms. Since the community will no longer come to the church by default, the church must go to the community.

This is the essence of the missional mindset. The church for too long lived with the luxury of lazy ministry practices. While Christianity was the dominant cultural voice in society there were plenty of pressures to drive people into the congregation since it was the right thing to do. Now, however, we are learning that such practices are no longer sufficient. This is a positive change, I think, since it will force our congregations to embrace a more authentic model of ministry, that is, that the mission of the church cannot be internally focused and must drive believers out into the world.

The emphasis that Paynter placed on locating and ministering to the changing community was correct. However, I wonder about the emphasis he placed on making sure there was a vigorous digital and social medial presence for the church community as a foundational arena of interaction with the outer community.

I’m as digitally connected as can reasonably be expected for a Millennial. I was there in the early days of Facebook (Baylor was one of the first few campuses to host the fledgling network), and I maintain several other social media presences. I’ve also been responsible for several church websites and digital communities.

There is a difference, though, when it comes to the ministry of a church and the digital landscape. What we decide to adopt as outlets for our ministries testifies to our theology, most centrally our theology of worship and our theology of the church. There is something essentially different about watching a worship service on YouTube or streamed live rather than being in that service physically. There is something different about digital social interactions among believers and non-believers compared to face-to-face interactions. I am not saying these are necessarily good and bad or better and worse; I rather want our congregations to be mindful, thoughtful, and intentional about the ways in which they adopt and use social and digital media because it matters how the message is presented and how the community is formed.

What if a church intentionally avoided Twitter and YouTube? Could not a congregation, filled up with people who are connected in every digital way possible, decide that their corporate organization would be something simpler, something more careful with words and images than Twitter or Instagram? Certainly a church could make the decision to engage and transform their community through different media than these.

I find that relying on digital media, especially social media can devolve into a substitute for real relationships between the congregation and the community. By holding the virtual close to our noses we tend to hold the real at arm’s length. This is not the missional emphasis that Paynter made, nor is the solution to the church’s loss of prominence in American culture.

Please, get a Twitter account for your church. Set up a YouTube channel. Post pictures of fantastic church events on Facebook. But in all of this remember – a congregation is about being the presence of Christ in its community, a community of pavement and grass and smiles and tears and honesty and love and hate. It’s awfully hard to live into that calling in 140 characters or less.

No comments:

Post a Comment