Before I start waxing poetic on the virtues of technology use in the church world, let me first set my context for pastoral ministry. Not counting weekly worship festivities, here is a glimpse of my technological life in a typical week:
• Twitter: 150-200 tweets
• Facebook: 40-50 interactions and connections
• E-mails: 300-400 e-mail that require a response
• Blogging: 2-3 postings
• Time: 20-25 hours online
• Cafe hours: 15-20 hours
• Home visits, face-to-face meetings: 2
• Emergency hospital visits -- none in eight years
Yep, that's pretty much my life. Granted, the church that I serve is a young congregation -- ten Elders with an average age of 27 -- and I am a self-affirmed connoisseur of all things social media and Web 2.0, so it may be second nature for us to use technology to build, maintain and inspire a healthy church community.
As you begin to explore ways in which you may integrate the use of technology into the life of your community, let me offer a few things I have learned about the joys, dangers and pitfalls of technology and congregational life.
It doesn't take a genius to figure out that I am a big supporter of the appropriate use of technology in church life. I sometimes take this for granted and forget that not everyone is so eager or willing to jump into the technology life of the church. And while entire books are being written on this subject, here are just three reasons why I believe that the use of technology in church life has a huge upside:
• It's personal - Many people today experience personal relationships differently than those who feel all this technology seems impersonal. Rather than discount this as wrong because it's different, we need to understand that there has been a shift in how people experience the "personal."
• It's adaptive - The use of technology allows for the church's ministry to be done with greater adaptability and speed. While efficiency should not be the sole aim of church work, using technology better focuses much of the structural and planning conversations that need to take place in any church life.
• It's contextual - In the end, one can certainly deny that there is a change in how people interact today, but I think that is a dangerous stand to take. People exist in the world differently and to ignore that fact is an abdication of our responsibility to be a compelling presence in the world.
Lest you discount the above musings as ramblings from a star-struck technophile, I do understand that it is not all unicorns and butterflies when it comes to the effective use of technology in our church communities. And while I think tensions below are present in any community as it tries to effectively build community, technology has the capacity to rapidly create additional venues of misunderstanding and tension.
• Isolation - With the ability to connect to pretty much anyone with a click of a mouse, there is a danger that we can avoid communal interactions and discourse. And while this may be necessary at different points in one's faith life, technology must not be used to create more isolation and individualism.
• Anonymity - Again, sometimes anonymity is contextually appropriate. For the most part, anonymous interactions remove some of the potential relationships that can develop. There's only so far you can get to know the other person when solely using a technological medium without being able to trust that the "real" person is present.
• Exclusion - Every community excludes groups based on spoken and unspoken rules and realities. Those that use technology at any level are not immune to this. Exclusions can be because of access, proficiency and/or personal preference, but any church hoping to better integrate technology must be aware of and respond to those places where technology divides.
• Personality - I often think that technology makes it easier for ‘toxic' people to spread their toxicity to more people. While that may be true, the benefits of such access must also be acknowledged. I have found that those who communicate with integrity, compassion and thoughtfulness also have a far-reaching impact. In the end, the technology is only the vehicle through which we communicate and interact and, just as in face-to-face communication, our personalities flavor those interactions.
• Culture - Not everyone breathes this technological air. Some people are NOT and WILL NEVER be comfortable interacting through technologies such as Facebook or Twitter. The best use of technology is built upon the understanding that technological realities are not simply a means and a method, but for many people, it is a way of living and being. Understanding this fact is crucial if any use of technology is to be genuine and effective.