I attempted to join a photography club recently. It did not go well.
By my third meeting, I had the distinct sense that I was missing out on something. Each month, the members came and sat down at tables discussing photography tips, gallery shows, and photo challenges from the previous weeks. Was I missing announcements? A newsletter? I couldn’t figure out where everyone was getting all their information.
When I finally found the courage to ask the president what was going on, she beamed at me. “Ohhhh, it’s all on our Facebook group. Just look us up – you have to join because it’s a private group. We post announcements there.”
“I’m not on Facebook.”
I’ve never seen so many people look so surprised. Every head in the room swiveled in my direction. A disconcerted silence fell. The president’s smile froze on her face. “You’re not on Facebook? At all?”
“Oh,” she said. (I think she thought I was lying, actually.) And then I thought she’d offer…well, something. An email to clue me in. A preview of what I might miss. Some information. Something! Instead she just repeated, as though she didn’t know what else to say, “Well, it’s all on Facebook. ….it’s easy to join!”
I just want information, I wanted to say. Do I really have to join Facebook just to get basic information?
The answer was yes, apparently. Still, I didn’t join. And in the end that was one of the reasons the group didn’t work out for me. The cool kids were all on Facebook – and I wasn’t. In the end, that meant missing out on everything: all the cool opportunities and workshops I’d joined up for in the first place.
I sometimes fear churches might be headed in the same direction.
At my church, first-time visitors can text a special code to the church and receive a small gift and a coffee coupon. Almost every church I know has a Twitter and a Facebook account. Prayer phone chains have become text and e-mail chains. And I’ve seen advertisements recently on how churches can use platforms like Instagram, Whatsapp, and Snapchat to minister.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with these things in particular, even though I often side-eye the Church’s willingness to jump from trend to trend. Even I prefer text to phone, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the accessibility and ease that technology offers.
I do worry, though, that the church risks leaving behind those who don’t – or can’t – embrace the latest technology.
In poor and rural areas in America – and I am thinking particularly of many Appalachian areas as well as many Native American reservations – simple internet access is hard enough to come by. Forget Facebook and Twitter. And even on the occasions that people living in poverty can manage that access, their time to use it and their knowledge of how to use it is limited.
For people with disabilities, the internet can be useful, sure – but it can also be a nightmare. When websites or services (including the ones your church uses) aren’t optimized for those who need assistance, it’s easier just to opt out. When using technology causes more of a headache than not using it, why bother?
Additionally, there’s still a large swath of people in this country who could use the entirety of services on the internet, but simply…don’t. Many of them, elderly now, grew up without computers and found no particular need to change that over time. They’d still prefer to just pick up the phone or read the (actual hard copy of the) newspaper.
And then there’s me, and all the people like me: living on the cusp of Gen X and Gen Y, who grew from no computers and VCRs and cassette tapes into the internet and smartphones and cloud computing. I’m an internet junkie and I use a lot of technology, but I’ve drawn my lines in the sand. I have no interest in Facebook. Or Snapchat. Or Whatsapp. Twitter and Pinterest are as far as I’m willing to go. And if my church ever decides to use any of those avenues that I don’t use as a sole means of information-sharing? Well, then I’ll be in trouble.
Technological trends certainly can have a place in the church. They can supplement ministry and service in a helpful way and, heaven knows, they’re vital for reaching certain people and demographics who live, breathe, and eat technology. They can bring global believers together and provide accessibility and information. All of these things are great.
But one of our first missions as believers must be what Jesus instructed in Matthew 19:14: do not hinder them. Technology can help our Christian lives, but it must surely not cause harm, nor prevent people from reaching Christ. No one who wants information about Jesus, about your church, about your ministries, about God, should be hindered in the least by the lack of a computer, the lack of an internet connection, or the lack of a Facebook profile.
The kingdom of heaven belongs to believers who live and breathe technology…and believers who don’t. We’d do well to remember that.