I can already hear the howls from some of the congregations I’ve attended.
“Technology is too a ministry!” they protest. “Social media is the best way to keep in touch with all 10,438 members of our congregation! It’s the best way to reach younger generations! And anyway, the church needs to keep up with modern means of communication! Paul went to the Areopagus: we’re going online! It’s the same thing, basically.”
To that I say this:
Technology is a tool of ministry, one among many. And a great one! But if we begin to regard it as a self-sufficient ministry unto itself, we’ve failed.
Look, I get it: the ease and the efficiency of technology is what makes it so appealing. Churches can reach people in ways they never before imagined. Communication is instant. Bible verses and sermons can be passed along in all sorts of formats. Text a prayer or post an uplifting encouragement on Facebook. And innovations have given people with disabilities all sorts of new and exciting ways to get involved in the body of Christ.
But technology can cause as many problems as it solves.
Consider, first, the sort of people who have access to technology: to mobile phones, to computers, to the internet, to wi-fi. It’s tempting for those of us who are accustomed to those things to think that “everyone” has them. But I am here to tell you that everyone does not.
Many people in rural, isolated areas have fallen behind technological advancements due to lack of infrastructure, lack of funds, and occasionally lack of interest or information/technology literacy. Poverty-stricken areas in the U.S., including many Native American reservations, have less-than-stellar access to technology if indeed they have it at all. And outside the U.S., in many countries, luxuries like WiFi, regular internet access, and dependable cell phone signals aren’t the norm. That doesn’t even touch those whose use of technology is restricted by government censorship or intervention.
And what about those in elder care homes, or those in high-age demographics who aren’t interested in the least in whatever’s happening online? What about homeless populations whose access to technology is minimal? What about those who might indeed have access to technology, but whose information and technological literacy is low?
When we depend on technology to do all our ministry for us, we run the risk of limiting our ministry to those with the privilege, the means, and the consistent access to technology–which in turn runs the risk of excluding the very people who need Christian service and Christian support the most. When we delude ourselves that – as one young woman in my church’s youth flippantly put it – “like, everyone has Instagram,” we start to limit the people we involve and engage in the body of Christ.
The second problem is that technology by its very nature sometimes requires very little in the way of effort or engagement. Why call you when can text or post an announcement on Facebook? Why visit anyone, or take the initiative to reach out to them, when they can drop by the church’s webpage and find out what’s going on? Why work with someone to figure out what small group they might enjoy when they can just scroll through a list and check some boxes? Why get out and do the grunt work of ministry when you can transfer $x to a church event with the click of a mouse? When we depend on technology to do the work of ministry for us, to do the work of love for us – if we start to consider the work of love as something for which we never have to provide anything more than the most passive effort – we lose our potency.
Look, I like technology. I believe it’s a powerful tool for believers in their ministries, or I wouldn’t be here. This blog wouldn’t exist if I didn’t believe it. But if I – a privileged and economically secure, well-educated woman – sometimes feel left out of the loop and alienated from my church because I don’t have Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat, I’m a little worried about how alienated others far less privileged and far more excluded might feel. I worry that, in a time when clicking “like” doubles as an expression of sympathy for a lost life, we risk losing sight of what ministry requires.
So here’s my advice: don’t let technology be an obstacle for anyone who wants to get to Jesus. Let that be your guide. Use it, innovate with it, let it grow and supplement your ministry. But the minute technology becomes a barrier, the minute it gets in the way of loving and serving, the minute it excludes people out, cast a critical eye on it.
We mustn’t let our love of the new become a stumbling block to others.