Here we are—worldwide—in the ninth month of a pandemic. Economies have been shaken, social structures have been re-arranged, and worship gatherings have all been impacted deeply. The pandemic has changed church. And the end is not in sight: to be sure, a vaccine is not far away, but between manufacture and delivery, most of 2021 will still require changes in the way we have always done church. We should face it: we’re never going back to the old normal. The technological question facing churches is now, what will be the new normal? What technological necessities are part of doing church even after the development of a Covid vaccine?
These questions are not new. The church has always used technology, from ink on papyrus, to stained-glass images, to Gutenberg’s press, church liturgies and community life have leveraged whatever tech was available and affordable. In that sense nothing has changed at all, but forward-leaning churches should consider what technological changes will become a permanent part of the liturgy landscape, and how can we prepare? Here are three tech lessons we’ve already learned, and a one thing that will never change.
Every Church Should Have (or Get) a Reliable ISP
There was a time when no churches had telephones; then there was a time when all churches needed telephones; and then cellular technology rendered church land lines obsolete! Someday our ISP’s will go the way of fax machines, but until the next big thing comes along, all churches need secure, steady, and reliable access to the Internet. Even the smallest country church benefits from world-wide connectivity. Sunday schools and nurserys need access; youth groups now seem irrelevant without the latest videos; and the folks who show up Sunday mornings (for good or for ill) expect your sanctuary to provide great Wi-Fi—for free.
Live Streaming Is Now A Permanent Part of Doing Church
At least among first-world churches, live streaming is here to stay, even after we can pack thousands into church facilities. Plenty of churches were live streaming before Covid went viral, but now all churches should.
Live streaming is a blessing to those who cannot—or choose not to—make it to a Sunday worship meeting. Older church members no longer need to be classified as “shut-ins” because Sunday mornings can come to them. Young parents with sick babies can drink deep of praise, worship, and teaching from the trusted source of their local congregation—if only the church will continue to make it available. Outreach will increasingly come to depend on visitors “sampling” your church online first, perhaps months before they would feel comfortable walking through your church door.
This means that the quick-fix temporary solutions for live streaming must be replaced by quality gear and great upload speeds. Does your church budget for 2021 include significant upgrades?
ChMS Will Continue to Grow
Smaller churches can certainly keep track of their congregations without software, so why does every church need Church Management Software (ChMS)?
The newest versions of ChMS integrate text messaging technology that have become vital to any church that wants to quickly respond to any situation: bad weather, security concerns, or communicating urgent needs church-wide.
ChMS has made giving easier and more regular. One of the sad lessons of the Covid lockdowns has been that churches who relied on put-your-offer-in-the-basket giving have seen significant declines in giving. Most ChMS packages include online giving and text-to-give. Almost everyone uses PayPal, Venmo, or other financial service apps on their phone—why shouldn’t the church be willing to receive their gifts in the manner they want to give them?
One Thing That Will Never Change
God cares about people, not buildings or tech. Jesus didn’t go to the cross for nation-states, social institutions, or corporations: he bled, died, and rose again for people. And the church is made up of people—that’s the why God set the whole thing up! In a strange way, the Covid changes have helped bring us back to the foundational truth that we need each other. People have felt the loss of face-to-face fellowship, of handshakes and hugs, of looking others in the eye and saying, “You matter to God, and to me.”
The rise of megachurches, broadcast churches, and online churches has in some ways prioritized gadgets and gear over the shepherd and the sheep. Nine months (and counting) of separation has reminded us that the church is not simply in the message distribution business: we are not “in business” at all. The church is how God wants to demonstrate his love for each and every soul he created. To the degree that we recover this truth, we will be able to pivot toward tech change, without experiencing the loss of our divinely-appointed calling and task. At the end of the age, God will not ask how many page views or streaming customers the church gained. He will ask, “Did you care for my sheep?”