When it comes to technology in the church, my experience tells me that there are primarily three types of churches. The line between these can be very blurry.
1) The Old-School Church—that outright rejects technology.
2) The Tech-Junkie Church—that blindly embraces technology, for technology’s sake.
3) The Digital Church—that intentionally uses certain technologies with a specific goal in mind.
Before we dive into the types, let me define ‘technology’ in our context. When I am speaking about the local church, by technology I typically mean digital technology. In modern-day America, you would be hard-pressed to find a church that gathered without air conditioning or heat in the extreme seasons, or the use of lights and general electricity. I do not believe that many churches argue over the use of these, however, there are churches that still debate the use of various production technologies (lights, camera, action!), even electric or digital instrumentation, and of course digital media.
The Old-School Church
The church that rejects digital technology could be doing so for any number of reasons. Commonly, their philosophies may collide with the use of technology. Some in this group might see technology as too worldly, or downright evil, which conflicts with their desire to be more holy. On the other hand, others might genuinely be trying to avoid certain stumbling blocks and spiritual distractions. This would all be perfectly fine were it just an internal philosophy that could split the difference with those of other methodology.
However, these churches are usually of the mindset that “technology is bad, so those who use it are also bad.”
I have seen these churches, so I will say that while the people can have pure intentions, this philosophy is difficult to argue for biblically and difficult to maintain practically in this evolving world.
Typically, this is the church that is not growing and has little influence in its community. Most church closings occur where the church has not adapted to modern methods of worship and outreach. The message of the Gospel is timeless, but the world has certainly changed around us and there are new mediums to be considered.
The Tech-Junkie Church
Living on the other end of the spectrum is the second church, blindly embracing technology, simply for technology’s sake. This church may be doing everything it can to be cool, hip or edgy. Production may be the primary focus of this church. This church may even strive for excellence in every detail, but if using technology means sacrificing ministry for entertainment value, then they miss the point.
This church will often throw out all the stops, expecting the technology to do the work of the gospel. The truth is, the highly-produced band, quality videos, fantastic fog and light shows mean nothing without purpose. A church’s use of technology of any kind means nothing unless it is intentional to the mission of that church—which has always been to reach the world, engage them in more meaningful ways, and see a return of spiritual growth and more investment in disciple-making.
Technology is not the secret sauce that brings people to Jesus.
It is a tool that, like a hammer, needs to be in the hands of someone who knows how to use it with a constructive intention. This church may be great at packing the house, but may miss out on impacting the house. The tech-junkie church lacks strategy and purpose.
The Digital Church
Finally, the third church is very intentional with its use of technology. This is a church that prayerfully considers why it exists, weighing every church program and every piece of technology against that purpose.
The reality is, in the same way that turning on the lights in the building does not fill the house, ramping up the technology does not guarantee success.
The buy-in with the expectation that some thing is going to make your ministry successful is a highball. I believe this third church finds a nice balance between church strategy in technology and spirit-led ministry.
They choose to use certain technologies, and they know what their goal is either way. This third category would have a gospel-first mentality, with an intentional, strategic use of its technologies as tools. Studies show that churches with higher use of digital media technologies have greater weekly attendance, higher involvement from members in volunteering and activities, and even more giving. I guarantee you, though, that it is not the technology alone that accounts for that growth, it’s the combination of the right medium with the right message.
Over the millennia, the message of the church has not changed, but the medium certainly has.
Today, the Digital Church is leading the future of church engagement, world outreach and spiritual return. They are best positioned to become leaders in the digital church and bridge the gap between “four-wall methodology”—where all church activities and spiritual experiences happen within the four walls of the local church—and the constantly-connected Internet age.