It’s 10.24am on Sunday morning.
We're 6 minutes before the service is due to start and the speaker is sat next to me while I stare at the church laptop which is doing things I’ve never seen before…
Speaker: Are my sermon slides working?
Me: [to myself and trying to ignore his constant mumbling] Give me a chance for goodness sake. You only showed up with your precious memory stick 5 minutes ago.
32 seconds later and the worship program which was working perfectly is now frozen and not responding to the Enter key however hard I smack it.
Speaker: Cheers! I’ll leave you to it. I’m going out with the leaders to pray. We’ll pray that the computer behaves. Ha Ha (forced laugh).
Me: [to myself through gritted teeth] Yeah, pray that God sends you a new memory stick with a big sticker that says 'Don’t bring this to church 10 minutes before the service – you idiot'!
Thou Shalt Be Disrupted
We’ve all been in church when the technology either didn’t start or started only to stop somewhere in the middle to the tune of 'Let’s give the hymn books out while we stare at the tech-guy'.
And it’s not just worship songs or the odd video. There is an Aladdin’s cave of hi-tech products and ideas moving slowly towards us largely from our tech-savvy and outspoken American counterparts. And some of them make remarkable claims like: 'Giving goes up 35% when people donate using Apps'.
That sounds good! And it sense since we know that enabling people to give small amounts easily - 'text to give' - is commonly used by charitable causes.
Its not just worship and giving where we are seeing church life changing in our time. There are apps and sites to help with Church Management and outreach using Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and blogs to carry the church’s message to new places where people are gathering. There are excellent aids to help us pray like Facebook prayer-walls or the award-winning PrayerMate app.
The problem is technology introduces dependence – we don’t have a Plan B for when stuff doesn’t work
The problem is technology introduces dependence – we don’t have a Plan B for when stuff doesn’t work. And it’s hard work. We don’t want to compete for people’s attention with the likes of Twitter, Youtube and Facebook. We would rather things just stayed the same. Douglas Adams in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy summed it up: 'Everything invented before you were born is just "stuff". Everything invented between your birth and the age of 30 is wonderful. And everything invented after you turned 30 will bring about the death of society'.
Or as someone said: 'We are a 2,000 year old institution used to moving at end-times speed, in a generation used to moving at internet speed'.
10.32am and the prayer meeting is over.
Speaker: Is it working? The service is starting.
Me: [to myself] Is it really? Could that be why we ask speakers to send their files in the day before?
'What would Jesus do?'
Someone once said to me, 'Paul and the apostles didn’t need fancy technology to start the worldwide movement we call the Church so why should we?' But I say that Paul used every means and mechanism available to him in his day. He put himself in the places where he knew people would be including town squares, synagogues, and public forums. And he used every form of communication including letters, speech, poetry and song, and addressing people one to one and one to many.
I don’t believe that Paul (or Jesus) would ignore the internet enabled platforms and forums where people gather today, nor the streamed worship, podcast sermons, or online Bibles.
But amidst all this change it’s really important to remember that many things will not change.
The way we communicate our culture has altered completely but the elements that make up our culture have not.
The way we communicate our culture has altered completely but the elements that make up our culture have not. Books may be read on Kindles but they are still novels with characters and events; music may be streamed but they are still 3-minute tracks; films may be viewed on catch-up or mobile but they are still 90 minute plots; people may be messaging but they are still talking. And at the heart of our message is a story – and people still love stories. It’s the old story of a God bringing back a people who were far away; and your story and my story are the storylines within it. Many things will not change.
10.37am and church is now full and quiet.
Me: [feeling cross, abused and knowing it’s not my fault] I’m sorry everyone. The computer needed a reboot. It’s now installing the second of 32 Windows updates.
Speaker: [whispering] ...does that mean it’ll be OK for my sermon...?