The times they are changing. Bob Dylan sang that and now that’s decades old. Times are always changing. For the church we are in a time of rapid change and transition. Old loyalities and ways of doing things are changing. The video clips I added show how fast and amazing things are moving. I’m a generation raised on TV but watching a new generation raised on the Net. The changes I’ve seen since I graduated high school in 1990 are so fast and mind blowing.
Still the issue is more than just technology. It’s more than churches learning to use computers or having power point. That is a part of it but it is far more than that. The age we live in shapes how we learn, experience, and do things. During the broadcast age we learned by observing and watching things happen before us. Our attention spans shortened and we needed instant this or that. We were shaped by the way TV shaped us through our entertainment, news, etc. This digital age is very different. It is very interactive and the world is flat (see the book “The World is Flat”). You can get on line and have a best friend around the globe who you can talk to every day. Kids play video games each day with scores of others from around the world like “World of Warcraft” (and they pay to do it). They design web sites and make money in creative ways. They create global communities on Facebook or Myspace. They are creating and learning at rapid paces. The amount of information now available at the finger tips is far beyond anything we’ve ever seen. They are exposed to other ideas and worldviews daily.
Just think about Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a site that the users create. Users write and edit and police the entries. And studies show that it stays really accurate. They filter who gets on but people can be allowed on to shape the site. This shows that our kids are used to a participatory way of doing things. They are not content with sitting back and watching people do it for them. They are used to doing it! A word I heard recently is called “prosumer.” It means producer consumer. They produce their own stuff. You can go on line and create your own movies (you tube) or write a book and be self published and sell it on Amazon (lulu).
How will this shape the church? Digital age folks who come to church will want to be in a church that allows them to have hands on participation and to be involved and not just sit back. Worship in a church that is shaped by the digital age will have to look for ways to involve the people who don’t want to be an audience. They are used to creating movies, etc and so they will want to be a part of shaping what happens in the church.
I think this is exciting! We have an opportunitiy to become churches that are creative, unique, and relevant. I’ve read studies that say 50-70 percent of current churches will die in the next few decades and this is a reality. Many churches simply are not reaching younger folks and when the point of no return passes (the leaders pass away with no one to lead or pay the bills) they will die. But God is not going to die. Some churches who deal with the challenges rather than run will not only survive but thrive. New churches will also be born and they too will be a part of the changing times.
I’m excited still because I believe God will use churches that want to be alive to do great ministry. There are many who need the gospel and we have a story that the nations still need. Yet we have to be ready to adjust and face the future/present.
How might such a church look? Imagine a church that—
*Writes and creates (produces) it’s own music rather than buying all music from places that do not know the people who sing them. The styles will be diverse and contextual to the community that writes them.
*Produces Bible studies, VBS, and programs that fit who they are and were they are.
*Has a thriving media ministry- web, blogs, interactive learning on line, etc. Many schools have online academies/studies why not churches? Imagine an on-line Sunday School! This isn’t to replace SS. People today want community (Visit a coffee shop sometime) and a church will have Bible studies, worship, and so on but this can be intergrated with the blogs, on line programs, etc. A Sunday School class might have an interactive web site that after the lesson the people can continue the conversation, share prayer concerns, and develop a community. Then when they gather weekly they will already be in the process of growing and developing a stronger community.
This media church will develop videos for teaching and worship and interact with media resources in the world.
*Be glocal (global and local). Mission wise it will do hands on missions and not just send money to mission agencies but do both. With the ‘flat world’ we live in a local church can have friendships and partnerships with a church across the globe. Music and other worship elements will be diverse and represent other cultures as we learn from one another.
The old battles of a tradtional worship service vs a contemporary one may be a thing of the past. The churches of the future will probably be very diverse and not a ‘one size fits all.’ I envision a church that uses hymns, praise songs, bluegrass, contemporary, etc as it fits the context of the people. I see creativity in preaching, drama, Bible studies, etc. I see folks gathering to sit around and share their concerns and study God’s word but who don’t just want to do it for forty minutes and then wait seven days to start a new conversation but who want to carry the lesson on daily.
So churches do not have to fear. There is work to do but there has always been work to do.
Missionaries who go overseas learn the language of the new people, the culture, and prepare themselves to adapt to the new age. Kids born in the digital age are saavy. We are the ‘digital immigrants’ and the ‘digital missionaries’ and so like missionaries we have much to learn but with God’s grace the journey can be thrilling.
While doing this we can’t leave behind those of different times. We will have to continue offering ministries and using methods that speak to others but we can also help introduce and excite others to this new phase in the journey of life. Many of us ‘immigrants’ are already learning and experiencing the digital age. We just need patient teachers.