Like many other areas of life, churches are being impacted by the development and adoption of new technologies. A recent article by Terry Mattingly points out the challenges the church (Catholic, Protestant, and probably many others) have in reaching the younger generation who are used to connecting not by paper, phone, or even e-mail, but by Facebook and Twitter and text message.
Businesses ran into this problem some years ago, and someone coined the term Digital Darwinism. This refers to the habit some businesses had, like Polaroid, when they failed to see the change in technology coming and lost their market to a competing technology. The church doesn’t have quite that problem – there’s not a digital salvation that I’m aware of. But the church does need to find a way to reach people, young and old, to get its message out to them.
And it’s more than just outreach and evangelism. In my studies of churches using social networks, some use them for evangelism – trying to reach new people who have not previously been a part of a church, or who are looking for a new church. This is the case that Mattingly is initially concerned with – how to help the “digital natives” find their local churches, since they now look online, not on the street corner or in the phone book. The churches I studied also used their online presence to enable their members and sometimes others to interact – to organize, to discuss, and to support one another.
Beyond that, Mattingly writes of a recent (Catholic) Council of Bishops meeting where the bishops have been considering how to engage in the online world. The starting point is a web site, what Bishop Ronald Herzog calls a “one-dimensional” reality for the culture. Going beyond that is the “two dimensional” world of blogs, where anyone can state an opinion, and all opinions look at face value to have equal validity. In that world, the culture expects a dialog, to be able to engage with church leaders to discuss issues of faith.
But that takes time, and it takes risk for church leaders to take that on. I think it will be necessary for church leaders of all kinds of churches to engage in the online world – the “digital natives” will expect it, and at some points that will be where we’ll find them. That doesn’t mean the online world replaces the in-person world – just as in business, it’s a complementary channel that we’ll have to figure out how to best leverage and manage.
What do you think?