The Second Eclectic

Technology changes how we relate to God and each other

Church in the Technological Society


Technology has one goal—efficiency. Whatever else humans use technology for—and those uses are many—efficiency comes first. That's what technology wants.

Shovels are more efficient than your bare hands. Bullets, more efficient than your fists. The telegraph is more efficient than the Pony Express. Email is more efficient than either one. GPS is more efficient than an atlas. Dyson claims to have the most efficient hand dryers for wicking away wetness—ever. Efficiency is the goal of technology, and most of us want it that way. 

Efficiency alone justifies technology in most people's minds. We adopt it for efficiency's sake. Technology makes promises, using words like faster, more, easier, better, less time. Start looking, and you'll see efficiency being lauded everywhere. 

The ease of efficiency distances us from the curse of the Fall—toil. God said to Adam, “The ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat. . . .”

Okay God, but have you seen what John Deere is manufacturing these days? Air-conditioned cabs. Forty-row harvesters. Cup holders. There ain’t much moisture our brows. 

Whatever our reasons for using technology, we must make a deal. We must sign a contract with technology. Technology wants efficiency, and if we agree to its terms, we can use it for whatever goals we have. But technology’s methods alter our own practices and in the process often transform our goals. Sometimes efficiency simply distracts us, and we forget. We enjoy the luxury. We don’t have to work as hard. How can that not be good?

Churches often sign technology’s contract as much as anyone else. For all its in-the-world, not-of-the-world rhetoric, the church has overlooked technology. 

Here’s how it often happens.

The lead pastor of a zealous, Bible-believing church casts his vision: “We want to reach more people for Christ.” Parishioners in the pews nod their heads. It sounds good. We can get behind that. We certainly can't oppose it. Of course we want to reach more people for Christ! That’s the Great Commission! 

Did you notice that word "more"? More is a technology promise word. More is quantity, and in today’s technological society, quantity is feasible. How? "We're going to reach more people by using more technology, more amplifiers, and more video screens."

No, the lead pastor won’t say that, though it is a big part of the answer. He is not being deceptive though. He is just as susceptible to technology's sleight of hand. We can't blame him.

So what will he say? How will we reach more people?

One way is to empower pew-sitters to go into their workplaces and neighborhoods and share the gospel. Certainly many church leaders are passionate about this approach (they call it discipleship). But in a technological society, this method isn't the first option. Technology is.

More often, you’ll hear pastors exhorting their congregations to invite outsiders to come hear him speak. Why? Because technology makes larger audiences possible. Amplification and video venues—and parking lots—enable hundreds, thousands, and tens of thousands to hear one man speak on stage or on screen.

Why is this method our first choice? Because technology shapes our methodology.

Audio and video technology convinces churches that they can let a single man do most of the work. It’s more efficient that way. Technology makes it possible, so church leaders reformat their methods to harness the technology. 

It’s more efficient than doing the harder, longer, slower work of empowering insiders and sending them out, even though that too sounds like the Great Commission. Discipleship seems quite toilsome at times. We can mitigate this toil though by amplifying—or projecting, or broadcasting—an evangelistic message. Who needs grace? Whatever a pastor says about Jesus, his technology is saying something as well. Instead of building relationships, churches use sound systems and video projectors. Instead of sending its people into the community, churches build bigger auditoriums or multiple sites.

For churches in the technological society, strategically neglecting technology can arrest an imagination in ways that noise and light no longer can. For people bombarded with signs and wonders, it is the mundane that becomes holy.
Your mom taught you well