Are Churches Innovators or Laggards?

My big present for my birthday was an iPad. Being the technology geek that I am, I was thrilled to get this newest gadget. I already have an iPhone, so I was familiar with the capabilities and uses of the iPad. I knew what apps it could run, what information I could track and – most importantly – what games I could play.

But since using this new device I’ve discovered that not only does Angry Birds look even better, the iPad also has a number of uses for my work here at church. I’m really enjoying learning how I can use my iPad to track budgets, take notes in meetings and stay current on religious blogs and websites. It’s becoming increasingly apparent to me that the iPad and other devices like it will have grow in their usefulness for churches.

Is that exciting or scary for you? How would you feel if, on Sunday morning, instead of being handed a paper bulletin you were handed an electronic tablet with the order of worship on it? How would you react if you saw a pastor leading a wedding from an iPad or reading scripture from an iPhone? How you answer those questions will help you determine your comfortable level with the proliferation of technology in our society.

While I don’t expect these above scenarios to happen at Crestwood anytime soon, they do make the point that churches need to figure out the role of technology in their purpose and vision. Some churches have already embraced this to the fullest extent; others have stood steadfastly against the encroachment of technology. I would say Crestwood is somewhere in the middle.

What we’ll need to decide as we move forward is how we can best use technology to share the good news. In some cases, it’s a no-brainer. For example, a church without a website is on its way to the grave. Websites are crucial for reaching new people and connecting with the community. We have a wonderful website at Crestwood that will continue to get better as we think about how we can use it effectively.

Other uses of technology in the church are not nearly as universally agreed upon. The presence of audio-visual technology in the sanctuary? The ability to pay your pledge online? Churches are divided over whether or not technology should be incorporated in these ways, and each church must figure out for itself how technology fits into its overall structure and purpose. That’s what I’m continuing to learn here at Crestwood.

In his theory on the diffusion of innovations, professor Everett Rogers describes five different groups of people based on their willingness to adopt new developments. The first people to jump on board are the Innovators, followed by Early Adopters, Early Majority and Late Majority. The last group to adopt new things are the Laggards. These are the folks who are skeptical of microwaves and whose phones all have cords attached to them.

So where does the church fall in relation to technology? Too often the church has been Laggards, which has put us woefully behind the culture in our ability to communicate and connect with people. But I don’t think it’s good stewardship for us to be Innovators of new technology that may be very expensive and not useful. We should probably fall somewhere in between.

I love technology and am excited about the different ways it can be used in the church, but I’m also sensitive to the fact that not everyone is as comfortable with it as me. So my promise to you is that we will continue this conversation so that we can figure this out together as we move forward. You’re not going to show up one Sunday and have robots leading the service!

If we are going to stay relevant in our culture, technology will be an important tool to help us do that. But our technology should serve us, not the other way around. I look forward to exploring how we can adopt new advancements while staying true to the timeless message of the gospel. And just so you know, this article was not written on my iPad!

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