Shift Happens … How does the church adjust to an ever-changing digital reality

 In Blog, Communication

The great philosopher Ferris Bueller once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once and awhile, you could miss it.” This has never been as true as it is today. Imagine you are Sleeping Beauty and have been snoozing for the last 9 years. Suddenly you wake up. When you started your nap, the iPhone wasn’t even a thing, and now over 2 billion people on the globe use their mobile smartphone every day. SHIFT.

In 1903, two Ohio bicycle shop owners had a hairbrained idea that humans could fly. 66 years later, another Ohioan planted a flag on the face of the moon. SHIFT. The rate of innovation is so fast that Ferris might just be right. If we don’t pay attention, life might pass us by. When it comes to technology and the church, there is a real risk of missing out on opportunities because we tend to be slow in adopting new ways of doing things.

On December 20, 1990, the first website was launched by Tim Berners-Lee (Sorry Mr Gore.) By December of 1994, there were over 10,000 websites and by July of 1999, over 6.5 million. By June of 2014, 53% of Protestant churches still didn’t have a website. We shifted too slowly.

A more recent movement has been to the cloud. In 1999, Salesforce was one of the first major software providers to move their software solution from your personal server and into the cloud. In 2015, cloud-based software solutions (SAS) grew to just under 28 Billion dollars a year. SHIFT. Many churches continue to use server-based management software that ties their people’s access to a single location.

Despite all the new tools available to us, many are nervous to adapt to rapid changes brought about by technology. Churches continue to discuss the pros and cons of online giving; meanwhile, in 2014 76% of americans purchased some or all of their Christmas gifts online. So how do we spot the next trend and not let it pass us by?

The next big shift.

We are seeing signs of the next big shift: A digitally enhanced reality using mobile technology. We’ve all seen the apple watch and some of us have even seen people beta testing Google Glass. There is new wearable tech hitting the market every day. While this is part of the next shift, you can see it most clearly in the number of kids running through neighborhoods, parks and city streets with their eyes glued to Pokemon Go

Here’s why we think this is the next shift:

The tools are available:

Today most of us are walking around with a computer in our pocket that is faster, more powerful and has more features than the most expensive device on the market 10 years ago. This means that for the first time in history, we have constant access to each other and an unprecedented amount of information.

Psychologically it fits:

We live in the age of digital social engagement. Kids don’t pass notes in the hallways, they send text messages. Over the past 10 years, we have had a seismic shift in how we relate to each other. This transformation has primed the pump for the blending of digital and in-person interactions.

Shared value:

There are benefits on both sides of this shift: for end users and for innovators. A great example is Ibotta. It’s a rebate/coupon start-up that allows end users to redeem rebates for items they buy simply by taking a photo of their receipt. The end user benefits because they get a check sent to them for the rebate and the marketers benefit because they learn more about your buying habits by seeing what’s on the receipt.  win:win.

How can churches take advantage of this coming trend?

Embrace the new reality

Let’s be honest… this world wide web thing isn’t going away. Neither are smartphones or online giving. We can’t fight the future. We can ignore it or embrace it. If your church hasn’t looked at how to do online giving, or optimized your website for mobile or launched a mobile app; the time is now. Of course, there are risks involved and yes, these things cost money, so pick one thing that feels like a stretch and reach for it.

Experiment

Not everything you try will be a hit. So what? Some things will work, and if we are too nervous to fail, we will never change. Try launching an online bible study for moms of small children. What a great way to connect with other women that are in the same place in life than taking the hour of peace you get per day (also known as nap time) and make a connection. How about use online polling in a church service? Or move your sermon notes to digital and make them interactive? If we don’t experiment, we won’t learn how to go beyond where we are today.

Seek feedback

The great thing about setting things up as an experiment is that you are well positioned to get feedback. Ask your people what’s working and what’s not. Ask them how they are using technology in other areas of their life. “Oh, you’re using slack for collaboration in your office…hmmm I wonder if that would help the church staff.”

Keep watching for the next SHIFT

It can be easy to put our heads down and just keep moving forward. We all do it. But, wouldn’t it be amazing if sometime in the future, people would point towards the church as the trendsetter for innovation instead of late adopters? Keep your eyes open for the next big shift that will help you and other churches to make a larger impact.

How has technology affected your church for the better and for the worse?