Anytime we set out to talk about ways to manage church members’ information, targeted advertising, or other efforts to use technology in outreach, we need to start from the right perspective. None of our cleverness, targeting, or planning can make the Gospel more effective—that’s the Holy Spirit’s job, not ours. What we’re seeking to do with communication, advertising, and technology is to remove barriers to people hearing the Gospel and to ensure that God’s Word is able to speak as clearly as possible to those who need to hear it. This month and for the next several months, we will be looking not at efficacy, but at clarity and removing noise from our communications.
We’ve all gotten them . . . the well-meaning envelope trying to notify us about an important upcoming event or to make sure we’re aware of the can’t-miss deal of the century. And you open the envelope (maybe) and pull out the letter and begin reading the message meant uniquely for you. “Dear Sir or Madam . . .”
If you’ve purchased anything in the last twenty or so years, you’ve almost certainly experienced it: that moment when you get to the register to purchase an inconsequential item, perhaps with exact change at the ready, and your dreams of a quick in-and-out transaction are dashed on the rocks of a series of questions:
“Can I get your phone number please? Hmm . . . you’re not in our system. Let me add you. What’s your name? Address? Email address? Phone number? Mother’s cousin’s oldest stepchild’s phone number?”
With the rapid-fire pace of web applications today, it seems there’s a new must-have product about every other week. Generally, these come and go and aren’t actually all that new or innovative, so I hope I might be forgiven for largely ignoring Slack when it first launched. It was, after all, little more than a glorified chat tool, and not something our team at CTSFW really needed.
At this point, though, I think I’m willing to concede that I might have been mistaken in my first look at Slack. Over the last few years it’s actually become an indispensable part of our team’s toolkit, finding a niche alongside apps like Wunderlist, Google Docs, and Gmail in the selection of apps that do one thing, do it really well, and don’t try to do anything else.
Have you ever worked on a project for a church committee where you’ve spent weeks meeting, planning, studying, and preparing to make a decision, then a few more weeks double-checking some things, and then a handful more weeks waiting for the right people to come back from vacation, and finally after months of delays, preparation, and hard work, discovered that the opportunity had passed or the problem had solved itself?
Nobody likes to waste their time, and sometimes churches move at the speed of committees. (Which is, incidentally, only slightly slower than frozen molasses on a January morning in northern Canada . . . during an ice age.) Speed is not the only virtue, of course, and we want to make wise decisions with limited resources. But in many cases, it would be very helpful if churches were a little more agile.
Perhaps you’ve heard this story before: a congregation invests a great deal of money in a new church management software, rolls it out to pastors, secretaries, and other users. Everything goes perfectly smoothly. The software is ready to help leaders collect information on the congregation’s attendance, finances, and everything else they want to know.
Read any number of books on church organization and evangelism, and you’ll hear some common goals. Visitors should feel at home. They should be comfortable finding their way around. They should feel like they’re welcome and that their presence is valued in the community. They should feel safe.
Those are all good things, at least objectively, but it’s hardly a list that your elders couldn’t have written themselves. More interesting are the competing ways we’re advised to achieve these same goals. Visitors should be singled out and welcomed the moment they walk in the door or they should be allowed to worship in anonymity and peace. We should follow up at their house later in the day, or send them a letter next week, or maybe just leave them alone and hope our distance conveys enough respect for their privacy that they come back. It’s a mess.
On May 25, 2018, Quantic Dream released their much anticipated seventh game, Detroit: Become Human. (Warning: Link launches trailer, which contains swearing.) After spending a week or so with the game, I’ve found it has much worth recommending to even your casual video game player. But, more importantly, Detroit continues a cultural conversation that’s only going to grow in coming years, and it’s one the Church would do well to get involved in. What makes us human, and what moral value do non-humans have? Is life found in the essence of a thing or in its behavior and appearance? Does it matter how we treat objects if they’re not alive? Detroit seeks to answer the question of whether androids are human, but I think the bigger question isn’t whether the android is human (it isn’t). It’s whether the android’s owner will remain human if he or she learns to behave in inhuman ways.
We live in one of the most connected ages in history. We can stay connected with friends around the globe and have unlimited potential to make new friends. News travels around the globe in moments, and we’re routinely treated to a front-row view of history as live-streaming technology becomes more commonplace. At no other point in human history have we been so quickly and easily connected with other people.
So why are we so isolated?