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Church Trends: Technology and Christian Education

Sometimes I feel like I don’t belong to the technological world we are becoming.
I cannot boast that my phone is smarter than your phone, or that I have been befriended by more near strangers than you.

I would win, however, any contest of whose eyes get more glazed when social networking jargon is bandied about.

My working assumption has always been that others are more connected, more reliant and certainly more adroit in the art of living in the “i-” world than I am.

As the minister of adult learning at First Baptist of Greensboro, N.C., I cast a vision for the direction of biblical and moral education, but I am also an observer. The means by which our congregation achieves educational goals is quite often beyond my reach.

My assumption that I am floundering in the wake of a technological juggernaut needed to be tested against real data that relates to the ways in which we are collectively achieving our educational goals.

What I found surprised me. The following are a few of my observations regarding technological trends in Christian education.

The Sunday school program of our congregation is not very unique; it is comprised of a variety of groupings and study styles.

A variety of materials are used to structure the study time, which still, with a few exceptions, meets for an hour on Sunday morning.

Although most classes use popular Bible study curriculums, several classes use this time to study books written on faith-related topics.

These classes are multigenerational, although they appeal more to young adults. Book selections indicate an embracing of new trends and an awareness of the inadequacies of putting old church models into the emerging culture.

Surprisingly, these classes almost exclusively use conventional paper-composed books while eschewing electronic versions.

Upon further inquiry, I also learned that although the members of these classes use email and texting to some degree, other more trendy forms of interaction, such as tweeting or the creation of Facebook pages, has not yet found their way into common use.

Most classes often use material found through Internet searches, and the projection of a YouTube video to illustrate a point is commonplace.

However, online resources are generally used to compliment rather than supplant the more traditional paper-bound Sunday school literature.

The only caveat to the paper dominance in our church is the Bible itself. There are undeniable generational trends in this regard.

The younger the class members, the more one can expect to see Bibles (in multiple versions) as part of their hand-held electronic devices.

An incredible exception to the generational trends projected above is a class comprised of couples in their late 60s and 70s.

As they became increasingly aware of members of their class who had become unable to attend due to physical limitations, they embraced Skype as a means to bring their class to the homebound.

Necessity sometimes overcomes generational stereotypes in moving us toward an acceptance of electronic forms of interaction.

In addition to Sunday school, a wide variety of forums are used to apply biblical truths.

When confronting the more contentious issues of the day, we still rely mostly on one-to-one, eye-to-eye and soul-to-soul discussion.

Sessions that we have held to discuss the “hot topics” of the day are well attended, and the give and take is honest and respectful.

Although I approached the idea with trepidation, starting a blog about these issues never found escape velocity.

Apparently, confronting the issues that tend to divide us as a nation finds a greater environment of engagement in physical proximity and mutual relationship.

To be sure, mass communication of churchwide information is very dependent on new technology – our website, Constant Contact and Facebook page are invaluable.

As a staff, we like the convenience of reaching the maximum number of people with the ability to adjust our message in real time.

An observer of these facts and trends might find support for the following conclusion: One-way communication lends itself well to high-tech forms of information dissemination.

However, the rather unique kind of communication and communion in which a congregation engages does not naturally gravitate to popular social media trends.

Rather than engaging in self-imposed punishment for being behind the cultural curve, perhaps the church should embrace the difference.

In church, bearing one’s soul still involves interaction on a level of intimacy that cannot be expressed or experienced by phone or even Skype.

Perhaps future advances will bridge distance barriers and bring the immediacy and intimacy needed to truly bring the “touch” of Christ to one another.

Steve Sumerel is associate pastor of adult learning at First Baptist Church of Greensboro, N.C.

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of articles on church trends. An article by Robin Sandbothe on trends in social media will appear tomorrow. Previous articles are available on “the Garden State,” missional engagement and Hispanic Baptists.