Does it seem possible that so many months have passed since the Charlotte Inspiration 2004 conference? When Barry Cobus first asked me to moderate a panel along with Spencer Burke of The Ooze and Jeff Mac of Tascam, we weren’t quite sure where the subject of “The Changing Church” would take us. Topic areas were to include MP3 recording, real time hard disk recording, and later evolved into a discussion of the whole digital recording revolution within the church venue.
“So – who is listening to what, where, and when, and are you reaching them? Are they ignoring your message or just your media?” These two questions became our banner topics which we certainly hashed around during the seminar. What amazed me as we began the panel discussion time was the broad range of experiences the attendees brought to the discussion.
Spencer was coming from the perspective of an “alternate church” having begun the ministry now called “The OOZE” and knowing that without the digital revolution there would be no “ooze-ing”. Spencer shared how so many people were becoming “disconnected” from the church of the third millennium and how “The OOZE” served to help them refocus upon their journey with Christ. Many attendees voiced agreement that younger individuals attending their churches were indeed “disconnected” from traditional church-iology and the X and Millennium generations seemed difficult to capture and hold onto. Some attendees simply didn’t know what to make of Spencer and indeed he stirred something in my baby-boomer heart.
Jeff Mac came from a technology and hardware perspective and elicited much back and forth bantering as most of the attendees chose to focus on hardware and both the blessings and issues associated with their particular ministries. Some ministries were already accomplishing real-time internet broadcasting while others were just thinking about that area of ministry. One church had abandoned cassette tapes in favor of both CDs and delayed broadcast internet. Several of the largest churches were actually active in all three communication venues – cassettes, CDs and internet broadcasting.
The bottom line definitely points out that we live not in an “either-or” world but most definitely in an “all-of-the-above” world in which communication mediums roughly follow generational divisions. While Jeff focused upon the evolution of hardware, Spencer was aptly emphasizing the need to re-connect with the harvest field and for my part, I was looking one step further to thumb drive kiosks and satellite downloads.
What is more than evident, is that ministry communication is changing, and that change is being driven by the communication medium dictated by generational preferences. What is also evident is that the church is, in large part, not sure which direction to take or which medium to use. The change is happening so rapidly and it so closely follows generational lines that a resultant irrelevancy is being perceived by the X and Millennium generations. They are dropping through the cracks and dropping out of traditional Christianity. Change has overtaken the church, and the winds of change are raging all around.
“Change, change, everywhere, and not a moment to blink,
Change, change, everywhere — now give me a moment to think!”
Like it or not, the winds of change are indeed raging around us with gale force strength. Both culture AND technology are changing with such speed that generational divisions in ministry are difficult, if not impossible, to overcome with a “one style fits all” model.
Realizing the overwhelming age and enormous socio/cultural divisions, plus the increased longevity of current generations, some ministries simply acknowledge that they can no longer minister to every generation effectively. This “focused” ministry model literally states, “We can reach this group well, so let the others go somewhere else.”
While that may be a gross simplification – an overstatement of eternal significance – North American ministries are facing generational AND technological chasms NEVER seen before in western culture. And, they are for the most part loosing ground!
After our panel discussion, Spencer and I had lunch in an outdoor cafe. He had piqued my curiosity and I just couldn’t let his OOZE keep on oozing.
While gobbling down some sort of burger and showing off his cell phone, PDA combo device, Spencer hit me right between the eyes with an insight I really did NOT want to deal with over lunch. What was it? I am an “old school” church planter! UGH! What a realization to have with half digested burger rumbling volcanically in my gut.
Mentally I’m thinking, “old?” What did he “mean” old? As I sat there in the beautiful Charlotte weather, I heard Spencer talking about how people were identifying with The OOZE because they could no longer “relate” to “the Church.” It no longer met any need in their life. Man, that raised the hair on the back of my neck!
Now, I pride myself on being pretty good at integrating technology into my theological worldview. Some folks have even paid me to speak to their staff or to come and help them with their infrastructure technology issues. I can even speak “Apple-ese” while working on a Windows (indigestion) PC and never miss a beat. So how could I possibly be “old school” especially at a worship technology conference like Inspiration? NO WAY!
Now I was really getting worked up into a mental froth – the juices were pumping. I was indignant and Spencer was about to get blasted.
That’s precisely when my wife called and asked where she could pick me up. They had been out touring the city and were way past ready to head back to the beach. What injustice. I didn’t have enough time to give Spencer a piece of my mind (very, very, small piece) and give my righteous indignation a thorough venting. Fifteen minutes later, up pulls the family van and Inspiration 2004 is past tense for me. Just like the Charlotte sidewalks, I was hot.
Sometime during the four hour ride back to the shore, the hamburger decided to digest, my frustration was slaked by “Sticky Fingers” ribs and the tranquil shore breeze brought some semblance of calmness to my spirit.
Much later that night, I took a long walk on the shore and took time to think about all I had seen and heard. Inspiration 2004 had left my mind filled with faces and ideas. I reflected upon the ministry leaders with dull glazed eyes, lost in the technology maelstrom and about those with eyes sparkling seeing the potential for increased harvest.
I reflected on questions asked in our own panel group and about computer-ese translations I had to do for some who wanted desperately to understand but were somewhere on the backside of the technology wave – lost and confused. Out on the floor, other attendees seemed like wanderers in a technology labyrinth – bewildered by a maze of conflicting choices yet living in a world desperate to meet the living Christ.
But, a few stood out like lighthouses on a storm-blackened beach. To me, they appeared as if recently awakened to the potential these technology innovations offered in their efforts to reach out into the harvest fields; to effectively communicate with a generation that saw them as irrelevant. Excited to say the least, here were answers or at least practical ideas pointing to solutions.
As I walked that sandy beach, my self-righteous defense mechanisms crumbled and I took a look at my own ministry style, both as a “Church Planter” and as a technology consultant. To my dismay, the reluctant acknowledgement was that “old school” was a partially (only partially) appropriate description of my leadership and ministry style. The traditional church was my comfort zone. Sure I have all the accouterments of modern technology – laptop (Apple of course), video projector (SVGA naturally), digital cell phone (color, USB connectable), digital camera, wireless network (DHCP enabled firewall security), and high speed, broadband, cable internet … and … and …
However, little if anything had changed inside my ministry comfort zone.
Bottom line, Inspiration 2004 had changed my perspective on effective media ministry. Now it was my job to allow the Holy Spirit to show me how HE wanted to change my comfort zone as well. The harvest is plentiful – I want to be the very best laborer no matter how the fields may change.