Comm Professor Warns of Technology in Church

by Christopher Newby, web editor

“Does it need to be fast, or does it need to be slow?” This is the question that Jeremy Pettitt, professor at Moody in the communications department, keeps asking his pastor friends.


Technology in the last fifteen to twenty years has become an increasingly important yet highly debated topic in the evangelical church. “This is something every church is wrestling with now,” Pettitt said. “[Churches] are starting to think, for better or for worse (sometimes for worse) of using business processes with regards to technology in a church setting.”


Pettitt, a former vice president of ministry resources at Awana, has observed how much more pertinent technology has become to the life of the church in the last couple decades. “I’m seeing a lot more churches paying attention to their social media channels, their blogs and their websites.”


According to Pettitt, the attention given to technology in the last several years is not just temporal, but monetary. “They even have staff dedicated to that particular thing which would have been unheard of twenty years ago.”


The most attractive thing about technology to churches, according to Pettitt, is its ability to give a fast, consistent outcome. “Technology is used really well in a church when it realizes that it favors a consistent outcome,” he said, “because embedded within the concept of technology is the idea of efficiency and speed.”


Certain processes such as VBS sign-ups, Sunday School children sign-in, or even tithing can become an easier process with the help of technology. There is an increased expectation in our culture for this speed and consistency. “This is why all McDonald’s cheeseburgers taste exactly the same” Pettitt said. “But the moment you start thinking about discipleship as a speed option, [or] even that the outcome should always be the same, then I start running into problems.”


Pettitt said that a one-size-fits-all approach to discipleship is far less than ideal. As technology takes a deeper hold on the psyche of the church, he said he believes that discipleship is not the only area of the church that is suffering; he believes that it affects the community of a church as well. Specifically, the use of streaming live-video of church services is a detriment to the church community.


“The more disruptive the use of technology, the more it creates distance between people,” he explained. “When I can access [church services] whenever I want there’s no sense of accountability and now I have become a consumer of your church, not a participant or a member of your congregation or community. There needs to be a sense of loss when we’re not together”


Pettitt said he has noticed increasingly that some churches are no longer using technology to reinforce what happens on Sunday morning when the church is together; rather, some churches are replacing their real community with a digital one.


“The moment someone is trying to replace community you’ve missed the point of Scripture when it says, ‘do not forsake the gathering of the brethren,’” he said. “It means let’s be together in one accord in one place and share with one another and hear the apostle’s teaching and break bread together. The last time I checked it’s a little difficult to break bread online.”


While there are many issues that have arisen as a result of technological changes in the church, when the church uses technology well, it can have incredible results. When Pettitt’s seven-year-old son had a stroke several years ago, social media allowed people to pray for him.


“I had people all around the world praying for [my son] in less than a day… There were people in Africa praying for my kid. There were people in Europe praying for my kid. That’s amazing that we can support each other in prayer all around the world. So how are we leveraging the capacities of social media?”

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