It’s true that people, especially the younger generations, are leaving religion in droves. The recent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life shows that in the U.S., just about 60 percent of people ages 18 to 29 with a Christian background have stopped going to church, more than one-third seldom or never attend religious services, and only two in 10 believe attending church is important or worthwhile.
At the same time, however, they want to stay connected to their faith. More than half say they feel a deep sense of spiritual peace and well-being, and think about the meaning and purpose of life at least once a week.
Moreover, in today’s transient, global society, there are entire other segments of the population that just may not be able to attend a physical church, like those who travel for work, move around, are in the military, or are disabled.
We who are leaders of the Christian faith must strive to engage all of them in a community of faith, either through Bible study, prayer, a passion for causes or just conversation, and to do so in an easy, accessible way. In fact, in today’s tech-driven world, God’s teachings and lessons cannot, are not, and should not be confined to a brick-and-mortar building with four walls. Considering that nearly 70 percent of people worldwide are mobile phone users, and a whopping 86 percent of millennials have a smartphone, this means engaging them on their mobile devices on a 24/7/365-basis.
And we must do so in ways that both maximize the latest technology and offers a plethora of appealing experiences, from classes and community prayer to inspirational messages, group connectivity, conversations on topical issues and mutual interests, and community service opportunities, as well as access to services.
There may be some who believe that a technology-based church platform negates the communal gathering aspect of in person services. Some may also feel that it will further isolate people from attending church. And some may even view it as the death knell for physical church – who will want to come to Sunday service if they can stay at home and attend remotely in their pajamas?
As lead pastors of a growing and thriving multi-site church in Washington State and Los Angeles, we still believe in a brick-and-mortar church. We have five physical locations and no intention of closing them. In fact, we may open new ones in the future. But by embracing technology, we are able to intimately and intentionally connect with a global audience and ensure that every woman, man, boy and girl – every age, every race – has an opportunity to find a home in God, a home where they feel that they belong, and a community that functions as a family. Indeed, technology does not isolate people from church; it allows church to reach those that are isolated and to do so in new and exciting ways.
The heritage of the church is that it has not been afraid to use technology – whether it be the printing of the first book, the Bible, with the Gutenberg printing press, or broadcasting church on television – as a vehicle to bring teaching and community directly to where people are. In the early part of the 20th century, Paul Rader, Aimee Semple McPherson, and others broadcast their sermons and used the radio air waves to preach and spread the gospel to millions of loyal followers.
Later, when television became ubiquitous, it became the principal vehicle for reaching masses for leaders such as Rex Humbard, whose “Cathedral of Tomorrow” was the first nationally televised evangelical show. He was quickly followed by Billy Graham, whose TV show and televised crusades attracted hundreds of millions of people around the world, and Oral Roberts, whose program, “The Abundant Life” aired in 80 percent of homes in the U.S. at one point.
The integration of faith and modern technology, including the internet, TV, radio shows and podcasts, continues today with T.D. Jakes, Rick Warren, and Beth Moore, among many others. It comes as no surprise, given that the Pew Forum found that more than 3 million get religious or spiritual material online on a daily basis. And according to a recent study by the Barna Group, 44 percent of Christians say that technology has changed how they share their faith, while 88 percent say they do so through their personal posts.
The bottom line is that all of us who love and embrace God should want to share the positivity, encouragement, compassion and connection we get with others, whether in a church building or in the palm of one’s hand. The Book of Luke, Chapter 15, illuminates it best in explaining that God’s arms are open and welcome to all, not just in a physical building, but is an emotional place of refuge. And that can be accessed anyway, anywhere and anytime.