A few weeks ago Faithlife hosted BibleTech, a two-day conference on the intersection of technology and Scripture in the Christian life.
As a co-host, I had the privilege of sitting in on at least half the talks. Topics ranged from the future of AI in Bible study to the enduring value of paper Bibles, and overall attendees were warm toward technology.
And yet there was an uneasiness in the air about it, too—fears about what technology might change, nostalgia for what’s already been lost, and concerns about whether the church will adapt technology responsibly.
A few themes stood out as particularly critical to churches. I’m presenting them as questions for your church leadership to ponder. I know I’m still mulling through these questions myself.
1. Does the way we teach match how people learn?
Jennifer Miles shared some staggering statistics about learning in her talk “The Rise of Multimodality: Instascripture and a Shrinking Biblical Framework”:
- The average adult man spends 13 minutes reading for pleasure daily, the adult woman 22 minutes
- The average adult spends 11 hours interacting with media every day1
- Only half of the U.S. population has the skills necessary to read, summarize, and synthesize information that leads to a consistent biblical framework
Miles went on to share how much Christian learning and education happens by media collage: smatterings of social media posts, YouTube clips, podcasts, and more. The Sunday sermon, small groups, and personal reading are proportionally small in influence.
As a global church, our primary assumption has historically been (and still is) that people learn, synthesize, and internalize the gospel to create a Christian worldview through reading—the Bible, Bible studies, daily devotionals, Sunday morning sermons, or Bible study groups. It’s time to stop 1) assuming people read and understand what they read and 2) relying on reading as our go-to mode to transfer knowledge. And, yes, for [many of us], it’s probably a hard pill to swallow given how much we love our books.
So, questions your church should be asking include: Are we teaching people in the places they learn? How can or should we focus our energies to help form a biblical worldview in our church members and attenders? What more do we need to learn to respond well?
2. What do we think about online church?
Related to the above, nowadays people “live” much of their life online. They read the news online. They plan events online. They talk to friends online. They research basically everything online.
It’s no surprise, then, that more and more people are going to church online.
Kenny Jhang, in his talk, “Seeing the Future Now: Examining the Glacial Pace of Digital Engagement with the Bible,” presented a thought-provoking and challenging seminar on this topic. As a former online pastor and innovator in church media, Kenny has seen this world up-close and personal, and he has seen true connection and spiritual growth come from it.
But for many of us, the idea of attending church online seems almost paradoxical. How do we realize the intentions and commands of church community (Heb. 10:24–25; Col. 3:12–17) apart from one another? This objection has merit.
But rather than be reactionary against online church, pause to reflect on the trend. What need is it signaling? Should it be embraced, and if so, to what degree and why? How can in-person community and online interaction complement each other?
3. Where do we draw the line on how we use technology?
Inherent in the question is an assumption that technology, like any tool or medium, has its place.
One thing I came away thinking about is the difference between formation and information, in part because of Rev. Gary Carr’s talk about the experience of paper Bibles. There is something personal in their tangibility. You have your underlines, your notes in the margins, your arrows from one verse to another, and you can imagine in your mind where on the page God spoke to you through a certain passage. A paper Bible becomes a companion on your spiritual journey in a way electronic Bibles cannot.
And yet with Bible software you can make connections and discoveries in minutes or even seconds that could take you possibly hours to make with a paper Bible. With a few clicks you can discover helpful commentaries, do word studies, and perform hundreds of tasks that help you know your Bible better. And this matters personally and deeply to people. Faithlife consistently hears from customers that Logos Bible Software has been an integral part of their life and ministry for years.
Both are important and serve different purposes, and that’s fine. The challenge is keeping those purposes and your goals clear. Information serves formation, and as such, technology does have its limits.
So how do we make technology an excellent servant—not just in Bible study but in other ways? How does your church use Instagram and Facebook for good? When and where are screens inappropriate in the life of your church? When does technology work against formation, and when does it work for it?
These are challenging questions, to be sure, and there can be an impulse to shun new technology out of fear or nostalgia.
But that would be a mistake, because we’d be throwing out all the good technology can bring. I leave you with this encouraging word from Mark Ward’s talk, “A Media Ecology of Bible Software”:
Here’s bedrock: other generations have faced tectonic technological shifts, and these shifts have brought good and bad. We shouldn’t freak out. God rules. He made us to be creators, to find the powers he built into creation. Technology is a fundamentally good, God-created thing.
And here’s bedrock: nothing people make is neutral. I think a media ecology of Bible software helps us ask questions that genuinely help us see the burdens and the blessings of digital Bible study. The fall and human finiteness both get mixed up in the tools God designed us to create.
I think media ecological questions help us live out the wisdom of one of the few hopeful things [Neil] Postman* says in his book is, “It is necessary to understand where our techniques come from and what they are good for; we must make them visible so that they may be restored to our sovereignty.”
Take some of the questions posed here to your next staff meeting to begin assessing how your church can properly use technology in its ministry.
*Note from Faithlife employee and BibleTech presenter Mark Ward: “Though I enjoy the more pessimistic view of Neil Postman’s Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, I recommend even more highly the wisdom of Andy Crouch on the topic. Crouch’s excellent book Culture Making provides the theological framework for understanding how technology fits into the Christian life; and his The Tech-Wise Family provides very practical help for parents looking to enjoy its blessings responsibly in the home.”