Too often, the impact of technology on religion is seen as negative. Most of the time, we see headlines reinforcing that impression. Like: “The Internet is driving people from organized religion” or “Church-goers prefer playing on smartphones to church services.” But this misses the greater opportunities technology presents to religious organizations.
Technology has always impacted our lives—and of course that also includes religion. Guttenberg’s publishing of the Bible changed the sway the clergy held over interpretation of Christian scriptures. This could be seen as a negative, but publishing the Bible also led to rising literacy rates. Lay people learned to read so they could understand the scriptures for themselves. This outbreak of literacy opened up opportunities for a more personalized approach to religion. It also laid the foundation for today’s modern education systems.
Modern-day technology is no different than the Guttenberg press. It’s all a matter of seeing the opportunities offered by the Internet, smartphones, and cloud communications. With the right technology in your organization’s corner, you can better:
#1. Gather the faithful.
#2. Expand religious life to social platforms.
#3. Enrich adherents’ lives wherever they are, not just during religious services.
#4. Make religious observances easier to follow.
#5. Simplify growth and access to spiritual leaders.
At first glance, many of the technologies listed below may seem detrimental to religious organizations’ efforts. Don’t be fooled. These technologies offer opportunities you can’t afford to pass up. Here they are, with examples of how other organizations have used them to enhance congregants’ experiences.
The Internet is often accused of robbing people of their faith. This comes from studies showing the expansion of the “nones”—Americans with no religious affiliation. In 1990, the nones made up 8 percent of the population. By 2010, that number grew to 18 percent. This coincides with the widespread adoption of the Internet, but experts often warn that “correlation doesn’t equal causation.” Based on that logic, the remaining religious would be those who used the Internet the least. But according to the Pew Research Center, 79 percent of those active in religious organizations also actively use the Internet. For those who don’t belong to religious organizations, it’s slightly lower at 76 percent.
So the religious aren’t reverting to Luddism and swearing off all technology. They’re online, and that’s where religious organizations can swing the Internet to their advantage. Because the Internet is the great filter, funneling people with shared interests into online communities. Fans of authors, celebrities, TV shows, and obscure trivia can all find their niche online.
What that means for religious organizations is that the Internet can help you gather the faithful from the digital droves. According to Google, people launch 30,000 searches per month related to finding church services. But to reach these people, you need an online presence. That means a live, regularly updated website where those who are searching can find you online. Additionally, that includes engaging on social media platforms.
The common complaint about social media is that it’s a notorious waste of time (the average user spends 15 hours a month on Facebook alone). Psychological studies have exposed more sinister side effects, linking prolonged hours on social media with depression and anxiety.
This doesn’t mean that moderate social media use can’t prove beneficial to religious organizations. Creating social media accounts gives you a platform that can serve your congregation in a variety of ways. It’s a space where members can expand their religious lives, sharing thoughts and insights and exploring doctrinal concerns. It’s a way to announce social or service events, a means to minister to your congregants both personally and as a group. And when an emergency hits, a social media post can efficiently pass the word along and rally support.
People use smartphone in worship services, and yet when asked, 96 percent say it’s unacceptable to use a smartphone during church. At least, it’s looked down on to watch the big game or play Candy Crush. But what if they’re looking up a scripture? Many people access their religious texts as an ebook on their smartphone—which is much easier than hauling around a heavy book. Or what if they were tweeting something from the lecture/sermon/khutbah that they found inspiring?
So don’t needlessly stigmatize smartphones at your worship service. And while smartphones can distract during a service, they also allow members to access religious resources on the go.
In religious circles, when someone says, “There’s an app for that,” it’s usually meant ironically. As in, there’s no simple fix or push of a button that will resolve this. There’s no app to help us when we’re confronted with loss, personal trials, and health problems. Religion typically provides comfort during trying times, while apps are disposable, short-term solutions to day-to-day problems.
But that doesn’t mean that apps can’t help religious organizations tackle day-to-day problems. Popular apps give members easy, mobile access to the Torah, Koran, and Bible. Microsoft Office or Dropbox helps organizations to share files and documents. Religious leaders make their sermons available through apps. Believers with dietary guidelines or specific prayer times can find apps that make it easier to carry out these observances.
A phone is a phone, right? As long as you can make and receive calls on it, that’s all you can expect. That’s the last-century way of thinking. Modern congregants, especially the younger generation, expect local leaders to be responsive and easy to reach. And better communications means more efficient ways to minister and provide that personal touch. This is why so many businesses have opted for cloud communications, to streamline communications as well as the associated costs.
Cloud phone systems come with low equipment requirements. Usually all it takes is a phone, a business-class router, and an Internet connection, and your phone system is up and running. And the technical requirements aren’t as rigorous, either. You don’t need a dedicated IT person to set up you call routing and voicemail. You can do it all online, much the same way you’d set up an email address.
And because it’s so hardware-light and simple to set up, it’s easy to expand the system to accommodate new users and buildings. One system can provide unified phone service to multiple facilities, including churches, schools, medical facilities, and offices. Cloud communications can also bring you into the mobile era, allowing you to make and take calls to your organization’s number on your personal device.
Have questions about how to evaluate cloud phone systems (also called Hosted VoIP) and their providers? Check out our Hosted VoIP Buyers’ Guide.
It’s always easier to see the detrimental impact of technology on religion, drawing people into distraction and error. But realize that’s a one-sided view, not the whole picture. These technologies can also offer cutting-edge advantages, including new channels that enable religious organizations to reach wider audiences.
Modern channels like email, conferencing, and chat all come with their own set of rules and etiquette. Master them all with our Bible of Business Communications.