In the past, visitors to our church reported that they found us in the yellow pages. People
who have no experience with yellow pages need to know that these pages were a type of printed banner ad. They were in the monetized section of a non-digital book, which was distributed to a targeted demographic of landline users. Today, visitors can find us on YouVersion from their phablet. Digital technology is rapidly advancing and offers some helpful outreach, fellowship and ministry tools for the church.
Spreading the Word. People who own a cellphone, tablet or computer can download a free copy of the Bible and certain hymnals. This is ideal for events, like the Sunday school picnic, where the leader does not want to transport a hundred hardcover books to use in the devotional. Plus, many people are encouraged to study Scripture more when it is so accessible. Crossway (App Store, Google Play), Bible Gateway (App Store, Google Play) and YouVersion offer a downloadable, ad-free Bible. In addition, Bible Gateway offers study aids and Bible audio in several translations and various reading styles on devices connected to the Internet.
Hearing the Word. Sermons can be recorded as or converted to MP3 files. The MP3s can be saved to the church's website or sermonaudio. Then, the sermons can be downloaded to an MP3 player, like an iPod, or audio streamed from the Internet to a computer or TV. Members who miss church because of illness can listen to a sermon at home. Also, people in countries where Christian churches are far away or biblical preaching is not available benefit from a choice of hundreds of excellent sermons.
Putting the Word into Practice. Technology tools, used heavily in the workplace, can be co-opted for ministry. If the church has access to a secure server and a merchant account, tithes and offerings can be collected via the Internet. Participants can agree on a date and time for a meeting without being in the same room using Doodle, an Internet calendar tool. Google Groups is useful for online committee discussions and to match needs of the congregation with those who can fulfill the request. Although a bit difficult to set up, Google Docs (on Google Drive) allows a committee to share files and work collaboratively in real time. Meal coordination is easier for churches who provide food for grieving families or recuperating individuals with takethemameal.com. A search committee can interview pastoral candidates via free software (Skype) and save the church some travel expenses.
Building a Word-based Community. Church people have multiple ways to be informed of events and to make connections with fellow members. Prayer requests can be emailed, sent as text messages or tweeted, saving many hours spent with a phone chain. Social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+, are useful in connecting people before, during and after a special church celebration or missions trip. Some churches provide online bulletins on Friday so that people can read the Scripture in preparation for worship. If they want to, parishioners can download the bulletin's content. A blog (e.g., WordPress, Blogger) by the pastor or youth minister appeals to many and takes the place of a printed church newsletter column.
Digital technology has potential to help the church, but it is not central to ministry. Bill Gates wisely said, when talking about secular education, "Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important." Christians would agree with the principle because they look to Jesus, the most important Teacher of all.
Author's note: I did not receive any financial gain from mentioning these products. In addition, I know that the misuse of technology has negative effects.