I am in Wampum visiting with my 74 year old mother for Christmas with Kerry and the kids. This morning as we sat around the table having coffee I had a very revealing conversation with my mother that point toward why the church is in trouble. We deny that change has taken place and that new way of communicating can be as effective as the old.
I was talking about how I have connected to so many people through the use of the internet and spend most of my time communicating with the younger generation on line. I very seldom see many of this generation in person except at social events or disciple growing opportunities. They do not very often attend traditional forms of worship. Many, however, will attend our service that is geared to helping people connect with each other and God through the use of more modern music and very non-liturgical worship. My mother thought it was terrible that I would take the time to type and spend all that time in front of the computer.
My mother is a church secretary and has served in that capacity through three very different pastors with very different approaches to ministry. I told her that even while I have been here since yesterday I have had communication with three of the younger generation from the church and they have all been on line. She proceeded to tell me how different the three pastor’s approaches to ministry have been while she has worked there. The first pastor, who has now been retired for number or years, and the second pastor, closer to my age, would come into the office and get on the phone and contact people by phone. They would call people and even pray with them on the phone, make an appointment to go see them and then later in the day go and visit them. The new pastor, one of our younger pastors, comes in and gets on his computer and spends the whole day in front of the computer.
I started probing about what the difference was in the makeup of the congregation in worship. This is a congregation that I have on occasion worshiped with including the Sunday after my father’s funeral in that church. During that service, very traditional with more modern elements, I noticed that there were a number of college age and many younger couples with children. The congregation is slowly changing to include many younger people. There is a cost to that change taking place that will make many very uncomfortable.
You see, this younger generation, communicated with modern technology including the internet, cell phones, texting and will include many new forms of sending a message that those of us of the older generation will have to either accept of not be able to connect. I have to admit that I am as uncomfortable with these changes as most of my generation. It has been a conscious decision on my part to find ways to communicate with these generations and find ways of sharing the gospel with them. I do know that like in every generation I have to build relationships with them in order to be able to do that. It means that I have to learn new technologies and spend time using that technology to stay connected and build those relationships.
My mother’s reaction was that it was ridiculous to spend hours on the computer doing that and that I should spend time with people. I told her that I stay connected with people all over the world this way including relatives and friends throughout the United States and friends in other parts of the world including Russia, Israel and several other countries. I pointed out that she uses her computer to connect with some of those same relatives and her friends. She told me that she checks her computer once a day at the end of the day or maybe three times a day if she is here all day. I ask her if she uses her phone to connect with people and of course she said yes. I can remember her being on the phone for hours when I lived here as she talked with her sister that she had just spent the day with or with one of her friends. I ask her why she answers her phone when it rings or why she doesn’t just leave it go to voice mail and check it once a day or three times a day when she is here. Is there really a difference?
I wonder how many of those that still use old technology remember when we used to go and actually visit people and spend time sitting and talking. When I was a kid we went frequently to visit friends and relatives and stayed connected that way. I notice that most people don’t do that anymore. You see we all adjust our way of living to do what we are comfortable with and then at some point often decide that we have changed enough and that allows others to pass us by. Most of us wouldn’t think of not answering our phone but think that those that use instant messaging or text messages should ignore those methods of communication.
I have also noted that even those that use new technologies will sometimes hold on to old habits without thinking of them. For example, when I am IMing with someone over 40 they often get offended if they think or assume that I am also IMing with someone else as if we were having a private phone conversation. Yet I often have many conversations going at the same time with those of younger generations that include many gaps in them and are picked back up as if there hadn’t even been a pause. It is a different way of doing the same thing we have always done, communicating.
Does the church really want to reach younger people? Do we want people that are different then us in our churches? Are we willing to do what it takes to reach generations that communicate in different ways then we are comfortable with? God will reach the new generations with the good news that Jesus is the way to a relationship with God and the peace that is hard to understand. There are churches that are overflowing with young energetic worshipers. Is your church communicating to the generations that it says it wants or does it only want those that will use the telegraph to connect? Does that question make you as uncomfortable as it makes me?