In 2017, 728 million people worldwide used iPhones.
By 2021, that number leaped to over 1 billion iPhones in active use.
The bottom line? People all over the world are using personal technology at an ever-increasing rate. And that likely includes every member of your church–even the youth and elderly.
Unfortunately, at the same time that technology is making our lives easier and more efficient, it’s also doing quite a bit of damage–to our mental and emotional health, our relationships, and even our brain health. In fact, there have been studies linking technology usage to increased ADHD symptoms and impaired emotional intelligence.
Again, your church members–and your staff–are likely not exempt from these statistics.
So, what’s the solution? Is it to abandon technology altogether? Delete all social media accounts forever? Acknowledge tech as a “necessary evil”....but use it anyway?
In an increasingly tech-filled world, none of these answers will prove to be very useful. Unless you or a church member feel a call to give up using a specific device or app, it may be more realistic to learn to use, not abuse, technology.
In other words, we can learn to utilize and leverage our smartphones, the Internet, social media, apps, and other digital platforms for living more efficient, fruitful lives for the Kingdom of God.
The Pro’s and Con’s of Technology
It’s no secret that using technology in excess can have a negative impact on how we think, feel, and operate as human beings.
Unfortunately, “in excess” has become the M.O. for most people. In 2019, a third of Americans said that they spent time online “almost constantly.” Likewise, the average person checks their phone 58 times a day.
The problem is not that technology is inherently bad. The problem is that people don’t typically exercise discipline when it comes to using technology.
In theory, Christians should have a higher value for self-control–which is, after all, a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23). But before encouraging your church members to cultivate more self-control with their digital devices, it can be valuable to help them understand the pro’s and con’s of technology–why it can be harmful, but also why it can be helpful.
Addiction, overstimulation, and even lowered self-esteem are all potential side effects of tech use. This should come as no surprise to the average user. Seeing the statistics, however, can bring a healthy dose of reality to what we already know to be true. Here are several data points that show potential side effects of technology abuse:
- Decrease in ability to focus. As mentioned above, the average person picks up their phone 58 times a day. But the average session, or length of usage, lands under two minutes. In other words, we’re getting accustomed to looking for a quick hit of stimulation before moving on to the next thing.
- Decrease in ability to connect and socialize. Using technology to engage remotely with others can be positive (as you’ll see in a minute). But when social media or text messaging replace face-to-face communication, then we might find ourselves losing our ability to develop authentic relationships….even with the ones we love the most. In fact, a study published by Huntington University claimed that low Facebook usage relates to being more social and empathetic.
- Increase in comparison and insecurity. It should come as no surprise that social media is fueling harmful comparison and insecurity….especially among younger generations. According to Psychology Today, social media use has been linked to lower self-esteem, and another study reported that teens who used social media an average of 2 hours a day were more likely to have poor mental health–and even experience suicidal ideation.
Technology can certainly be harmful, like almost anything else used or done in excess. But the intent of technology–to make our lives fuller, more efficient, and even more creative–still stands true.
Digital technology is powerful. After all, there’s a reason that over a 10-year period–from 2018 to 2028–tech jobs in the U.S. will grow by 15%, outpacing overall job growth by 4.5%.
More than ever, innovators, students, entrepreneurs, and educators are beginning to understand the importance of investing time and energy into tech. Technology helps automate processes, creates new workflows and jobs, and generates powerful new modes of communication, connection, and creation.
Those benefits don’t just apply to business or employment; they can also apply to our everyday lives.
- Helps us connect and engage with others. Though technology can harm our ability to connect with others, it can also foster healthy connections. What would we have done during the COVID-19 pandemic without Zoom calls, online church, and FaceTime? When engaging in person isn’t possible, technology can be an incredible blessing for keeping us connected with friends, family, and the Body of Christ through online services, zoom calls, and even church media.
- Makes life more efficient and saves time. It’s easy to forget what life was like before the smartphone and online applications. When we wanted to get somewhere, we had to use a map. When we wanted to pay our bills, we had to write a check. When we wanted to communicate a message to someone, we had to make a phone call and hope they were home (or worse–write a letter!) The bottom line is that technology has made a lot of processes easier and faster, and in theory, has freed up time and energy to devote to more meaningful tasks.
- Creates access to the Gospel. While Internet access can open doors to harmful addiction, it can also open doors to knowledge of the Gospel. People who live in unreached or “closed” countries can learn about Jesus through online ministries–and even connect with other believers in their countries through online church. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic saw a significant increase in worldwide Google searches concerning faith. One study published by Christianity Today says that in 75 countries, searches related to prayer in March 2020 increased to their highest rate in five years.
- Creates space for innovation. Technology breeds new technology–the Internet, for example, has made it possible for companies to use online platforms to improve their internal processes without paying for new hardware or training. And the iPhone has made it possible for the average person to take high quality photos and record audio and videos on the fly. Technology breeds innovation–which, when used well, can help advance the values of the Kingdom of God.
- Helps organizations thrive. Finally, technology can help organizations–including churches, businesses, and nonprofits–thrive. As mentioned above, new tools and softwares can help make processes and workflows more efficient….and as a result, free up time and money for ideation, growth, and goal-setting. In the context of a church, this might look like less time on admin and putting out fires, and more time on casting vision, serving, and building relationships.
The bottom line? Technology has clear, demonstrable pro’s and con’s. Whether the impact is positive or negative depends on the user and the intent.
Practical Strategies for Your Church Members to Use Technology Well
It might sound a bit clichéd, but the phrase “Be in the world, not of the world” can apply well to technology usage. In John 15:19, Jesus said, “You are not of this world,” but in Matthew 5:13, Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth.”
Of course, we know that this doesn’t represent a contradiction; rather, “of the world” means to be conformed to the world, but being the “salt of the earth” refers to impact for the Kingdom.
Ultimately, there are two sides to using technology well. One side involves developing healthy habits around using technology that help us avoid addiction, comparison, and social isolation. The other side is to learn to use technology to our advantage–to engage, connect, and innovate.
That being said, it helps to provide practical strategies to church members for doing this well.
First, pray about it.
Rather than making prescriptive guidelines for using technology, you might want to encourage your church members to ask God about their technology usage. In some cases, people may feel led to give up specific forms of technology, or limit their usage. In other cases, they might feel led to use technology in a specific way. In any case, pray first; act later.
Consider a “technology fast.”
For some church members–maybe even a majority–technology usage doesn’t feel like a choice; rather, it’s an addiction.
That being said, suggesting a technology fast can help break bad habits and addiction to technology. It can also help church members to realize how using recreational technology–like social media, YouTube, and even gaming–may be impacting their time, energy, mental health, and more. Finally, disconnecting from technology can be a wonderful way to practice silence, solitude, and deep prayer.
Set time limits.
One of the most challenging aspects of using technology well is exercising self-control when it comes to time. Many of us have experienced the shock of opening Instagram or Facebook and realizing that half an hour has passed in what felt like a couple of minutes.
Many devices–including the iPhone–have a feature that allows users to set limits for specific applications. Setting a time limit for social media, games, news applications, and more can be a practical way for technology users to limit their screen time and practice self-discipline.
Make a practice of putting away your phone while with others.
We’ve all spent time with people who constantly check their phone, or who scroll mindlessly through social media during pauses. These interactions usually don’t leave us feeling loved or valued. Not only that, but they affect our ability to have fruitful, authentic conversations.
A practical way to avoid these kinds of interactions–and to help others feel loved–is to simply put away your phone while you’re socializing with friends, family, and members of the church.
Consider how technology can serve you.
In theory, technology is developed in service of human beings–not the other way around. That being the case, encourage your church members to consider how to use technology as a solution–at work, at home, and even at church.
That might look like using a time-tracking tool at work to become more productive and efficient, or creating a private social media account to stay engaged with distant family members. Or, it might look like using an app to engage with church services when traveling or staying at home for safety reasons.
Tithe.ly, for example, is a digital platform that helps both churches and church members use technology to their advantage. First, Tithe.ly allows churches to streamline their workflows and internal processes, manage their staff, communicate with church members, and much, much more. Next, Tithe.ly allows church members to engage with their church through customized apps, easy giving, and quality websites.
Use technology to be creative.
Finally, you may want to encourage your church members to get creative with technology to help fulfill their callings and advance Kingdom values. Whether that’s creating digital content that glorifies God, starting a tech business that creates jobs and impacts culture, or simply using messaging platforms to share the Gospel, technology can be a wonderful medium for advancing the Kingdom.
Finally, Be Intentional
In any case, being intentional with technology is the key to using it well. In Digital Minimalism, author Cal Newport explains how to use technology with purpose–not simply to apply a set of rules to usage, but how to reframe your mindset and perspective on technology to become a “digital minimalist.” (Incidentally, Digital Minimalism may be a great resource to recommend to your church members!)
Knowing when and how to use technology–and being able to stick to those intentions–is critical to developing a healthy, fruitful approach to the Internet, social media, gaming apps, and more. Teach your church members to be aware of the personal impact of technology–both good and bad–and above all, encourage them to keep Christ at the center of their relationship to their digital devices.