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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

iPhone Churches

Congregations cautiously embrace new technological tools

By Kirk Noonan
Jan. 17, 2010

Want to commit to abstinence before marriage? There’s an app for that. Want to see your church more organized and run more efficiently? There’s an app for that. Want to check out a church before you step foot in it? There’s an app for that, too.

In fact, there are 85,000 apps and counting in Apple’s iTunes store that are changing the way people communicate, do business, worship, evangelize and are entertained.

Some say the iPhone and all the applications it offers make life more convenient, fun and productive. But can the features make people and churches more effective in the way they communicate, worship, do business and evangelize?

It depends on whom you ask.

Phil Baker, a production support manager at Nike in Beaverton, Ore., attends Portland Christian Center (AG). He has to be on call after business hours on most days. Before Baker got an iPhone, he says he lugged his laptop everywhere. But not now.

“I used to have to find a place to boot up my laptop and log into work when I was on call,” Baker, 37, says. “Now I don’t even need my laptop because my iPhone has everything I need.”

That can be good, and bad, news. Good because there are thousands of apps that allow workers such as Baker to track expenses as they are incurred, log sales, access charts and graphs, and even accept credit card payments.

Such conveniences have costs.

“I’m working now more than ever,” admits Baker. “But it’s more efficient work.”

Efficiency and better organization turned out to be the bonuses for Elevation Church in Layton, Utah, after leaders and congregants began using an iPhone app that revolutionized the way they interacted.

“We run our entire Sunday programs and services using an app,” says Trinity Jordan, the 29-year-old lead pastor, “that helps us know how many volunteers we’ll have, which band members will be there and who will be helping out with children’s ministries.”

Embracing technology has been a hallmark of Elevation Church since it began four years ago. After Jordan started the church, a media director became his first hire. Since then, the church has won awards for its Web site and has utilized social networking.

In November, Elevation released an ambitious project on Twitter (which has 55 million users) to inspire followers of Christ to read their Bibles more and to reach out to unchurched people.

“We’re trying to contextualize the gospel for the culture we’re trying to reach,” Jordan says. “To do that, we created a program for Twitter that posts a Scripture verse every hour on the hour and will do so for the next three and a half years.”

Steve Pike, national director of the Assemblies of God’s Church Multiplication Network, says the primary missional activity of the church is to make disciples, and that the foundational activity that precedes making disciples is building relationships.

“Social media has quickly emerged as a powerful tool for building relationships,” he says. “The church has demonstrated amazing creativity and flexibility over the last century in its use of modern technological tools to advance the gospel.”

Just as church leaders learned how to use television and DVDs to make disciples, so they will need to embrace social media tools such as iPhone apps, Web casts, blogging, Twittering and Facebook to effectively make 21st-century disciples, according to Pike.

Mark Batterson, lead pastor at tech-savvy National Community Church in Washington, D.C., agrees.

“We need to redeem technology and use it for God’s purposes,” he says. “When Jesus said, ‘Go into all the world,’ He didn’t define how.”

Jason Inman, media coordinator at Convoy of Hope in Springfield, Mo., says churches and other nonprofit organizations are embracing the iPhone lifestyle because they realize — much the way Fortune 500 companies have — that going mobile is indeed the future.

“The iPhone has made the Internet mobile,” he says. “Now organizations are going mobile in order to remain a part of the conversation.”

Others say the ease and relatively low cost of creating and hosting an iPhone app is too good to pass up.

Plus, the benefits of having an app can be numerous. Being one of the first churches to have one shows a measure of innovation and is good for public relations. A good app also can provide constituents with a connection tool that alerts them to upcoming events and services, keeps them informed of prayer requests, and offers podcasts and videos.

Jordan is sold on the idea of creating an app for the congregation he leads. He says Elevation Church will launch one this spring.

“Our app will include an online campus where we will have a pastor on hand at a certain time each week for those who have missed our Sunday gathering,” he says. “Users will be able to watch the Sunday service and take part in a live discussion with the pastor and other worshippers.”

Critics say embracing the iPhone lifestyle can be risky for churches because people who cannot afford an iPhone or do not own one may feel excluded. Naysayers also worry that a pursuit of technological advancements can spread resources too thin and put too much focus on technology rather than people.

“Virtual community is infinitely more virtual than it is communal,” says Shane Hipps in his book Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith. “It’s a bit like cotton candy: It goes down easy and satiates our immediate hunger, but it doesn’t provide much in the way of sustainable nutrition.”

Even so, Jordan is convinced that using technologies such as the iPhone is effective in reaching people with the gospel, but admits he too has reservations.

“The relational connections the average person has now are probably more numerous than in years past, but they’re probably shallower too,” he says. “I don’t want our church to ever become so connected through technology that we lose that personal touch.”

To that end, Elevation Church utilizes some time-tested techniques.

“We greet and engage every person who walks through our doors,” says Jordan. “It’s all about relationships here — even though we use a lot of technology.”

KIRK NOONAN is communications director for Convoy of Hope.

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