New Vision for Growing Churches: Put an iPad in every pew?

Note from ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm: Please welcome back Martin Davis, known nationwide as one of the wisest consultants on congregational communication. His ideas are innovative, but they’re also shaped by his years of on-the-ground work in congregations. Martin’s past columns in ReadTheSpirit include: “4 ‘Secrets’ to a Successful Website for Your Congregation” and “Your Newsletter May Shock You.”

By MARTIN DAVIS

Over the past five to ten years, I have walked into countless congregations across this country that have invested thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, and occasionally hundreds of thousands of dollars on soundboards, projection screens, recording equipment, microphones, lighting, and highly sophisticated computers and software to make increasingly complex Sunday morning productions possible.

1024px-Child_and_mother_with_Apple_iPad

Photo from Intel Free Press, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Today, I’m sharing a new vision for technology in America’s congregations. If technology is really that important, let’s invest in something that does more than entertain and enhance Sunday morning worship. Let’s invest in something that can transform people’s lives around the clock.

Businesses have long known the value of providing tablets to their employees, and schools are trying this strategy, according to Bloomberg. It’s time that churches tried this interactive idea.

A QUESTION FOR YOU …

I don’t know of any congregation that has taken the step I am describing today—nor does the staff at ReadTheSpirit. Do you? If you do, tell us! We’d like to learn about them, and possibly write about them.

There are some obvious benefits of—as our headline says today—”Put an iPad in every Pew.” And I hasten to add: While that headline is catchy and easily conveys the point to readers, I’m not pushing a specific brand of tablet. The benefits could include:

  • A Huge Library: The vast number of apps and websites that make music, curriculum, and liturgies available for little—and sometimes no—cost means churches would have a veritable Religious Library of Congress at their fingertips.
  • Instant Small Groups: Buying materials for small groups, classes, or entire congregations can be done in a few steps, and the products will be delivered instantly. Imagine gathering with your small group to choose your next book for discussion—and having the books arrive on your tablets during that same class.
  • Go Green: For the environmentally conscious, this purchase would significantly reduce, or even eliminate, a preponderance of print publications—most of which are thrown away, trashed, or simply ignored.
  • Worship Continues: Sermons, sermon notes, and links to related materials can be in everyone’s hands during worship and after. Remember that, right now, many growing churches actually pass out paper “sermon notes” and ask men and women to take notes on the paper. This is just an extension of that idea. If you don’t like the idea of using tablets during worship—maybe this doesn’t fit your style of worship—then consider that, after worship, families will go home with all the materials mentioned in worship: calendars of upcoming events, prayers, sermon notes, even video clips.

It’s the overall communications benefits to the congregations that make this idea so compelling.

  • Streamline communications I: Churches repeat basic information in countless ways, through phone trees (yes, they still exist); monthly print newsletters; bulletin boards laden with postings; multiple calendars; social media channels; e-newsletters; announcements; and more. Tablets allow you to place all the information people need in one platform that they can set up to present in any method they choose.
  • Streamline communications II: The key to not overburdening your staff with paper work and writing is to learn to re-use materials across platforms. Placing everything in electronic format for dissemination via the tablet makes recycling materials as easy as 1 (Cut), 2 (Paste), 3 (Publish).
  • Customize your Communications: The increasing ease with which people can create apps means that your congregation can tailor your communications to a style that is uniquely you.
  • Vertical Communication: Churches have long struggled with communicating “vertically” with its members, segmented as they tend to be by age groups. Tablets allow churches to put all materials into the hands of all members so that a unified sense of self emerges.

There are many more compelling reasons we could list.

Ahead of the Curve

For centuries, but particularly since the computer age, churches have—rightly, I would argue—been accused of being hopelessly behind the cultural and technological curve. Today’s heavy investment in worship-centric technology does nothing to dispel this complaint.

Think about it. All the technology in your sanctuary exists to amplify a few voices. The connections via tablets lift and share many voices.

Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 7.38.31 PMWHY NOW?

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center makes clear the time to act is now.

The popularity of reading devices (tablets, Kindles, Nooks, etc.) is surging. From the report: “Some 42% of adults now own tablet computers, up from 34% in September. And the number of adults who own an e-book reading device … jumped from 24% in September [2013] to 32% after the holidays.”

As people of the Book—let our congregations, for once, lead the way.

WANT MORE FROM MARTIN DAVIS?

For more than 20 years, Martin Davis has helped congregations grow through improved communication. He is the founder of Sacred Language Communications, which helps congregational leaders make better use of communication. Davis is a graduate of the University of Chicago Divinity School and has written for publications ranging from National Journal to The Washington Post. He also led the Congregational Resource Guide at the Alban Institute. In 2013, he began writing occasional columns for Read The Spirit—and is working on a guidebook for congregations.

Visit his new Sacred Language Communications.

Please, spread the word:

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(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an online magazine covering spirituality, religion, interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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