Robert D. Putnam’s 2000 book “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community” looks at the general decline in Americans’ participation in community groups and civic organizations over the past several decades.
One revealing statistic that gave the book its title: while the number of people who bowl increased between 1975 and 1995, the number of people who participated in bowling leagues declined. “Why aren’t we bowling with our neighbors?” the book asks.
The more time we spend holed up in our man caves and living rooms, the less time we spend bonding with our neighbors and earning “social capital,” which Putnam describes as “the reward of communal activity and community sharing.”
If bowling alleys have changed from smoky community gathering places to sterile amusement centers that only come to life on the weekends, consider what changes the church has gone through over the past several decades.
As Putnam writes, “Faith communities in which people worship together are arguably the single most important repository of social capital in America.”
He goes on to say that roughly half of all membership organizations, personal philanthropy, and volunteer work in America is church-related, so “how involved we are in religion today matters a lot for America’s social capital.”
In short, church attendance is as vital to America’s social capital as anything. So how can churches today benefit from modern technology to reinforce community and start rebuilding that social capital?
The challenges that churches today face
In November 1964, the Roman Catholic Church unveiled a “New Mass”—featuring musical participation and modern language—to be rolled out in American parishes. It was a simpler time that called for simple adjustments.
Back then, churches had a basic goal: to get people to fill the pews on Sunday morning instead of sitting at home reading the newspaper or going for a walk.
Participating in church no longer just means dragging yourself to the house of worship and stifling yawns for an hour. It could mean watching a sermon online, or checking in to pray with an elderly neighbor over video chat.
Churches today have had to be more diverse, innovative, and open-minded to stem the tide of disinterest, which often means embracing the same technology that has pervaded every other aspect of modern culture.
How technology is helping today’s churches build community
The good news is that, for the most part, church technology has made life easier for spiritual leaders. It has made it easier for church leaders to connect with their parishes, it has allowed churches to spread positivity throughout the world through live streaming and social channels, and it has helped automate tedious tasks to save time for more important community building. Read on to learn more.
1. Online church communities
Putnam suggests that for America to start reclaiming some of its priceless social capital, the general population needs to start coming back to the church. But the world has changed in many ways, and maybe “going to church” looks different today than it did 50 years ago, too.
Many churches now have entire online campuses with dedicated online pastors and faith communities. These churches are connected through the internet, and members interact via channels like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
So for church leaders to leverage technology to rebuild communities, they must first acknowledge that people connecting with your church online are part of your church community and not just a bunch of weirdos on the internet.
2. Multi-channel church communication
Decades ago, if a member of your church was having a problem, you had a few options for reaching out to them: call them on the phone and hope you caught them at the right time, write them a letter, or put a Jell-O casserole on the passenger seat of your station wagon and stop by for a house visit.
Today’s church leaders can communicate with their congregation in a myriad of ways, from texting, to Snapchatting, to sending faxes. Well, not so much that last one.
Whether someone is physically attending church, or not, being able to connect with each other with such ease is definitely an advantage for churches today. Church leaders that neglect to tap into these channels of communication are missing out on a major opportunity for community building.
3. Church livestreaming
Some people would argue that livestreaming church services has been one of the biggest reasons for a decline in church attendance. Why would you brave the elements and drive to a church building when you can just pop open your laptop and catch the sermon in bed?
Regardless, church livestreaming is here to stay, and it’s one of the biggest advantages that churches today have. Consider this: the equivalent of church livestreaming 50 years ago meant watching the Rev. Billy Graham on TV on tape delay.
While every church strives to get more posteriors in the pews, livestreaming allows churches to bring those who are physically unable to attend back into the community as well.
4. Church attendance tracking
In the churches of yesterday, attendance tracking was an inexact science implemented by headcounts and guesstimates. But accurate tracking is an important indicator of the overall health of your church.
Churches today have access to tools that not only make taking attendance easier than ever before—things like apps, kiosks, or connection cards—but also make getting useful information from those numbers easier.
Churches today can use attendance tracking to figure out attendance month to month, the average age of their congregation, how long it’s been since a specific member attended, and more. All these numbers allow churches to figure out how well they are connecting to the community, then make necessary adjustments. Take that, churches of yesterday!
Conveniently, the majority of church management systems have attendance tracking built right in.
5. Church accounting management
Just imagine what a headache it would be to try to keep track of a church’s entire set of financial information using pen and paper, or even an old desktop accounting calculator.
Church accounting software manages payroll, tracks budget, and records donations, which is especially important come tax time.
There are more than 20 different options available for church management software that have built-in accounting tools AND have an overall rating of 4/5 or better.
With your church’s accounting taken care of, you can spend more time bonding with your congregation.
How have you seen the church change over the past several decades, for better or for worse? In what ways has church technology improved or negatively impacted your church experience? How do you see the church changing in the next several decades?
Keep the conversation going in the comments below, and please share this piece with your church.