The Technological Discipleship Gap

New digital technologies have potential to either advance the gospel or sow destruction.

In 1988, my wife Donna and I planted our first church in Buffalo.

Many of the issues I confronted in my congregation still exist today. We still struggle with encountering racism and sexism in the pews and in the world. While the drugs might have changed, confronting the prevalence and destruction of addiction is still very much at the center of church life today.

Yet for all the similarities, it is hard to overstate just how much the rapid advance of digital technology and the internet have changed life in and out of the church. Consider two different data points from a Pew tracking poll:

Data Point #1: Cellphone usage has grown from 62% in 2002 to 95% in 2018.

In less than 16 years, cellphone usage has gone from common to essential. We have reached a point where the idea of a person not having a cellphone is foreign.

The introduction of instant communication with anyone at any time and across multiple kinds of mediums changes the way we engage others. Suddenly we are never alone; we carry our friends and family in the palm of our hand.

Data Point #2: Smartphone usage has grown from 35% at their introduction in 2001 to 77% in 2018.

Parallel to cellphones, smartphones have gone from non-existent to seemingly essential. More than just our family and friends, suddenly the entire world is open to us. We are always plugged in, always connected, always presented with endless voices shouting for our attention.

Given these two points, is it surprising that the congregations pastors engage every Sunday are radically different than those I stood in front of in 1988? In my new book, Christians in the Age of Outrage, I argue that this rapid change is one of the main causes for outrage today. We have all these new technologies and online platforms …

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