REV. STEWART SPEAKS
By Rev. Lakeya Stewart
Do you remember the days when people rushed to get to church to get a seat? You know, before many churches could afford microphones that magnified the voice of the singer or preacher. This was used so that the person in the back could hear just as clearly as the person on the front row. Or, do you remember what it was like before mega churches had the giant projector screens around the church? This was put into place so that people in the overflow rooms could experience worship like those in the main sanctuary. Both examples provide ways in which communication has advanced over the years in the local church. The way we communicate as well as the medium in which we communicate has evolved over time.
From before Christ until about 1500 A.D., society communicated through an oral culture. That is to say, we actually had to speak to one another if we had something to say to someone. From about 1500-1950 A.D., we lived in a society that relied heavily on print culture, and written communication was how people often talked with one another. From 1950 to 2010 A.D. was considered the Broadcast Culture age because news broadcasts and other visual forms were used to communicate with others. From 2010-present, we are now in the Digital Culture. Communication is often done through multimedia. Instead of writing letters to friends, we send emails, text messages or even a Facebook message to them. Times have definitely changed.
In the past, specifically in the African American culture, the church was seen as the nucleus of the community. Events like the 50th year commemoration of the March on Washington would have been discussed and the church would have been used as both a meeting place and a place to strategize civil rights actions. With the Digital Culture, some people are resorting to online worship communities and are satisfied with staying home and watching a service online rather than building community and genuine relationships with others. Hebrews 10:25 reminds believers to not forsake to assemble ourselves. Similarly, on Facebook, the most introverted person who sticks with that one close friend can have 2,000 Facebook friends! How does this happen? Our Digital Culture has made it possible. A former professor Dr. Flynn and M. Rex Miller, the author of the book “The Millennium Matrix,” would say that digital culture is changing relationships and ultimately our institutions including the church.
How can this be, you ask? Times are changing. Many churches have websites, and some even have Facebook groups. The change to a Digital Culture has offered yet another way to get the word out about weekly worship services. More importantly, the Digital Culture offers another means of evangelism. The Great Commission as it is commonly known in Matthew 28:19-20 instructed the disciples and instructs us as believers to “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” The people living within the Digital culture have access to more tools than ever and most of it is free!
Living overseas, I often resorted to livestream worship services or YouTube videos to supplement the worship experience I had at the church I was serving. I thoroughly enjoyed that church, however, it was nice to know that I could connect and even see familiar faces of people so far away instantly.
From my personal experience, I have seen the Digital Culture cause people to be exposed to and learn more than ever before! People are now able to attend college online and walk away with an accredited degree. In regards to ministry, I have seen lay members make use of the Internet and do personal research on topics that formerly the pastor only had resources for. No longer can ministers, pastors and leaders just preach and teach without members doing their research to ensure what they are being taught is true. Because of the changes imposed by the Digital Culture, Miller says, “The driving reality of change requires the ability to adapt quickly. Adaptation requires that leaders continually scan the horizon; adjust to the ever-changing landscape; and reframe structure, mission, and resources to current realities.” (M. Rex Miller, “The Millennium Matrix,” page 163) Church members are doing as 2 Timothy 2:15 suggests and they are committed to, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
God has never been and never will be limited by physical boundaries. Unfortunately, tradition in some cases will not allow churches and individuals to progress with the changing Digital Culture. Those churches and individuals who are unwilling to progress with this change will find their congregations dying and soon will no longer be in existence. Just look around your current city and I am confident you will find this trend to be true. We as believers and leaders must first acknowledge God and then we must be led by the Spirit as we continue in this world of technological advancement.
Rev. Lakeya Stewart, M.Div. D.Min, ABD