May 23, 2024

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Should Churches Be Slow or Quick to Embrace New Technology?

Should Churches Be Slow or Quick to Embrace New Technology?

The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.

Jim Davis
Welcome to TGC is good faith debates. The good faith debates are a series of conversations, where we bring together people to have conversations about contemporary issues of life and culture. Sometimes issues that are confusing, challenging, even divisive, in hopes that you will learn a little bit about the issues, and how to how to engage in them. My name is Jim Davis, I’m Pastor of Orlando Grace Church, and it’s my privilege to be able to moderate these debates. The topic for today is technology. Technology is changing at a rate faster than we’ve ever seen before. And the question, should the church be quick or slow to embrace these new technologies? So with me today, I have Patrick Miller, who is Pastor podcaster, and author of truth over tribe. And I have Jay Kim, who comes to us from Silicon Valley, also pastor and author of analog Christian and analog church. Thank you both for joining us today. Great to be here.

Jay Kim
Yeah. Thanks for having us.

Jim Davis
Well, we’ll start with you, Patrick. What is your perspective on this issue?

Patrick Miller
I will my first perspective is that Jay is gonna have to use stone tablets for the entire year, since he’s defending the other side. No, in all seriousness, it’s great to be here because Jay and I have actually become friends out of this. And we’ve had some fantastic conversations on the topic. And so I’m gonna start with the story that might sound like I’m defending the other position, I promise I’m not. I was about three years ago, a couple comes into my office older couple and the wife is crying. And the husband puts his arm around her and he’s telling her it’s going to be okay, but he’s wrong. She’s not going to be okay because she just lost her mom, but not to death to Facebook. Three years before that, she got her mom onto Facebook. She goes from being Facebook, illiterate to a Facebook junkie. She goes from being a great grandma is liking all the photos of our great grandkids to liking all Q anon photos and all Q anon posts, she goes from being a godly woman who told her daughter, you know, love your enemies, kill them with kindness to saying no, the world’s about to end we’ve got to fight the culture war. And all this happens in a very short period of time. And Sherry, she tried multiple times to reach out to her mom to help her see what was going on. But she couldn’t get her back and she’s crying on my couch. She’s saying, I lost my mom to Facebook. And when that happened, I kept asking, how did we get here? How did this happen? And to answer that question, we’ve got to roll back the clock about five years ago, five years ago, inside of countries like Iran, China and Russia, there were foreign nationals that were propping up American Facebook pages and Facebook groups. And 2021 mit report found out that it got so bad that 19 of the top 20 Christian Facebook pages were run by foreign troll farms. They were specifically targeting Christians, the largest one of these groups had 75 million Christians inside of it. And the strategy of these groups was pretty straightforward. Nine out of 10 posts were you know, totally milquetoast, you know, kind of evangelical Lee type stuff, right? It’s just cursive V Bible verses over mountain landscapes, a few CS Lewis quotes there. They’re all the stuff that you’d expect. But then there was that one out of 10, the misinformation that disinformation that conspiracy theories, and because they’re looking at this group and saying, Oh, my gosh, there’s 75 million other Christians on your I should trust this. Obviously, it’s credible. But it’s not. It’s a foreign run, troll farm. And so these groups, they were able to take people captive. And it made me ask the question, why were they targeting Christians? I mean, you can target a lot of different people. And the answer is actually really simple. They wanted a large demographic that had a dearth of content, because they knew they could give them content, they could engage with them, they could destabilize democracy in our country. And that’s why they targeted Christians, which should make us ask another question, which is, why was there such a dearth of content, we have to go back another five to 10 years, to the time period when Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram were all spooling up. And if you look at what Christian leaders and Christian pastors were saying, at the time, for the most part, the message was either this stuff is a fad, and I can ignore it. Or on the other hand, it was the steps of distraction, and it would be noble to ignore it. And so as a result, that’s exactly what Christians did. In other words, here’s the tragedy, we created a vacuum that the trolls that the foreign trolls came and filled up. And then they took millions and millions of Christians captive to quote the Apostle Paul with false and empty philosophy. And then those people in the long run, in some senses lost the heart of their faith. 75 million people in that single group, remember 19 out of 20, and those people are people like Sherry’s mom. And that’s how we got there. And so when I think about that, it makes me realize that right now in the church, we aren’t just two steps behind. We’re 10 steps behind. We are in a rough spot. You know, the apostle Paul Well, Timothy that we need to be prepared to preach the word in season and out of season. But we were not prepared for this season, this little device in all of our pockets. It is the most powerful discipleship tool ever invented, or at least in the last 500 years since the printing press, it forms people It shapes people, and the idolatrous systems and powers of the world. They’re happy to utilize it. But here we are 15 years after its invention debating, should we. And it’s not just that American Christians and Americans in general, they’re living in that digital Babylon. But where’s the church? Where are the Christians? Why is there such a dearth of engagement and content? And so I think right now, we’re facing maybe the most profound missional moment missional question of our generation, and perhaps again of the last 500 years, which is how can we misquote x 1336? How can we be faithful in our digital generation? How can we be faithful in this particular moment? You know, does the spirit only work on analog networks? Or does the Great Commission have a little asterisk after it, you know, make disciples of all the nations but don’t do it on the internet? Because we know what happens there. These are the questions we have to face, maybe most fundamental is a question. Can the Holy Spirit’s subvert this technology? I want to make a few really quick caveats. So people know what I’m not saying. The first caveat is this digital can never replace the vital in person work of the church on this. I think we have tremendous levels of agreement, it cannot replace it. But I do think that digital technology can enhance what happens inside of the church in some very profound and tremendous ways. Second thing I would say is this. A lot of people might camp they like to say that technology is neutral. It’s just a tool, you know, you can do whatever you want to do with it. I vehemently disagree with that. Technology is not neutral, the intranet is not neutral. And in particular, social media is not neutral. These were designed with a purpose with a goal in mind. And they didn’t have our best interests in mind when they designed them. So when we’re talking about the technology we have to talk about can it be subverted because it’s not designed to do things for our good? And I think that the answer to that question is yes, I think we look throughout Christian history, we can get a really clear eyed answer, we can see multiple forms of non neutral technology that the Spirit came in and transformed. And the fundamental thing that I’d say here is not that these are all the same thing as as digital technology. But there’s some examples. So I’ll just give a few really quickly. Number one would be roads, the Romans they created the world’s largest network of roads with one very non neutral purpose, they wanted to efficiently move their violent Imperial War Machine wherever they wanted to go. Paul subverted that technology, he used it to plant churches and to spread the letters that eventually became the New Testament. Another example, maybe more moderate is the printing press. When the printing press was invented, it was largely used to create gossip, pamphlets, and spread conspiracy theories. So sounds like something else I’ve heard. But moving forward, what happened? The Reformers they subverted it by printing vernacular translations of the Bible and spreading them across Europe, it was a non neutral technology. But again, we saw the Spirit do His work. Another one would be radio, the early days of the radio were incredibly bad. One of the most popular speakers was Father Charles Coughlin, who used it to promote pro Nazi, pro fascist, anti semitic commentary for over a decade. But Billy Graham saw the potential, and he subverted the technology, using it to call people to repent and believe in the gospel across the country. And so I realized that these new technologies, the internet, social media, and whatever comes after it, they’re not the same as those things. And yet, I really firmly believe that the Spirit can work to subvert those technologies. And then he’s going to work as he’s always done through people who see the possibilities and are willing to work out in the end how we can do these things together. And so I realized, we have to ask some important questions about how we should engage we’ve we’ve counted the cost of engagement, we’ve been counting the cost of engagement for 15 years, it’s wonder if we’ve counted the cost of disengagement. And I wonder if the cost is Sherry’s mom. And I wonder if the cost is millions of Christians across our country who are being fed false information, I wonder if the cost is billions of people across the world that can be reached for the gospel, if we would use this technology who would harness it for good? I think if we did that, and we did the glory of God, and we found people who were ethically sound theologically informed practitioners of digital ministry, we can see some real amazing transformation, not just in our country, but across the globe.

Jim Davis
Thank you, Patrick. Jay, what’s your perspective? Yeah, well,

Jay Kim
first, I’ll say you know, despite our differences, I love that we’re talking about this. I think we agree all of us probably agree in just the pervasiveness and the ubiquity of digital technology. It’s here, it’s not going away. So we have to address the topic. A couple of thoughts come to mind for me first, I want to make clear I’m not anti technology. I’m not anti digital technology in the same way that I’m not anti car. I I am for a car driving children safely to school in the morning, I am against a car driving 60 miles down a little neighborhood street where kids are playing, right? So I’m not for or against, I think, again, much like a car, you know, there’s a reason why I wouldn’t let my seven year old drive a car doesn’t necessarily mean that she’ll never drive a car. In fact, the hope is, someday she will drive a car, but there’s a very good reason why she doesn’t drive one. Now, there is a potential danger that’s slowly within the technology that she is not prepared for, or ready for. So that’s the first thing I’m not anti technology. But I do think that engaging technology, and in particular new technologies, digital technologies, with as much care and thoughtfulness and caution, in some cases, is just so vitally important, again, for a number of reasons, one that Patrick has already mentioned that they are non neutral technologies, they have an intention, and a design. They and they pose, I think a really fascinating complexity in that, you know, unlike cars, you get into a car, because you have an intention to get from point A to point B. Unlike a hammer, you only pick up a hammer when you’re going to nail something. Unlike those other tools.

Digital technologies, again, have a ubiquity, a pervasiveness to them, in that they are constant everywhere all the time. And in any moment of boredom, we find ourselves leaning in, there is a sort of inherent addiction and addiction or an addictive property to them. And so that leads us to the question, you know, should churches be fast or slow to lean into an embrace new technology? And I want to say the first thing I think is there is an inherent fear baked into going too slow, particularly in a culture that is as progress oriented and speed oriented, fast moving as ours falling behind is a Canada falling off a cliff, you know, this sort of descent spiral into irrelevance. And I think a lot of churches and church leaders fear that and then the assumption Conversely, the assumption is, well, if we can quickly and innovatively lean into new technologies, then we can get ahead, we can go fast we can go first. And that will put us ahead but I would actually argue that we have already evidence to the contrary. LifeWay Research, noted that by April of 2020, a month into the pandemic, basically every church in America 97{18875d16fb0f706a77d6d07e16021550e0abfa6771e72d372d5d32476b7d07ec} had an online service up and running. And then Barna Research, just a few months later, in the summer of 2020, just three or four months into the pandemic found that the most digitally native amongst us millennials, and Gen Z, who had gone to church prior to the pandemic, they were leaving the church and disengaging from online church at the the highest rate. And so those who are most comfortable with digital were the ones that were watching and engaging online, the least. So I would actually suggest that as the church has rushed headlong into new technologies, whatever is sort of at our disposal, the results have been mixed at best. And I would say disastrous at worst. Overall, church engagement has declined, congregations you know, Sherry’s mom, fracturing over online content has increased. And the public witness of the church, I would argue, has suffered because of those things. And some would suggest, I think Patrick would suggest that it’s because the church is not innovating enough, right. And this line of thinking proposes that mere presence online is not enough that we have to begin going first, we have to lead the way we have to innovate and subvert these new technologies. And I would admit that there is some redemptive potential in this line of thinking. But I do think that there is an inherent problem, in that it does not adequately take into account what we both mentioned already, the inherent design of these new technologies. So as one example, social media, which is it’s a prime example, because again, it’s huge. It’s significant. Social media is designed for many things, but one thing it’s designed for its scale, right, it’s designed for reach. The power of social media, in part is that you can tweet or post one thing. And with that one thing you have the potential to achieve scale at a rate that no other technology would have allowed any individual in years prior. And so this is why so many of us are addicted to this sort of slot, a slot machine pull of the refresh lever, because essentially we want to see the promise of scale and reach fulfilled and so we pull that lever how many likes how many retweets How many shares scale and reach I would suggest are about being noticed by as many as possible as near or as far as possible. And this is actually a wonderful approach, I think when it comes to content. And content is important, right? Christ centered gospel saturated content is necessary, vitally important. But I would argue, while content can inspire and inform, content alone cannot transform, it cannot transform Sherry’s mother, it cannot transform the people at my church, whom I love and serve. And of course, it is God alone and His goodness and His grace, who can truly transform a life through the regenerative work of His Spirit. But I think most often God chooses to do that transformational work through the medium of real human beings. And so in other words, I think the most effective way to reach an unbelieving and hurting world is not scale, but what I would call symmetry, right, individual Christians and collective church communities, aligning their energies together toward a handful of those within the ripple effect of their life, family, friends, co workers, local towns, neighborhoods, you know, workplaces, schools, etc. and leaning into those lives as personally and as intimately as possible. Now, let’s say that symmetry is not about reach, it’s about reports about relationship. It doesn’t focus on being noticed by as many as far as possible. And instead, I think symmetry helps us to notice as many as possible within our proximity. And to be sure this is slow work. It’s far slower than social media. It’s far slower than scale. It’s certainly much slower than the ability to get one piece of content out there to the masses. It doesn’t work that way. But when the church grabs ahold too quickly, of new technologies, thinking only of potential possibilities and missed opportunities, I believe the church leaves herself susceptible in two key ways. First, embracing new technology to fast I think leaves the church susceptible to being subsumed again by the overwhelming power and design of the technology itself, sabotaging even our best efforts toward redemptive subversion. We’ve seen this in recent years as churches rushed to social media in the wake of a variety of cultural moments making statements to quickly taking sides. And they were all in in good faith attempts to represent Jesus. But often we saw them fail miserably and unnecessarily alienate entire segments of our congregations because of a lack of nuance, and faltering back to square one. And two, I think the other danger in maybe most important is that embracing new technology leaves the church susceptible to losing sight of the very real thing, in our myths, not potential or possibilities out there. But the seemingly mundane and ordinary gift of proximity right here. Yeah, we are to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, but that journey always begins in Jerusalem, or in Silicon Valley, or in Missouri, or in Florida, wherever it might be wherever we are. And so I think that that one of the dangers of new technology is that it has a tendency to constantly shift our gaze always toward the distant horizons, where real people feel and look like an easily reachable mass. And when our gaze fixes on the when it fixates on the horizons, I think again, we are susceptible to losing the gift of proximity and the invitation to build rapport and relationship with those right here in our midst. Jesus says in John 15, right, Abide in me and I and you and a branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. And this is gardening language, right? Gardening is slow and it’s steady, it’s often boring. It’s often unspectacular. And it certainly is not about going first, nor is it about going fast. In fact, it is in many ways, the antithesis of speed. Gardening requires patience. It’s mostly watching and waiting. But there is no other way to bear healthy for you can’t microwave and orange. And so it is with the church. And for me, I think in recent years, I have found immense confidence and comfort in contemplating the long, slow, steady arc of God’s unfolding history, that in His sovereignty and his faithfulness, he has led his church through wars and famines and pandemics before he has gently and if effectively led his church through countless cultural shifts and technological advancements. And that has not and will never change. And my belief is that under his care, even when we go slow, we’re never behind.

Jim Davis
Thank you, Jay. I appreciate it. My question, my first question is going to be for you, Patrick, obviously, here, there’s a caution from being on the forefront of technology. When you consider how untested these new technologies are. Uh, you know, you’ve said that we’re 10 steps behind, is there value sometimes when you consider how untested The technologies are, and unknown and how we’ve not discipled our people into these technologies? Is the value sometimes to being 10 steps behind?

Patrick Miller
Yeah, well, I would say maybe not 10 steps behind, but I think there is some value to being a little bit behind. In fact, when it comes to digital technology in general, the pioneer rarely wins. Who here uses Yahoo to search? Who hears favorite social media is MySpace, being the first rarely we’re no longer

Jim Davis
on AOL Instant Messenger? Yeah, yeah.

Patrick Miller
You’ve got mail. You know, that kind of proves the point, though. The goal for the church is not to be technologists, our goal is not to be pioneers of new technology. I think my fear and it’s pretty good. Obviously, Jay, you’re coming from Silicon Valley. So you’re actually surrounded by tech people. I live in Missouri. So I’ve never around those kinds of people. And so our context might shape some of our perception with this. But as I look at the church right now, we are not wobbling on the precipice of the future, we’re tripping backwards over our own feet into the past. And so I’m not saying let’s get up to step one, or even step two, I’m okay with Step three, four or five. The stuff that we’re doing on our team, as practitioners of this kind of ministry is not really exciting. It’s very, very basic down down the pipe marketing that really you can read any book and find out a little bit about and yet we’re still lightyears ahead of most churches, we’re so lightyears ahead of most Christian content creators. And the heart again, behind this is that what we’ve seen is that when we utilize these very simple, very inexpensive tools, there are enormous results. In just the last year, we’ve been trying to reach the church people, which is the quickest growing group of people walking away from the church, it’s a massive, massive problem, you know? And we thought, how do we get these people back. And so with a very small advertising budget, and with a very simple strategy, we started using email devotionals. And we created target audiences to go after those people. And what we discovered was that about 10{18875d16fb0f706a77d6d07e16021550e0abfa6771e72d372d5d32476b7d07ec} of the people that we were able to reach online would end up in a real in person church context, within the next year, that 10{18875d16fb0f706a77d6d07e16021550e0abfa6771e72d372d5d32476b7d07ec} of those people were going to come. And so this year, we’re on target for bringing about 1000 new people who were discharged back into churches. And that kind of highlights the point this where I’m saying enhancement is the name of the game. It’s not replacement. We talked about live streams, live streams are a form of replacement, what is the live stream do it’s a broadcast of what’s happening on a stage or inside of a church, and it’s trying to replace what’s happening there. I don’t wanna replace, we don’t actually do much with live streaming, to be honest, what we want to do is enhance what we already have, and bring people into the church using the technology that we have. So I see it as a synergy between the two, not not picking between one or the other.

Jim Davis
That’s really helpful. So Jay, you made the comment content alone cannot transform. Yet you you write articles for TGC, you’re here debating something that will be delivered through through technology. Do you believe me, you must believe that your efforts here can can contribute here? Do you believe that by the Holy Spirit’s activity, that that mean, your efforts can be used to transform lives through technology? Or is there a contradiction there?

Jay Kim
Sure. Yeah. I mean, yeah, content is important. I want to make that clear. What I am not saying is that content doesn’t matter. Just show up to a building, do life with another human being and everything will be well, that’s not what I’m saying. I would also say, you know, analog, embodied presence is not the answer to everything. We didn’t always have digital. This is like maybe a 2530 year old phenomenon. For us that church had many problems long before the internet. So it’s not like analog showing up solves everything. Content is is vitally important. I think the only thing the argument I’m trying to make is that content alone is incomplete. I think that content at its best, can inspire it certainly can inform and inspiration and information, no right knowledge, all of those things matter a great deal. But I think the Christian life is a life call that needs to be live lived. You know, it’s an embodied life. It’s not knowing the right things. It’s living in alignment with right knowledge. And I think if we over emphasized content, content content, that’s all you need. Let’s get into these spaces. And let’s overwhelmed bad content with good gospel centered content. Again, I’m not saying that’s unimportant, like you’ve said, I participate in that endeavor, and I believe in it. That’s why I do. But I believe it’s one step in the direction of a transformed life. It really does require and I think this is where Patrick and I both diverge, and maybe have some agreement. The goal, you know, the end of the line is to is to make sure that followers of Jesus encounter the risen Christ within the context of other human beings who are attempting least to follow Jesus and live like Jesus in real ways.

Jim Davis
Do you feel like that’s in line with what you were just saying?

Patrick Miller
What we always end up laughing about because we end up agreeing in the end, because I would choose your

Jim Davis
same destination, you might be talking about getting there different ways. But, but that sounds very similar to what you were saying about replacement.

Patrick Miller
Yeah, I mean, as a pastor, the thing that I see change people’s lives is of course content. And it’s also community, you need both of them and one without the other rarely does the trick. And again, that’s why it’s so key for us to say that the goal was not to replace community or to replace analog connection, it’s to supplement it. This was a few years ago, Home Depot hired a new CEO, they bring him in, and he says, I’m gonna be all about online. And so the project he takes on is changing their website. So it’ll bring more traffic onto the website. And everybody’s freaking housing, we’re gonna end up higher, you know, firing all these people who are in our stores, you’re not building any new stores isn’t going to be terrible for the brand. Well, what he did was he worked really hard to make sure that everything they did on the internet, brought people into the store, you could, if you had a return, you could return it at the store. If he wanted to pick it up, same day, he’d go pick it up, same day at the store, He multiplied foot traffic inside of the building tremendously during this period. And it was because he was using the internet to get people inside of the four doors of their home depot stores. And that’s again, how I want to see the the the internet right now is do we have a way to use the technology that we have to get people inside of community and inside stores, especially in an increasingly post post Christian culture, where people have to take a lot of steps before they ever show up inside those doors to begin with?

Jim Davis
So what are some ways that you see the church misusing technology right now?

Patrick Miller
Well, I think there’s countless ways. Here’s what happens in a lot of churches, they go out, they read the best marketing books out there, and they just baptize it. And they just, they just recreate what they see there. So for example, there’s a guy named Gary Gary Vaynerchuk, or Gary Vee, he’s a very famous marketer. And his approach is essentially how to create a celebrity, you know, and so I see people come into the church, and they take his approach. And now their goal is to turn their pastor into a celebrity. Well, that’s not promoting Jesus. And again, it by the way, it almost entirely focuses around the livestream the replacement of the in person with with the digital thing. And so that’s an example of if your goal on social media is to turn your pastor into a celebrity, that’s incredibly problematic. But the reality is that the threat is not how the church is using it. It’s how other people are using it, and how that shaping people inside the church because we just aren’t using it very much.

Jim Davis
Alright, so you bring up a really good point. We’re not looking to make our pastors celebrities hope, hopefully. But Jay, you said, he talked about the risk of the potential out there distracting us from the mundane, ordinary calling, of proximity right here. So as a pastor, my primary focus is Orlando Grace Church, as pastors, we have a primary focus outside of our family and our own faith. So, but we now have all these other opportunities to engage with our own church and the broader community through podcasting, or YouTube, or whatever it is, what are some warning signs that a pastor is maybe tilting into a bad area when we may be forgetting our primary focus that we’re called to?

Jay Kim
That’s great question. I think any time the word brand is involved in anything with the kingdom of God, you’ve created competing values. And it’s not necessarily even that you use the word I think, if anything, sort of smells of brand and brand building and establishing brand, I think that’s a key warning sign. And I think this is where Patrick and I actually diverge and maybe it’s because I cannot see, but it is difficult for me to imagine that you know, success in in particular measurable metric success on social media, for example, can be achieved without some form of brand building. Now, I say this in some ways, a self indictment, right? I some of my work is semi public, so you could make the argument well, Jay, you’ve written this article for that you’re on this video right? That Are you build Being a brand. So yeah, I mean, I will readily admit I live within the tension of that. But I love what you said, Jim, I try to think of myself and sort of center myself on that reality. I think we were talking before we started filming. But primarily, I see myself as a follower of Jesus as a husband and a father and a local church pastor, who is called to love and serve the people within my proximity. Now, because of the digital realities in which we live, certainly, we have some digital expressions of our church. And we have variety of reasons for that. But but I just I try to be really careful about brand building. Again, not to say, I do it perfectly. But But that’s where, for me, I think leaning too hard, too fast into digital into new technologies at our disposal. I’m just not sure that the human heart, and I’m growing increasingly sure that the human heart is not conditioned for the platforms that are at our disposal, and what they offer us I just even even the most faithful amongst us, I think, yeah, the reach and the scale that they offer us, we just leave ourselves really vulnerable, I think,

Jim Davis
well, there are sadly, many stories to support. Yeah, that’s right. And what you’re saying in just the past 10 years. So Patrick, he you said that the internet cannot replace the vital in person localized functions of the church? Can you be more specific about what these functions are?

Patrick Miller
Oh, yeah, man, I find that tremendously easy. You cannot watch a live stream and tell me you’re having the same experience of standing shoulder to shoulder with someone. Now I want live streams, we have shut ins and people at play, they cannot access our services. If we don’t put it online. There are people who come to our church who’ve never walked inside a church, they’re terrified of doing it. And so they just want to see what’s happening on a screen before they come in. For all those reasons. I love it. You know, if you’re on vacation, and you want to watch church, I mean, there’s worse things you could do on vacation than watch church. However, watching church is not the same thing as worshiping alongside other people hearing their voices together. Now, again, I want to be cautious though, because the minute you walk into the most traditional Church in Birmingham, the minute you walk in the church, you are surrounded by radical technology. We don’t think about it that way. But once upon a time, people didn’t sit on pews. Once upon a time, preachers weren’t up in pulpits once upon a time, they didn’t have hymnals, they knew the songs. And so their eyes were up, they weren’t down inside of the book, they weren’t sitting down, they were standing up to here, they didn’t have sound amplification when you start thinking about the radical technologies that are right inside, those cars that are outside, you start to walk to your church. And now you can drive wherever you want to. So we have all these other analog technologies, there’s air conditioning, I mean, yeah, I don’t want to get rid of that. All of these technologies are present in every single church. And I only say that to say, look, when you’re watching a screen, something very different is happening. I want to acknowledge that. And yet, I don’t want to be overly skeptical or or pretend as though what we see as being non technological. today. It was technological, 100 years ago, 150 years ago, or whenever those things were introduced.

Jim Davis
So you do have a live stream at your church? Yes, you do. And you are discipling people to tell them this is a lesser experience.

Patrick Miller
Well, you know, so I actually really hesitate to start telling people that it’s a lesser experience. And here would be the reason why for that person again, who is because you kind of just did say that? Well, I’m saying it here, right? So if I’m talking to a friend of mine, who has been going to the church for 10 years, and he’s telling me, Hey, I’m done going in person, I love watching in my pajamas, I’d say hey, that’s, that’s great. I’m sure it’s awesome watching your pajamas, you need to come to church. But if I’m talking to a college student who’s never come to a church before, and he tells me, Hey, I’ve been watching your church on Livestream for the last month, I don’t go, hey, you know, that’s great. You really need to cut that out. Because that’s not the real thing. You know, or if I’m talking to the shuttered, who literally can’t come, I’m not gonna say to them, and so we’re cautious up front, because we want to have a space for process. But again, we have designed our entire technological apparatus to get people inside the doors, what we do in our newsletters, on our blogs, on social media, we have shown time and again, that is that is the top lead generators, that thing that’s bringing most people to our in person events. And so again, we’ve designed a structure we’ve subverted the structure of what’s happening social media, and we designed it to bring people in person, and we’ve seen it work. And so because it’s working, so we’re seeing people show up, we feel confident that we don’t necessarily have to broadcast. Don’t just watch the live stream.

Jim Davis
Do you think it would be different for the church that did everything? Same philosophies, but decided instead of live stream we’re going to record put it on the next day with all the same values?

Patrick Miller
That’s interesting question. I mean, there’s nothing different for the person who’s watching it except for one they can watch it. And again, because I think people want to be a part of church on Sunday morning. Again, I think of the change I’m thinking of the people who wouldn’t realize I can watch church afterwards. So, for all those reasons I would want to keep it on on Sunday mornings. And again, I think it’s perfectly good reasons for some people to shut off the live stream. But I don’t want to live in a city where there’s no church with the live stream.

Jim Davis
How does that land with you live the live stream centric conversation?

Jay Kim
Yeah. You know, our church has a live stream, which I take a lot of flack for, oh, the analog church guy has a live stream. That was a pandemic, and post pandemic decision we made. I heard another church leader recently, say, the live stream or the online service, whatever you want to call it, has become the new lobby of the church. And that is the primary and really internally at least, the only reason we’ve kept our live stream is that as we’ve tracked it, and we have tracked it, new people who actually walk through our doors and show up in person, they will say, on average, that they have watched the services online between three and five times before they ever show up. So we’ve discovered, okay, not having an online service or streaming the service in some form or fashion, would be akin to essentially destroying our lobby and going parking lot, right through the doors into our sanctuary, which would be an incredibly jarring experience for a brand new person doesn’t know where they drop off their kids and all those sorts of things. So we’ve kept our live stream service. But I will say we talk about it almost all the time. For the same reason that concern that we also again, we’ve measured this as well, through some some data we’ve collected from directly from our people. It is we believe that it’s, it’s having a formational effect on our people. And we do not know yet how to parse the two out to be able to communicate to those who are not yet with us, and not yet comfortable being with us in person, this is for you. And then to communicate to those who are in their pajamas, because it’s just far more convenient to sort of have church on in the background while you make pancakes. And then on Sunday morning, and then get ready for the football game or something we want to be able to communicate to them. This is this is almost nothing, what you’re doing is almost nothing, there’s a reason some churches call it on demand. That’s right. That’s right. It’s like Netflix, you know, and you think about your Netflix queue, you’ve got 400 different shows and movies and you watch two minutes of the first one, it’s kind of boring, and you move on to the next and off it goes from from the queue. Well, that has a formational effect, we began to think about church as content, you know, and we, the way we think about content in the digital age now is that there is and always should be an endless stream of options. Nobody, nobody gets Netflix, because they have two shows they get it because they have 2 million shows or whatever the number might be. And I think that that’s of deep concern to me. So we’re still navigating those waters and trying to figure it out.

Jim Davis
Well, in your defense, we’re not talking about cutting edge technology and live streaming, this is something that churches have been using and wrestling with for 15. Really some since the mid 90s If they had the capability or the money, so you’re not inconsistent with the argument you’ve been making. I am curious, I thought his Roman roads analogy was really compelling. So it was the printing press. But the Roman roads stuck with me. How did that land with you?

Jay Kim
It is a compelling argument. I will say, you know, social commentators, social scientists, Jonathan Haidt is one of them have read, written recently and compellingly, in my view, is I’ve seen it, the difference between new technologies in the digital age, and previous technologies, like automobiles and roads, and the printing press in such, even television and radio, is that digital technologies change so rapidly, that it does not give us the necessary time to assess its full impact on culture and society. And I think that is the danger. This would be akin to, if in transportation technology, we went from horseback riding to, you know, a car to the Tesla, within a matter of 12 years. We just would not know how, as a culture and society, we need to adequately you know, consider all of the effects all of the impacts, we just wouldn’t have the time. And so I think that’s the concern that the parallels sort of, are inadequate in my mind because of the speed and the rate, which is why for me, my argument is not to become a Luddite run away from technology. Again, I’m not anti technology. The argument is to Go slow that it’s okay to go slow. We need to create the necessary space between us and the technology happening, all of the chaos sort of happening before us. We need enough space so that we can see the long arc of technology story in the digital age so that we can have again, as God by His Spirit moves in us and gives us eyes to see sort of all of the impact that’s unfolding.

Jim Davis
How does that land with you? What are your thoughts?

Patrick Miller
I will actually agree with a lot of what you said. And again, my point is not that we should be first movers are that we should be right on the precipice of whatever’s coming next. My point is that we need to, if you think about the digital world as an infected body politic, it needs antibiotics, you have to do something to solve the problem. And again, this goes back to Sherry’s mom, but we’re on the precipice right now of artificial intelligence, that’s going to radically change the face of how information works, we are really one generation away. And generations, as you just said, are becoming very, very short. So we’re probably talking two years, from the ability for someone to take a story, write it into a textbox, press Enter. And then the AI produces 300 different news stories based on what you put in there that look very credible, that can be spread across 300 different websites by the same troll farms that have been talking about. And so determining what’s true, and what’s not true is really difficult. We are currently at the point where I can type into a text box, something that I want to see on a video. And all of a sudden it’s there. So artificial intelligence is as it’s changing things, it’s going to make our ability to discern what’s true, what’s not true, all the more difficult. And so the mission I think pastors have to have is they have to now be talking to Christians about hey, one, don’t live your whole life online. I think it’s an incredibly important message, but to the life you live online, you have to live intentionally. But if I’m going to tell you to live your online life, intentionally, I better be giving you the stuff you need. To live that intentional life. I think about churches that a church called quorum data that does a midweek podcast, where they discuss what happened inside of the sermon that’s just for their people at their church is a wonderful way, just like in the old days, when a pastor could walk around the town and visit with everyone and see how they were doing. If we can create podcasts and content that they can actually go and engage with and choose to trust over the fake stuff over the news pundits over all of the trash that’s constantly coming into their feet. If we give them the good stuff, there’s actually a chance that we not only will be discipling throughout the week, but that they won’t be discipled by all this other things. I’m just maybe I’m overly realistic or too pessimistic. I don’t think if our goal is let’s really get people off the internet more. I mean, I just want to say good luck. I mean, good luck to myself. Let’s get them off the internet more. Yes, let’s try. But let’s also give them what they need to be healthy on the internet.

Jim Davis
So Patrick, one more for you. Jay mentioned that quick adoption of technology has harmed the church’s witness in some cases. And certainly we’ve seen reckless usage of social media by Christians and how that has harmed witnesses in certain ways. How do you respond to this is the missional potential of technology greater than the possible reputational risk?

Patrick Miller
Well, I suppose it depends who’s behind the keyboard, if I’m gonna be honest, I agree there are Christians who are doing great harm. The way these non neutral technologies are designed right now, is the companies want to keep you on their platforms. And the way they do that is by giving you emotionally engaging content, in particular, outrageous content content that causes anger. And that means that the algorithm is going to prioritize content. That’s extreme. And so what’s happening right now is that the Christians who are causing the most harm, they actually don’t know how to use the internet. They just have a nice algorithm that’s highlighting their stuff. It’s lifting it up to the surface for everybody to be able to see, but they don’t know what they’re doing. They’re just being outrageous. And of course, yes, that causes that causes harm to the church, it causes harm to Jesus’s reputation, and our community. But that’s why it’s so key right now, if we who are not living in those extremes, but want to be thoughtful, winsome, charitable, kind have a different face on the internet, if we can figure out how to use those algorithms as they stand right now, and get our content in front of people instead of that content. When these algorithms change, and they are constantly changing, and the day will come and the outrageous stuff gets pushed down. In fact, that’s where everything is headed at the moment, the people who have figured out how to give good content and the existing system, there’ll be elevated up to the top. And again, the goal here is not creating celebrities, I think or I pray what’s going to happen is 10s of 1000s of very small scale platforms reaching broadly their local communities using the internet and again, we’re already seeing some of the stuff begin to pick up. So yes, there are risks. Yes, the algorithm takes his worst people and brings them up but no, I don’t think of that outweighs the need to figure out how to work in this new environment.

Jim Davis
I’ve talked to a lot of pastors who have in 2020 2021 had to take the biblical peacemaking, discipleship skills They had been teaching in normal life and begin to see, oh, we’ve got to apply this to social media use because we have people getting in fights publicly inside the church about all kinds of things these days, I read an article in the Orlando Sentinel. Last year that said, the average attention span for an American adult has dropped from 12 seconds in the year 2000, to eight seconds today make officially making our attention span lower than that of a goldfish. Nine seconds, which if you watch TED Lasser, might be interesting to you. This lower attention span is directly linked, according to this article to the rise of devices in our hands. So if that is the context that we live in, what implications does that have on discipleship? Do we need to adjust to that new reality? Or do we need to push back on it?

Patrick Miller
Can I say yes, all of the above, I think I think we do need to push back on it. And one way we push back on it, by the way is by creating substantive, long form content that people can engage with. If you want people to have longer attention spans, you’re going to have to give them some stuff that’s has a longer attention span required. On the other side, I think we’re already adjusting to it short form content is the king on Instagram, it’s a king on Tik Tok, it’s the king on YouTube. And you’re seeing more and more Christians adjust to that reality. Now, on one level, we might say how in the world can you make the gospel that that small that short and most these videos are longer than eight seconds. And yet I see the other potential. There are a lot of Christian tick talkers, who are doing some amazing things. I just met a guy the other day, who had no connection to church, no connection to Christianity, but he watched his Christian tick talker and he liked it. And the algorithm is designed to take you down whatever rabbit hole you want. It gave him another Christian video, and then another and then another and another. And within four months, he’s at a PCA church. This guy never thought about Jesus before. Now, I’m sitting there thinking, praise God, those Christian tick talkers were on there to take him down that rabbit hole, because if they weren’t, he’d be going to a very dark place. So yes, let’s do long form. Yes, let’s try to help people extend their attention spans. And yes, let’s do the short form stuff, too, if that’s where they’re at. I mean, where would the Apostle Paul be? I don’t know if he’d be on tick tock, it’s kind of hard to imagine. I kind of wonder, you know, the Tick Tock to the Romans, what would that be like? You could ask him. I think he would be there though communicating and reaching people in the digital Babylon, he would figure out a way to share the gospel with them on their Areopagus, even though it’s something that we might feel really uncomfortable with.

Jim Davis
Do you have any response or agreement disagreement to that?

Jay Kim
Yeah, I mean, I think the design of social media platforms like Tiktok, and increasingly, so where Instagram and YouTube and Facebook, where they’re headed, it is getting shorter and shorter, the attention span is decreasing. And I find that really problematic. And I’m, you know, Patrick, you said something earlier that I found really interesting that if something is sick, you need an antibody, I think where we diverge is I’m, I’m sort of interested in why we’re sick there. And is there the possibility that we can live in a place where we’re not as sick, just not exist in so again, not a Luddite I’m not, you know, under the guise of everyone’s gonna throw out their their phones and not have the internet or anything like that. I just think that, you know, our sort of content information diet needs to change, our consumption needs to change. The other problem with that is, I think, the way these platforms are designed, the lines between creator and consumer get really blurred, I think that’s why it feels so social. In some ways, there is always the constant possibility, I could also be a creator. And I think in some ways that can inherently pull out of us, you know, really ungodly nature that just is going to work against our formation into Christ’s likeness. So yeah, I think, you know, would Paul be on Tik Tok? Maybe he would, but he certainly could not. Pen Roman’s on tick tock, you know, there wouldn’t be enough time. And there isn’t enough space for the necessary nuance in the breath.

Jim Davis
So you talked about the fact that, you know, people who are, you know, in your camp here, they’re going to feel left behind, there’s going to be a fear of missing out there just will be. So what do you do to pastor your people through that? FOMO and let them feel okay, in that?

Jay Kim
Yeah, I think the first thing I would say is, relevance matters less than you think it does. What matters more, and what matters most in pastoral ministry, whether you’re actually a pastor at a church and now serving on staff or not just as you as a follower of G uses pasture people report and relationship at the end of the day is what really matters. You know, when someone’s husband is dying, they’re not going to go to YouTube to look for a video to encourage them, they’re going to call the person they know the person that can show up at the hospital. You know, you can’t share a meal on Tik Tok, no matter how much you try. So that’s what I would say, you know, you are where you are for a particular reason. God has given you the gift of your proximity. And the calling primary calling is to serve that proximity and the people within your midst really well.

Jim Davis
Patrick, you brought up AI? So AI is quickly is a quickly developing technology. What are the principal principles we need to have we need to sort out to have in place in order to navigate questions about how much AI can justifiably provide help in pastoral work, writing the sermons doing the research, care coordination, communication, because the story you just told about one use of AI? Could you write up something and put your theology out there and say, What kind of book you want to preach through and all of a sudden, all the sermons are printed for the year?

Patrick Miller
Yeah, I mean, it’s actually quite feasible to imagine someone typing in write a sermon on Romans 12, one to two in the style of J cam. And all of a sudden, it’s read J kins books, and it just Richard the jKm sermon that you want him to preach? Of course, those are interesting ethical questions that we’re going to have to explore. It’s not plagiarism, it’s also not actually your work. And there’s a long history by the way, in pastoring of people using you know, prefabbed outlines and it’s become a debate even right now a bunch, you know, what, what qualifies as a, as a sermon that’s done in the right way, the wrong way? So, you know, I don’t know if I have any principles at this point. What I would probably change a question to saying the threat of AI is not, you know, what happens when you’re whoever does your your, your your images starts using artificial intelligence to create video? That’s interesting question, can you put those videos on your screen? Is that somehow wrong? I don’t know. I think the far more important question is, how are we creating the antibodies inside of the people in our churches to be able to identify the misinformation and disinformation that’s going to be created by this artificial intelligence, and maybe of equal importance is realizing that artificial intelligence isn’t an in the future, when we talk about the algorithm algorithm, we’re talking about AI, these are neural networks, they are machine nodes that are that are studying you that are creating a model of you. So they can sell you to companies so they can sell you goods, and so they can prep you to buy those goods. We’d like to think that we’re not, you know, fifth graders who would be able to resist if someone was manipulating us, but we can’t the AI is already at work manipulating how we think and what we do. And so that’s why it’s a it’s so critical, both for Christians to create content that can be engaged with online, but also for Christians to understand how those algorithms are working, and use them for good eye. Again, I’ve seen tremendous story, tremendous things happen in people’s lives being transformed by Christians who use those algorithms to reach people who were far from God, to reach people who were de churched to reach people in different countries. I mean, right now, the Iranian church is exploding. And the crazy thing is, if you talk to someone in Iran, who’s become a Christian, and you say, hey, who discipled you there’s a high chance they got discipled on Zoom. That’s how it’s happening. And if you want to find out how they heard about Jesus, again, it’s happening through a lot of this technology. So that’s why for me, it’s like, yeah, we can talk about how is AI going effect is happening inside the church doors. The far more important question is not what’s happening in the church was happening outside the church, because guess what, that’s where most of our people spend their lives and their days if we aren’t there. And if we don’t know how to use it, we’ve given up.

Jim Davis
So Jay, you talked about the danger of embracing embracing technology too fast, Patrick, you said that we’re not in danger of doing this, because we’re so far behind. So I just, I want a set yesterday, and I just, I wanted to make a list of really how much has changed in 20 years, just just to really, just flush it out myself. And I’d love for you to hear y’all do two things as we finish. I’d love to hear just how you process the church going through such big changes. So more a heart level, not necessarily picking apart each each of these. And then second, I’d like you to tell me what’s next on the horizon. Do you think for the church to have to battle? So in the last 20 years, the world of Bible distribution has fundamentally changed with Bible apps on smartphones. Words of songs are mostly on screens now and hymnals are disappearing. Every church has a website explaining who they are and what they believe people can click a map on that site and know where to go and how long it’ll take. The world has access to both great and heretical teaching in a way that it never has before. Through podcast apps, do YouTube in the palm of your hands, a skilled communicator free shirt can now be made into a live hologram and preach in dozens of places at the same time, maybe never even seen the people the pastor. Giving has gone mostly online zoom and other sites. Now allow instantaneous communication with missionaries to your Iran. Point. Missionaries now get to talk with family and friends back home. Mobile kids check in and training, cell phones, Facebook and text messaging has made a pastor available at all times. I can’t imagine being a pastor, before cell phone, through websites like take them in a meal, we can now organize in minutes ways to provide for families in need that would have taken hours or days 20 years ago, through online curators, social media and podcast pastors with any visibility at all experience more scrutiny than they ever have before. Social media algorithms are targeting our people with extreme views of church and culture. Through those same mediums, abusive leaders are exposed more than ever before. The church can now stay in touch during a pandemic, people can now stay at home and worship without being connected to anyone we talked about that seminary education, which we haven’t touched on, is now globally available and accessible. seminaries around the country are also now making it easier for their traditional students to never step foot on campus or meet a single professor, again, not looking to pick but this is profound change in 20 years, how does at a heart level, at an emotional level? How does this land with you? And what do you think the next? The next thing is the church needs to have our eye on in the world of technology? Whoever wants to go first?

Jay Kim
Yeah, I mean, I’m happy to go first. A couple of thoughts coming to mind. First, I think what comes next and we’ve talked a lot about content, I think, and I don’t know, but I think maybe possibly what comes next. It’s important to remember people know when content is they know content is content. Right? That’s a category in our hearts. And in our minds, I am consuming content, whether you consciously think the thought or not when you’re scrolling your feed when you’re on YouTube, when you’re watching an online service, you know, its content. And that the intersection of increasing amounts of content, whether it’s good Christian content, or other content, just the increasing amount of content, as it intersects with increasing amounts of skepticism, and trust, you know, and the decay of trust. That intersection is going to be really interesting. But I also think that that and maybe we’re already there at that intersection, I think that that intersection offers the church and opportunity, that the way to cut through content is with genuine community, that actually communities where you realize and maybe even a jarring way, oh, I’m not consuming content here. I’m sitting for coffee, with this man who happens to be my pastor, you know, with this woman who happens to be a leader in our church, whatever it might be, I think there’s a real opportunity. And it’s it’s not scalable, it’s just not scalable online, it’s going to have to happen in the small pockets of real communities gathering together. So that’s not to say, again, content is not important. But I think content is what it is its content. And if it’s helpful, fantastic. And I hope like Patrick said that it begins to lead down a path for many who would never otherwise walk through some church doors to do so. But I think as content increases, and skepticism continues to rise, I think the church will have an opportunity in the future, to lean into community, you know, rather than content. And then past early, I think for me, as I navigate change, I said it already before, I just find a lot of comfort in knowing that my life, however long God has me on this side of eternity is a tiny speck. It’s a little blip on the long overarching history of God. And He has loved us since the beginning. He has loved his church, and he has cared for her well, despite all of our failures and flaws. And God is faithful even when we are not. So that’s my hope. And I lead on that.

Jim Davis
Well said, What about you, Patrick?

Patrick Miller
It’s funny hearing your question about the constant change because I’m a millennial. And that’s all I’ve ever known. I have a difficult time imagining a world where this kind of rapid digital technological transformation wasn’t a constant and it actually makes me really grateful for older brothers and sisters to say, Hey, slow down. This is not the way it’s always been. So I actually just want to say amen. Jay just said, the church really may be the last place where people are going to find in person love care, community eye contact friendship. shoulders around the arm, you know, arm around the shoulders there. Yeah. It might be the last place where that happens. Um, that said, I want that and I want something else in that’s the thing. For me, this is not an either or, and I don’t think it is for you either J. It’s a both. And I want I want that. And I want this. I’ve been reflecting a lot on the exiles who lived in Babylon, and Daniel and his friends. And, you know, Daniel, when he gets to Babylon, there are lines he won’t cross. This is why I say, if we don’t do it, there will be people who don’t have ethical mores who don’t have any theological insights, they will go and they will do whatever they have to do to become the celebrity, they will take advantage of the situation. Daniel and his friends, the headlines, they wouldn’t cross and yet they became excellent. They learned the language of Babylon. They learned the culture, they became the best bureaucrats that Nebuchadnezzar ever knew and so much of that he puts them in charge of the entire province of Babylon. Think about Jeremiah writing his letter to the exiles. And he tells them, Hey, you guys think you’re coming back, we ain’t coming back. You got to build houses, you got to build the vineyard, you got to work for the welfare Babylon, because in its welfare, you will find your welfare too. I think we’re living in a digital Babylon more and more of life is moving online and the people we want to reach we can say that let’s help Christians, please spend less time online. Amen to that. But the people who aren’t in church, they are online. And I say, Let’s build some houses, let’s build some vineyards, let’s work for their welfare, let’s have wines that we will not cross. And I think that’s what the future is going to be for the church, it’s going to be both in person. And it’s going to be finding people who can be practitioners of digital ministry, we have to understand our competitors aren’t the church down the street, the show have never been to begin with our competitors, our Netflix, their Hulu, their Disney, they are these mega media corporations that have millions of data points on every single person living in this country. The future, I think, for Christians, as weird as this sounds, is, we have to get better at collecting data, we have to get better at collecting information on people. Because once we have information, we can use that to bring new people into the kingdom, once we have information, we can actually target good content towards them. But right now, we’ve duct taped together all the stuff that we have, and no one knows how to use it. And until that happens, we’re going to be in a really rough place. So what do I think the future is for the church? This isn’t really weird. Go get a database. use that information to reach your people online, add new information into it that you gather online. And again, use that to target people who are outside your church, bring those D church people back in this stuff isn’t rocket science, it’s actually really simple. It’s actually incredibly inexpensive. And if we did that, I think we’d make a big dent in some of the major problems that the church is facing at the moment.

Jim Davis
Well, I want to thank you both. You’ve thought this through well, you care about your people, you care about the gospel. And like we said earlier, I really believe we’re going the same, we have the same destination, although maybe not the same road to get there. And you two have really embodied the heart of these debates very well. There is disagreement, but there’s gospel Unity, Unity. And I just appreciate you giving your time and your expertise to this conversation. So thank you very much for that. And for those of you watching out there via some device probably. We hope this has been profitable to you, as you think about your own life, your own consumption of online content, and, more importantly, the way that you especially if you’re a church leader, might be reaching those in your context.