When my children were younger I would give them iPads to hold their attention while I had to tend to other things. This early introduction helped them become comfortable with technology at an early age. Many of us have all seen toddlers who have been given an iPad or smart phone and watched them “click and swipe” to their favorite apps or watch their favorite netflix cartoon. The fact that these kids can work these mobile devices without instruction or supervision is amazing in itself. But what’s even more amazing is that the technology that these kids are using is the oldest technology they will see in their lifetime. The ipads and mobile devices that we think are groundbreaking, will be like 8-tracks and Betamaxes to the kids when they get older. So the question is, if the church is behind in technology now, how will it look in the future trying to reach a digitally native generation that is fully immersed in technology and has been since they were toddlers?
The “digital natives” and “millennials” are used to having an internet that is customized to their needs. Their Facebook newsfeeds are customized for them to see what they want to see and their Google search results are customized for them to see what they want to see, thus they are used to having online experiences that cater to them. Therefore, when they look at their online (or offline) church experience, and it’s outdated or disconnected, it doesn’t fit every other aspect of their connected lives and therefore they disconnect. But contrary to what certain churches think, they don’t disconnect from church or God altogether, they just disconnect from the churches that don’t meet them where they are at...which is online.
In terms of church, millennials and digitals will look for innovative, immersive, engaging and customized online experiences. They will get this in every other aspect of their lives, why should they feel their faith based / inspirational experiences will be different. They will live lives that have no boundaries between online and offline. They will build online communities that have offline components and have offline experiences that have online audiences. The church will need to look at how they do church offline and figure out how to apply that in an online space.
Here is a glimpse of the future of church that I see based on what technologies we have now and what’s emerging. When we look at the Internet of Things and an always connected future, we can conceivably see a future where we are never disconnected and the things we look at in everyday will now be smart-objects that are internet connected. We will get up in the morning and either our smart-watch or some web enabled device will tell let us know how we slept and what we have planned for the day. As we walk to the mirror to brush our teeth and wash our face, we will see a smart-mirror that has a screen where we see a motivational scripture or a clip of a inspirational message. As we walk to the smart-refrigerator it will tell us what we should eat based on how we fit our smart clothes and our diet goals that we want to achieve. Additionally, on the panel of the fridge will be a bible verse that we want to remember for the day or even a continuation of the sermon we were watching on the bathroom mirror. As we gather our items for the day to go out and about, we look at our watch and it gives us our vitals as well as exercise goals we have for the day. We tell our family goodbye but we are never disconnected from them as we can always see where they are and communicate with them from our mobile device or our smart watch. As we leave we put on our smart glasses and we look around our neighborhood and the glasses show us which neighbors could use a motivational post on social media or word of encouragement based on their social media updates. We can choose to stop by or send a message online. Lastly, we get into the car and we go work but since the cars are self driving, the entire windshield is a screen and shows the weekly sermon or podcast we wanted to listen to that we missed. If that’s not something we want to do, then we join our internet church online group bible study that has members from all around the world and we all video in and stay connected and talk about our weekly spiritual goals.
That’s just a glimpse of the internet connected future that the church can play a role in by taking the life changing gospel message and making it available using innovative methods. Take church outside the walls and to the people, as missionaries do. But instead of traditional missionaries, think about the impact of digital missionaries and the ever growing digital mission field. That’s the future of the church.