There is a reason the rearview mirror in your car is smaller than your windshield; the vast majority of what you need to focus on while driving, and in life, is ahead of you.
If a person looks back too much, they can get bogged down in what happened in the past, both bad and good, and not be fully present with who they are right now.
But this time of year, it is “ok” to look back to see where we’ve been so we can learn from what has transpired, take stock of where we are and plan for the future to be –because, as the last slide of our Seed Round fund-raising deck exclaimed, the best way to predict the future is to CREATE IT!
2020 has been a year of change for churches.
Although many larger churches have been streaming their worship services for some time, a majority of churches had to scramble to get their services online. And many churches were surprised at how well their online services were attended … initially.
Based on the numbers coming from Barna Research, that initial interest in online participation has dropped off, in some cases considerably.
Could it be that people are getting less spiritual because of the pandemic?
I truly doubt it. But maybe simply streaming the Sunday sermon, or even the complete service, is not a fulfilling spiritual experience. Much like the early use of the movie camera was to film plays at the theatre, the early use of video for churches is underutilizing technology and what people are used to in other parts of their lives, and under delivers what the experience could be.
Moving Two Worlds into One …
People now live in two worlds: the physical world we’ve always have lived in, and the digital world, which is still relatively new.
The physical world changes more slowly, the digital world can change with each new release of software; sometimes dramatically. The Church has been focused on creating meaningful experiences in the physical world; it has yet to create engaging meaningful experiences in the digital world. Perhaps that is where it needs to go?
There are a number of innovative business organizations that now have people on staff who are responsible for designing experiences; not just designing software but designing the experience that people have when they interact with their company, combining the two worlds into one where people actually live.
Looking back further in time to an earlier era of church software, when we were at Fellowship Technologies, the software focused on making Sunday mornings more efficient.
The mega-church age was relatively new, and these large churches needed more efficient ways to handle the mass of people who attended one or more of the multiple services in this short period of time called Sunday morning. The traditional church management vendors did not see that coming. Most of them were still stuck in a “back office” world.
Back then, there were pastors who would say, “it’s all about Sunday morning.”
But is it? Perhaps back then it was. Many people were trying to get out of the boring church routine and wanted something fun and exciting.
Of course, there are those people who believe church should not necessarily believe church should be fun and exciting. They believe it should be sacred and reflective. But that is more about worship and preaching/teaching styles, not about relevancy.
Either way, focusing only on Sunday mornings is actually very limiting. If people cannot understand the message, enough to apply it to their lives on a daily basis, then we might as well go back to conducting services in Latin?
If the church has more information about what the individual is being challenged with today, the right personalized message can be presented to the person at a time convenient for them to engage with.
Isn’t it really all about life transformation from the heart out to how we treat others?
Learning how to truly love others and dying to self? In other words, conquering your ego. Ryan Holiday wrote a secular book about it titled, “Ego is the Enemy.” The reason I bring this up is to point out that Church is not the only place people look for “spiritual guidance” and accountability. Today, it is in many other places.
The Mother of Necessity …
In 2020, due to the COVID crisis, churches learned that community could actually be fostered virtually. In fact, for many who are at risk, virtual connections were the only way to build relationships and foster community.
When the government ordered “shelter in place” regulations, most of us had to reach out via Zoom or go without personal interactions outside of the home.
The best experiences will not have people live in two worlds, but instead bring the two worlds together as one.
To live properly in this second (digital) world and to help people get the most out of the new church experience requires data.
Churches have been notorious about simply accepting the fact that people do not readily volunteer their information. But many churches do not even think about how to intentionally gather data, both initially and along the way. How many church leadership teams spend the time to think through what kind of data strategy is needed to actually support the organization’s mission?
And this work is not just about what the church needs today.
By setting a stronger systems foundation, the church puts itself in a stronger position for the days and years ahead.
Looking back on the Fellowship One days, the focus was on operational issues like:
- Secure children’s check-in,
- Online giving,
- Integrated small group management,
- Measuring programs and outputs,
- Contact management so requests did not fall through the cracks, and
- Volunteer schedule management.
Preparing for the Future …
Many of these things have evolved to the next generation of capabilities to include the smart phone that most people have in their pockets. However, there are a number of traditional vendors who are just now starting to include the smart phone in the software mix; and many do not offer innovation that takes full advantage of the smart phone capabilities.
Today, businesses cannot ignore the advantages that technology brings to their customers. If they do, they may not be in business long.
Unfortunately, churches do not have that same sense of urgency to leverage software and data to provide “better church!”
In today’s dual worlds, better church is not just a Sunday morning thing.
As we look forward to the Communitas days, we think the focus will be on:
- Developing a comprehensive data strategy that captures initial data early and then captures additional data along the way as a person’s relationship with the church matures,
- Implementing a flexible systems architecture that supports an agile organization structure,
- Providing a rich curriculum of online courses that enables digital discipleship to be conducted anywhere at any time,
- Capturing enough information about a person and their current situation to provide contextual and personalized ministry,
- Including the integration to portable technologies to support a more interactive church experience,
- Empowering every person and their own personal ministry so that the church goes beyond the church walls,
- Getting beyond measuring only attendance and giving to begin to measure outcomes - not just within the church, but of the success of people’s transformation, and
- Providing evidence-based life change – actually begin to prove that with church involvement people have stronger marriages, better family dynamics, and more cohesive communities.
Those are some of our aspirational goals for 2021 and beyond! What are yours?
If you would like to join us on our journey to make this world a better place through the local church, check us out at sign-up for a platform tour.
For God so loves the world (you) that He sent His Son (Christ); not to condemn you, but to pay the price for our failures. (John 3:16-17, paraphrased)