Connections – Part 2

This is part 2 of a series, where I am sharing some of my thoughts about missions and technology. If you missed it, you can start with Connections – Part 1. To summarize what I said there, it is basically a summary of how recently I feel that God has led me into various conversations and situations that have brought me to an understanding of how we could be better leveraging technology to reach the world for Christ. In this post I would like to start talking about just what that may look like. I’m going to be talking about technology but this should not be too technical. I want to do that, but it will come later. Right now I’d like to discuss in broad terms just how I think this could work. How can technology be useful in spreading the gospel?

I think there are two groups who would struggle to answer that question, “How can technology help spread the gospel?”. First there are those who are not used to using computers, do not spend time on the internet, or are just not used to what is available. For them the question is difficult because they don’t even know what the possibilities are. At the opposite end of the spectrum are people who are so completely tied into using technology every day, that the question doesn’t even make sense. Asking them about how to use technology is like asking a fish about using water. They just assume that the kinds of tools I will discuss are going to be available. Lets call the first group the walkers. Lets call the second group swimmers. It’s a bit arbitrary but it will save me lots of typing.

The people who ‘swim’ in technology, the swimmers, are by and large younger. The people who don’t get technology, the walkers, are for the most part older. There are exceptions in both cases but in general this is true. The leaders of many of the worlds top missions organizations are older. And when I say leaders, I’m talking about more than just national or global leadership, this works its way quite a ways down. (When I say older I don’t mean old. I’m 39 right now and I am closer to a walker than a swimmer in many ways.)

This is part of why I think that there is a lag between what is available and what is being used. This may be a little too blunt, but a lot of the leadership in our organizations don’t get it. They have some idea of what may be possible, they may even have some information about a few more established pieces of the puzzle. But they don’t get it in their gut. They don’t live in it and they don’t know how absolutely essential it is to many people.

I guess I need to lay a little more groundwork here. We live in a world of contrasts. There are places where ministry cannot depend on technology because no technology is available. There are places without running water, without electricity and a lot of other things we take for granted. The reality is those places are shrinking. There are very few countries where a national headquarters would not have access to power, the internet, computers, etc. While tech is not applicable to every situation, it is applicable to many, essential in many and we need to get to the front of the curve rather than running behind.

So finally, what can technology do to facilitate missions? What it does is it makes communication possible. That probably doesn’t sound too earth shattering, but if you think about it, it is everything. What is our purpose as followers of Christ? It is to communicate the love of God to the world. How do we get this done? We communicate to one another so that we can coordinate our efforts and properly allocate our resources.

When I was a kid, I would listen to the stories of Paul and the other apostles as they spread the gospel throughout the world. I imagined Paul, riding through storms on the sea, following great Roman roads as he walked from place to place. Maybe sometimes he rode. Letters took a long time to travel from place to place, and copies would be sent out to help move the message more quickly. The huge impact that those men had is a testimony to God and the power of the Holy Spirit. It is also evident that God expected the men to get out and work – using every tool available at the time.

Today we have tools available that allow me to live in Orlando and communicate daily with friends all over the U.S. and in many other nations. When I was in Hungary in January, I spoke with my family in Orlando every night, for free, over the internet. We used Skype and the hotel’s internet. (So it wasn’t really ‘free’ but close enough. Certainly it wasn’t cost prohibitive.) If I want to know how to get somewhere, the first thing I do is look up directions on-line. If I’m looking for a certain type of store, I look it up in google. Though, unless I need something right away, I wont go to a store, I will order what I need on-line and have it delivered right to my house.

It is not a great leap to go from those very real, every day experiences to imagining Christians all over the world connected and able to communicate. In major cities like Mexico City, believers should be able to easily find one another, share experiences, share wisdom, share prayer requests and stay connected. With the right tools, a Pastor or mentor should never be more than a few key strokes away. From the ministry side of things, we need to know who we have talked to and when. We need to know who is interested in what we are doing and those people need to have solid follow-up that doesn’t let them fall through the cracks. We need to know what training our volunteers have had, in a lot of cases we aren’t even tracking that for our own staff. We need to know who people are, where they have been, how the Lord has gifted them and what opportunities exist for them to fully engage all of that.

The problem with traditional methods is that they do not scale well. When a group is small, just talking to one another is sufficient. When it gets bigger, it is time to start putting things down on paper. It doesn’t take long for doing it by hand to become extremely wasteful. Some people make the jump to spreadsheets or simple single user databases. Each step up brings gains – but what we need to truly scale to a global level are systems that not only allow individuals to work, but allow millions of those individuals to interact and coordinate in a meaningful way. This enables that single man or woman of God, who is working alone as far as they can see, to suddenly find that they are surrounded by a much larger group of laborers and resources.

An essential piece of this will also be the ability to take such large amounts of data that go all the way down to the very individual and local level and make it meaningful for high level leadership. The data needs to be analyzed and summarized into quantities that a single human can grasp and use to make meaningful decisions. If this happens at ever level – moving upward from the team level all the way to global leadership, the entire organization benefits. The single staff person or volunteer gains the benefit of not being forgotten. They can know that they have an avenue for input and that their input matters. The people of God at the very top of such an organization don’t miss out on extremely important feed back or analysis because the person providing it is too far out of the scope of their view of the ministry. We can be better stewards of wisdom and experience through better communication. In the corporate sector, major companies are moving this way and it is a new field but one with huge ramifications when it comes to reaching the world for Christ.

In Mexico City I spoke with leaders about their desire to start ministries on over 400 campuses and reach a city of over 28 million people. They are taking this challenge head on with just a few staff. Many of those staff are not full time and come for a year or two. They are making incredible headway, but the more successful they are, the more difficult it becomes to keep tabs on it all. The more difficult it becomes to coordinate and focus. To maintain the pace and even accelerate it, they need an infrastructure under them that will allow people to focus on ministry rather than mundane organizational tasks. The great news is that most of the tools necessary already exist and are available. It is just a matter of putting them all together.

Next post I’d like to talk a bit about the current climate in the ‘computer world’ and opportunities we can use to jump forward.