The following is a guest post by Jason Illian. Jason is the current CEO of BookShout.com, an innovative ebook platform that works on all devices and has partnerships with over 4000 publishers. Jason has raised over $45M in capital for early-stage technology companies. He was previously the CEO of GodTube.com and has consulted with hundreds of churches and ministries on technology strategy. Jason also serves as a supporter and mentor for Leadership Network’s Code for the Kingdom hackathons.
When it comes to ministries using technology, I think there is room for improvement. It is estimated that we have over 300,000 churches in the U.S. alone, and faithful givers donated approximately $101.54 billion in 2012, which is five times larger than the entire venture capital community. An argument can be made that most of this capital has been allocated to getting people into a church, instead of getting the Church into the people—which is where technology steps in.
According to the latest report from IDC Research, 80% of adult smartphone users check their phone within 15 minutes of waking up each morning. So what are they checking? According to the research, most people are checking Facebook and their email. But what if we could get them delving into God’s Word, discipling others to a deeper relationship with the Savior or engaging with a local community of believers? Imagine how different people would approach their day if their first true fellowship was with Christ.
With this in mind, I think we need to take a fresh, uninhibited look at how technology can aid us in building the Kingdom. Here are three simple ways that ministries can improve at their technology efforts:
1. Pursue Progress, Not Perfection – I know this is going to be an unpopular sentiment, but I’m going to say it anyways: Forget trying to make everything excellent. At least from the beginning. Nearly every church and ministry that I visit talks about their high bar of excellence, and it is this mentality that killing innovation. Everyone is afraid to fail. Everyone is afraid to try new things. Everyone is afraid to preach the Gospel in exciting and untested ways.
Most great technology companies evolved into what they are today through a series of failures, pivots, and changes. Twitter started as a podcasting play. YouTube was a dating site. Facebook was Harvard’s Hot-or-Not. The leaders had the freedom to look at things differently and come up with new ways to engage their people. There will be a time to make your technology great, but your people need the freedom to try many unproven paths first. They need to be able to step out in faith. We should be pursuing progress, not perfection, when we start a new technology venture. We can perfect it later after we figure out how it resonates with people.
2. Empower a Leader – If you go to nearly any church, you’ll see that there is a Director of Children’s Ministry, a Pastor of Small Groups, and a Facilities Director. But you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who is overseeing the technology strategy of the entire ministry.
In all fairness, many ministries DO have someone with technology in their title. But in most cases, this person isn’t a seasoned technologist who is empowered to drive the Body-building strategy of the ministry. He is usually just a poor soul who has been tasked to set up new computers, keep the WIFI working, and randomly post on Facebook. (By the way, many of these people are very passionate about using technology to grow the Kingdom and can be an integral part of your future if you are willing to listen to them.) But until you see technology as an umbrella over all aspects of your ministry, you won’t make exponential progress. A me-too, bolt-on approach to technology just incrementally extends your current activities. It doesn’t create anything new, engage your current members, or reach beyond your walls.
3. It’s Not About You – Rick Warren’s bestselling book, The Purpose Driven Life, started with this simple phrase—“It’s not about you.” It’s as true with individuals as it is with individual ministries. It’s not about you.
Instead of building technologies that all ministries in the world can use, most churches build something unique for themselves. Even though they aren’t unique. Many of us need to be gently reminded that we are disciples of Christ, not members of First Baptist, United Methodist, or the flavor-of-the-month non-denominational church. We need to build technologies with entire the Body of Christ in mind, not just our local congregations.
To this point, how effective do you think Yelp would be if it showed restaurants only in your zip code? How many people would Uber around your city and tell their friends about it if Uber was only in your city? The most effective technologies are the ones that get daily use and can be used anywhere in the world. The people who come to your church are not your people, they are Christ’s. We need to empower them with tools and apps so that they can effectively minister and grow, regardless of ministry shingle they hang on their Twitter page or the street address of their local church.
The most powerful and profitable companies in the world are primarily technology companies. And they are sharing their “gospel” far and wide everyday. We need to honestly deal with the gravity of the current situation. Most devoted Christians come to church only once a week, but they are drinking from their iPhones all seven days. So who is having more influence on their lives? Instead of splurging on new buildings and traditional approaches, we need to pour into people lives, both inside and outside the walls, 365 days a year with a fresh new focus on technology.
You can read more of Jason’s musings on faith, family, and technology at JasonIllian.com.