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The Digital Age is upon us and many church leaders are scrambling to keep up, so how can we embrace the disruptions that are being created by the Digital Age?
Last week, three things happened to me that got me thinking.
  1. I read a book by a 28-year-old venture capitalist creating rental subscriptions so that renters can be location-independent.
  2. Airbnb CEO stated that the Office is an “anachronistic form… from a pre-digital age,” and I read his comments in an article online.
  3. We bought a bookshelf from a young couple who work remotely and decided to move to Georgia, where they could afford a home and have a winter-free existence.
Friends, the digital age is disrupting all geographically anchored models, and church leaders need to think about a future in which many of your church’s most avid supporters and engaged members are only coming to your physical building 3-4 times per year. This new phenomenon is called Location Independence (LI), and it will continue to create a recalibration of our lives in the coming years. Don’t believe this is a real thing? Check out this article. LI is an outcome of people embracing Digital Decentralization.

Now, I believe LI won’t be fully understood for another 20 years, but its present implications will continue to disrupt our current understanding of ecclesiology. What happens when an ultra-successful digital company like Airbnb says it needs no physical locations for everyday business? More businesses will take notice and continue to rethink their strategy. If we are honest, there are some inarguable pros with all the cons of not having a physical footprint. Most notably, the money a company saves on its overhead is undeniable. As more businesses create an environment where their employees can work anywhere, you will continue to see more people move. In the future, more people will live where they desire, rather than where they are required.

WE MUST EMBRACE THE DIGITAL AGE

As church leaders, where our entire model is built around a centralized paradigm, this might create an overwhelming sense of anxiety. I get it. We have mortgages to pay, and we did a fantastic job growing churches in a world where physical presence prevailed. The last thing you want is another morning waking up knowing your church is closed to the public and you’re scrambling to survive. I don’t believe that’s imminent, but I do believe that this trend isn’t going away; it will continue to carve away a centralized church’s effectiveness as the world increasingly embraces a decentralized paradigm.
The key to winning in a decentralized paradigm is through the principle of asynchrony. Asynchrony is the absence of concurrence in time. When it comes to digital asynchrony, it is the absence of concurrence in time and place. As we understand and embrace Digital Asynchrony, we will be able to redesign our ministries to accomplish our organization’s mission without relying on a centralized model as the lynchpin for all of the church. The Gathering becomes a welcome part, not the co-dependent whole of our mission.
In the future, more people will live where they desire, rather than where they’re required.
So, how can we embrace a decentralized paradigm and move the organizations God called us to steward into continued relevance and impact in a digital age? Here are three ways your church embraces the digital age to become LI:
  1. Embrace Email

I wrote about this last week, but it’s essential. In an increasingly decentralized world, the most critical aspect of growing your church is the email inbox of the members of your faith community and those who are thinking about joining. The best way to create a one-to-one relationship with your people when they aren’t coming to the building is to reach their inbox. I hear you; you think that email isn’t one-to-one communication; it’s one-to-many. It’s true of those communicating via email in a typical fashion (information dumping). Still, for those receiving the email, it is one-to-one. If we treat all our communications as one-to-one, they will experience it as one-to-one, which builds relationships. Often, we falsely assume that people disengage from our churches when they don’t regularly attend. They only disengage when they feel relationally disconnected. That brings me to Embrace #2.
  1. Embrace Digital Community

The critical connector between the centralized and the decentralized community is an online community platform. Online communities such as Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok have created whole communities around shared interests and missions. Churches often misuse these communities by using group functions as the church bulletin board. The sad truth is most churches plan events, not build communities. I am not pointing the blame. It’s hard to scale community, period, and even more complicated in a centralized paradigm. We need to learn the art of building a genuine community around a common purpose. Fortunately, Digital Platforms allow us to expand our reach and focus our efforts on society, which will drive greater returns for the health of our organizations. You will be able to create connections between location Independent and Geographically Anchored people.
  1. Embrace Discipleship

Jesus didn’t say make events; he charged us to make disciples. Developing People is the primary product of the Church. Many people argue that you can only disciple people in person. Tell that to Paul. He didn’t even have dial-up internet; he had walk-up internet called the Pax Romana. Paul used it to create a network of faith communities linked together through relational messengers and church leaders traveling these roads to carry p-mails (papyrus) to the churches. Pretty low tech today, but very high tech back then. So, even when Paul was working remotely (i.e., in prison), he could still communicate with all of his churches. I wonder how Paul would have felt with a more advanced Operating System like email, zoom, and Web 2.0?
I believe Paul, if alive today, would have embraced technology to reach more people and make more disciples. He would probably have used digital tools like Learning Management Systems to streamline his approach to teaching the pillars of the faith to many people. Paul might have utilized on-demand methods to give people access to his teaching at any time. He would have appreciated the tools to track his students’ progress as they gained more knowledge so that he could encourage them along the way. He would have focused primarily on the development of his people, not on the gatherings.

THINK ABOUT IT

What could you do if you embraced the principle of Asynchrony? What would you continue, what is missing, and what needs to be considered sunk cost? These are the questions we must honestly ask ourselves as leaders of the Church in the digital age. Our responsibility is to lead well and steward our people in the societies God plants us. You were born for such a time as this. God is asking you to guide others in an age of massive disruption. The challenges are numerous, but the payoffs are enormous. There are very few times in human history where our leadership decisions can change the trajectory of the Church for hundreds of years, and we live in one of those times. It’s humbling and honoring.
chestly

chestly

Chestly Lunday is on the cutting edge of innovation in the religious non-profit sector, co-founding the Digital Church Network, connecting and coaching innovative church leaders all over the world. Chestly is highly regarded as an international speaker, coach, and consultant helping people defeat futility in life and the workplace. Having given over 1000 unique presentations, he has worked with Leadership Network, NewThing Network, and denominations such as the Assemblies of God, the Christian Reformed Church, The Reformed Church in America, The Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the North American Mission Board as well as multiple businesses and startups. Chestly’s insights help church leaders build a cohesive strategy around digital community and discipleship.

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