I spend most of my time encouraging churches to engage with modern technology and communications tools to reach out to their communities and spread the Gospel. It is a job that is, at times, frustrating. Churches have a lot of reasons for failing to engage. Sometimes it is about resources, skills, or knowledge. Too often, it is that I have not convinced them that finding new ways to communicate is essential to their survival and the success of their God-given mission.
The Gospel has not changed, but the world certainly has. Case in point, the current President of the United States. I hesitate to write about President Donald Trump as he is currently a lightening rod for controversy. But let’s leave that aside for a moment and try to look at a startling communications fact: As I was sitting at my computer this morning at 6:15, a tweet popped up on my Twitter feed from the President of the United States.
Let’s ignore the content of that Tweet for a moment and stay away from the question of whether or not this is an effective communications strategy. Let’s focus on the fact that the leader of the free world typed 140 characters into a public communications platform that only came into existence 10 years ago and sent a message directly to over 24 million people.
Words directly from the President of the United States spoken directly to the world used to be much different. I remember as a kid being frustrated that my favorite TV show was interrupted and hearing those famous words, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States.” Those prime time addresses and the annual State of the Union were a big deal. As television expanded and cable news created the 24-hour news cycle, we would hear from the president more often, though often it was overhearing the president. We could hear him speaking to reporters at a press conference or answering an informal question from a reporter. With plenty of airtime to fill, news networks began carrying speeches and events live.
But a direct message right from the fingers of a president, unfiltered through aides and/or speechwriters, this is new.
President Trump is not the first president to communicate via Twitter. President Barak Obama had an active Twitter account with millions of followers. However, the president rarely composed his own tweets.
So what does this mean? More importantly, what does this mean for the church? Should every church create a Twitter account? Should pastors blast out messages before breakfast? Probably not. However, churches should be aware that the means through which we communicate are changing at a breathtaking pace and the rate of change is likely to accelerate.
This is nothing new, it is just faster. The sharing of the Gospel has moved from a largely oral tradition to the written word. It has moved from texts held and controlled by the clergy to mass market bibles available to nearly anyone. It has moved from Hebrew and Aramaic to Greek to Latin to English to over 3000 languages. It has moved from the printed page to the computer screen to the 5″ screens of mobile phones. The Gospel has been proclaimed in synagogues, in Roman gathering spaces, in homes, in massive sanctuaries, in small rural churches, on the radio, on television, and on computers and smartphones. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, wrote and produced tracts and pamphlets of his writing on Christianity. The modern printing press has helped to distribute untold numbers of books on theology, the Bible, and Christianity. And now Christ is proclaimed and discussed on Facebook and, yes, Twitter.
So back to the question, “What does this mean for the church?” The church doesn’t need to jump on every technological bandwagon. However, the church does need to realize that the world is changing. So many of our churches are in the midst of slow and sometimes fast decline. Some of these churches just don’t understand what is happening. They are doing exactly what they have always done and yet they haven’t seen a new person in years. Baptismal fonts are getting dusty if they haven’t been moved into storage.
What happened? Well, the President of the United States tweeted at 6:15 this morning. That is the world we now live in.