Sunday, 2 July 2017
The future of faith: 5 tech upgrades your church needs today
June 29 2017 was the tenth anniversary of the iPhone, and how times have changed. Apple's proto-mobile seems like a prehistoric brick compared to what it's become through its relentless rebirths – and we've changed with it.
As we now know, 'the geeks shall inherit the Earth'. Tech is no longer a niche, nerdy fascination: everyone's upgrading in a time when technology evolves quicker every year – and now it seems the Church is no exception. Last week brought the news that the Church of England is exploring a 'tap and go' contactless card payment system for church collections, to be tested this summer and hopefully rolled out across the nation.
It could well be a canny move: far fewer people carry cash now, and studies suggest people are far more generous when they donate via contactless card. It's not the first upgrade the Church has seen either, with many now seeing Sunday in new ways through preaching podcasts, online Bibles and church-specific apps.
Some innovations have raised eyebrows, like BlessU-2: the talking robot priest that offers its own blessings, free from the hassle of human beings.
Are we upgrading into a bright, brave new world, or are we slowly losing our grip on organic existence and morphing into the passive, obese and inhuman lards from the sci-fi dystopia Wall-E?
I couldn't possibly comment, but since the Church's main priority is surely being #relevant, here are five upgrades it definitely needs to make to keep up with culture. Definitely.
Okay, so it's not 2009, but that doesn't mean 3D is dead. For his next Avatar movie, Titanic director James Cameron has promised a 3D experience – without those damned glasses! At the same time, Virtual Reality is taking off, while games like Pokémon Go show us Augmented Reality: your local street, with more Pikachu.
It could be expensive, but these are all investments the Church should prioritise. Some say churches today are boring, but who could be bored by a pastor immersed in CGI and special effects, who is so three dimensional you can literally feel his charismatic hand of rebuke whacking you in the face? Church notice videos would become Hollywood epics. Millennials might be leaving the Church, but that's only because they're not getting the big-budget blockbuster experience they thought Jesus offered. Let's change that.
The profound sacrament of the Eucharist, the giving and receiving of the body and blood of Christ through bread and wine, is at the heart of Christian identity. But maybe it needs an update. The real problem with celebrating Communion? Other people. What if a mobile app could deliver the holy sacrament to you directly, without you having to shuffle out of your seat look and at other human beings?
Sure, you wouldn't actually be eating and drinking bread and wine, but the relevant emojis sent to your phone would be a fine alternative. This is also a new way to fob off the teetotal/gluten-free complainers. It could be a far more efficient and personalised experience, which must be what God wants. You could call the app EucharistMe.
Thanks to Facebook LIVE, you and your friends can now go LIVE at any moment and share your most banal life experiences, just as they happen. The thrill! People can react to your live videos as you air, creating a sea of emojis ranging from 'crying-with-laughter face' to 'angry face' drifting across the screen. What if you did this with your pastor's sermons? Firstly, you wouldn't have to show up to church. Secondly, preachers feed off feedback, and now they'll have responses all over the screen, whether they like it or not. It's not very British to shout 'Amen!' when you're loving a sermon, but a 'thumbs up' emoji should do just fine. It also works if you want to be bitterly sarcastic.
Have you ever attended a silent disco? They offer headphones with multiple settings, so you have the choice of hearing different DJs. The applications for church worship are obvious. Hate 'Oceans'? Just switch over to 'Good Good Father'. Hate both? Switch again to the Free Church channel where a hearty Scottish highlander proclaims the psalms with unaccompanied passion. With MyWorship, there would be something for everyone, and isn't that what it's all about?
People say the problem with our social media obsession is that it creates a culture of constant comparison: you can't help noticing that your pious mum friend balances childcare and daily devotionals so well on Instagram, while your other Christian friends are so good looking on Facebook and #prophetic on Twitter. But what's wrong with a little competition?
Scripture says that 'iron sharpens iron' after all. ChristianConnection.com may be the place to find love, but ChristianComparison.com could be the place to find existential value. This vast online database would chart your public prayers, holy hashtags and Bible reading progress, and rate you alongside the rest of the Christian subculture. Social media can prompt real identity anxiety. But now, you can find out what you're really worth!
Surely these are all signs that now is a season for the Church to upgrade. Jesus warned us not to live in the past (probably), so let's not delay. Robot priests? More, Lord.