May 27, 2011

Body Waxing and Church Mailers

Posted in Digital Culture and the Church at 11:10 am by billgepford

Church mass mailers kill me.  At least as a way to reach young adults.

I check my apartment’s mailbox once a week and its usually nothing but junkmail I toss (or the occasional letter from Momma).

Compare that with the fact that I check my inbox at least 8 times  a day.  Seriously – I check first thing upon arrival to the office in the morning, again right before I leave work, and then my phone automatically downloads new mail every 4 hours.

Past that, I’m always on facebook.  Not in a creepy stalkerish obsessed way, just in the ‘I’m a young adult and thats what we do’ way.

So I’m curious – why do we have budgets for mass mailers, but not facebook adds?

I keep hearing people lamenting the fact that its hard to get young adults to go to church.  But then I get their flyer or postcard or coupon for a free coffee in my mailbox, and it makes a whole lot of sense to me.  Their message, no matter how pure or important, is completely lost in the mass of junk that it arrives with.

There is a trash can right next to the door in my apartment complex’s mail room; anything that isnt a bill or from Momma goes there.  Seriously – if I dont know you, then that flyer that you lovingly spent hours, and prayed over, and brought in consultants and graphic artists and demographic gurus to create…it doesn’t even make it 3 feet.  Sorry.  Unlike my inbox, my mailbox doesnt have a spam filter, so I just toss everything.  I don’t need a new credit card.  I don’t want to try out your new tanning salon.  I don’t need $5 off my next pedicure if I opt for the full brazillian waxing next time I visit your salon.

And if your loving church flyer was tucked in there somewhere?  Sorry, but it just became a casualty of body wax and bad visuals.

So please – spend your money wisely.  The message of the Church is far too important not to.  Put some of your ad budget towards online material (starting with a mobile optimized website I might actually read).  I know I’m not the only person in the world and that there are probably quite a few who DO read mailers.  But the tide of the youth seems more interested in the internet than the mailbox.  Maybe we could put just a little bit towards that instead.

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September 3, 2010

Online Evangelism (Digital Culture and the Church – Pt. 4)

Posted in Digital Culture and the Church at 5:08 pm by billgepford

Digital Evangelism exists.  People are discovering God through the internet.  That doesn’t mean it could exist.  It doesn’t mean there is the possibility that it could be part of the future.  It’s happening online, and it’s happening now.

Imagine something with me (but don’t close your eyes – that makes it tough to read) – imagine that there are people all over the world who have access to the internet but don’t live within reasonable distance of a Church.  Not that hard, right?    Now imagine what would happen if the Church leveraged one of the greatest tools of communication (even bigger than Gutenberg’s printing press) to transform the lives of all those people.

I spent this last summer working with the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection Online.  During that time, I had the opportunity to play around with different ways of doing ministry online.  Let me clear one thing up first – I’m not a tech guy.  4 months ago, I didn’t blog, Tweet, or use Facebook more than the average person.  I don’t seek to use technology for ministry simply because I love technology; I use technology for ministry because I love ministry, and I see the potential that technology holds for life-changing ministry.

There are millions, perhaps billions, of people all over the world who regularly log on to Google or Facebook, but don’t have access to a Church.  Furthermore, there are sites, such as Chat Roulette or Omegle, which act as virtual meeting places – places where one can go to interact with complete strangers.  Relationships are being formed that have absolutely no respect for the limitations imposed by geography.  The Church needs to get involved in this in an intelligent and theologically orthodox fashion.  Online evangelism will never truly supplant in person evangelism.  It will, however, come alongside and work in a symbiotic relationship.

August 21, 2010

The Google Generation and Christian Mysticism (Digital Culture and the Church – Pt 3)

Posted in Digital Culture and the Church at 2:01 am by billgepford

John Meunier raised some good questions on the last post, so I thought I would postpone my next post (on the use of the Internet in Evangelism) and take a second to respond to those questions.

Some of the aspects of the new digital culture could adversely affect the way the church operates, if they are not handled prayerfully and intelligently.  A short attention span, for instance, can relegate Christianity to a mere aspect of our character, instead of its underpinnings.  Faith should never be one of the many competing thoughts fighting for a persons’ attention; it should be the foundation upon which our lives are based.

However, I would argue that some aspects of the new digital culture are neutral –they are simply the context from which people come.  I don’t believe that we can expect people to come to Christianity only after they have sanitized their lives of all the busyness.  If they truly are part of the makeup of the population, like I believe they are, then there is no question that they will have to be factored into any evangelistic, outward-focused church.

All that said, I think we might see a resurgence of Christian Mysticism in the future, as all this ADD generation (of which I am a part) begins to long for something big enough to truly capture their focus.  Nothing is bigger than God, so if we are ever to center in on anything, it will have to be that.  I can see people reacting to this obsession with multitasking by swinging far towards the other end of the spectrum and searching for something that will so envelop their consciousness that they lose track of all other distractions.  As is, we are already seeing the fringes of a reaction to multitasking – what would happen if over-caffeinated, ADD kids of the Google generation (I’m one of them) discovered the works of Teresa of Avila or Ludolph of Saxony?  This semester I’m taking a class that has a heavy emphasis on both Evangelism and Mysticism, so perhaps there will be more posts spawned by that.

Eventually, it would be great if people could get to the point where they empty themselves of anything but God (following the traditions of the Ancient Mystics), but I don’t see that as something that will connect with those outside the Church.  Jesus was very careful when he crafted his parables to appeal to those outside the Church; we must do the same in appealing to non-Christians as well, and therefore we must take the norms of the new generation into account in order to maintain rhetorical sensitivity and relevance in our evangelism.  Christians are called to stand in the gap between the divine and the profane – we have to be able to speak the language of the Google generation, but we must also point them to the eternal God.  Agree/Disagree?

August 9, 2010

Digital Culture and the Church – Pt. 2

Posted in Digital Culture and the Church at 1:30 pm by billgepford

Professor Lenord Sweet defines this generation as the Google generation, and includes anyone born after 1973 (the emergence of the Cell Phone).  While Dr. Sweet is tons smarter than I am and I hate to disagree with him, I think we might need to look at more of a sliding scale for the emergence of Digital Natives.  There a lots of people born after 1973 who are still caught in the previous paradigm, and that’s fine.  The point is simply this – the world has already begun changing towards a new normal, and if the church doesn’t learn to adapt, it will slide into irrelevance.

So what does the new normal look like?  Lots of things.  Some aspects are still undetermined thanks to its still-evolving nature.  However, some facets of the new paradigm are beginning to solidify.  It is already becoming apparent that the Google generation processes information radically differently:

  • We don’t disconnect
  • We multitask
  • We expect information to come in multiple forms of media
  • We prefer graphics to text, and video to graphics
  • Finally, we are used to having everything at our fingertips whenever we want it
So how can the church adapt to the new normal?

August 5, 2010

Digital Culture and the Church – Pt. 1

Posted in Digital Culture and the Church at 4:43 pm by billgepford

I recently helped Rev. Andrew Conard (www.andrewconard.com) give a report on digital natives and digital ethnography for social workers at a local hospital.  We talked about how the current young generation is fundamentally different from the one before it – how as young people we don’t disconnect, we don’t focus on one thing at a time, and we don’t power down.  Digital culture is going to transform the way we do almost everything – including preaching and teaching in the Church.

Here’s a few resources we used for research:

Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants by Marc Prensky (http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf)

Every Video by Dr. Michael Wesch of Kansas State University (Go Wildcats!) –

In addition, we drew from our own experience with Social Media – the primary means of communication we have with most of the people who worship with Resurrection Online.