Digital Dynamic - Future of the Church


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This article provides a matrix to see the different dividing eras of history and the church to see where we are headed next.

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Digital Dynamic - Future of the Church

  1. 1. The Digital Dynamic:How Digital CommunicationsReframe the ChurchBy M. Rex Miller munications. Gutenberg’s Bible became a presentation of the salvation message and best-seller and the art of printing spread the unavoidable conclusions that lead usAS  DIGITAL  MEDIA become the domi- rapidly. Within seventy years, Europe had to the cross. Worship, expressed throughnant means of communication, they will more than 1,000 printers, and books were hymns, provides content-rich expressionsusher in a new paradigm, transforming widely available. Later, newspapers and of the doctrines of faith. This rational, sys-how we think, behave, relate, and create. A magazines proliferated. tematic, and certain worldview is some-futurist, theologian, business consultant, times referred to as Modernism.and communications theorist offers a Printed words, unlike speech, remainframework for understanding the changes fixed in space and motionless over time. Print continues to play a critically impor-we will face—and for better managing This permanence allows readers to tant role in communications—just as doesthose changes. return to the same words again and again— speaking—but it lost its dominance in a process that permits thoughts to be ex- about 1950 to television, which now feedsMarshall McLuhan famously declared, amined and tested from many different more information into people’s minds“The medium is the message.” Watching perspectives. than does print.a war on television is very different fromreading about the war in a newspaper. The dominance of print communication Television showed the world to itself. created more-analytic, rational minds Hundreds of millions of people sitting atTelevision began entering homes less that see the world as parts assembled in home could watch stirring events in far-than sixty years ago and swiftly changed an orderly whole, like the words in a sen- away places and see the world’s leadersalmost every aspect of human life—from tence. So printed literature enabled lin- more frequently and up closer than theirbusiness and education to politics, sports, ear, “rational” thought largely to supplant next-door neighbors. Television brokeand the church. Now, digital communi- the “irrational” thought of the oral world. down barriers that had separated peoplecations—computers, PDAs, the Internet, Understanding through analysis began from each other. Poor people now couldBlackberries, etc.,—are bringing another replacing understanding through dia- see how rich people actually lived. Whitescommunications revolution that is likely logue. With printing, the West exploded and blacks could see the realities of racialto produce an even more radical transfor- with new discoveries. Books nourished segregation. The American people couldmation of our lives. the Renaissance, the Reformation, the see the horrors of the Vietnam War, and Enlightenment, science, and much else. their government could not explain awayFor clues to what may happen in the years its failures.ahead, let’s look at what occurred as a Mainline Protestant denominations,result of two previous revolutions in the birthed during the Gutenberg revolution, Print had made reason king and stimu-dominant medium of communications— carry with them the original DNA of a print lated reflective thinking, but now broad-the shift from oral communications to worldview. Their organizations tend to cast elevated desire and emotion andprinted media in the sixteenth century be hierarchical, systematic, bureaucratic, encouraged reflexive thinking—the kindand the very recent shift from printed me- knowledge-based, rule-based, stable (i.e., of thinking we do while driving a car. Tele-dia to broadcasting. slow to adapt), and declining in mem- vision demands only our attention and bership. Their architecture holds fast to reaction, requiring of us no analysis, noTHE PRINT AND BROADCAST   the modern era of rational design where historical perspective, and no connectionREvOLUTIONS “form follows function.” The foundation to any other event. Printed words driveWhen Johannes Gutenberg invented mov- of truth derives its sole power from the un- us toward reaching a conclusion or hav-able type about 1454 and printed the erring certainty of scripture. The sermon, ing a perspective, but TV images leave in-Bible, he initiated a revolution in com- for the most part, reinforces a systematic formation open to many meanings. They  NACBA Ledger  Spring 2007
  2. 2. encourage us to keep our options open were sharply separated. The message and sound, and data can all reside in a singleand “go with the flow.” the messenger become a holographic medium, such as a CD or DVD—repro- reality capable of infinite change and duced through a common digital languageMany of the Evangelical, Charismatic and complexity. of bits and bytes, zeros and ones. Digitalnon-denominational churches, birthed data makes no distinction between Ro-during this era, carry the DNA of broad- In a digital environment, things that might meo and Juliet and that snapshot of yourcast culture. Their organizations tend take decades to surface within natural child on a pony, geological calculationsto be headed by single visionary leaders systems can show up within minutes. The and the sound of a Bach cantata. They arewith an entrepreneurial leaning. Person- threat of a terrorist attack or an outbreak all merely sequences of zeroes and ones.ality and vision drive these organizations of a deadly disease—reverberates glob-more than process and structure. Their ally, system wide. In the digital world, the boundaries thatmembership continues to increase due to once separated physics, poetry, meta-their ability to gauge the pulse of their au- As a result of digital media, our basis of physics, and other disciplines are begin-dience. Broadcast organizations are quick knowing and understanding is shifting to ning to blur. Nanotechnology is emergingto adopt which is not the same as being an interactive, global, anytime, anywhere, as a world-transforming science, bringingquick to adapt. The architecture takes full multimedia experience with countless together physics, chemistry, and biology.advantage of broadcast’s strength to cre- sources to explore and test. This experi- ATT Broadband, AOL, and Time Warner,ate a mass experience. The orientation of ence is quite different from the intellectu- Inc., all began as separate businesses—atruth derives much of its power through its ally passive experience of watching televi- phone company, an Internet service pro-ability to “ring true” to the audience while sion or the emotionally distant experience vider, and a news magazine; each wasstill holding to fundamental scriptural of reading. Consequently, our minds and based on different technologies (tele-truths. The sermon, for the most part, bodies will undergo a rewiring to support phone wire, cyber technologies, printingaims to make a common everyday con- this different sensory experience. press). But digital technologies providednection to the listener and through that them all with a common platform andconnection draw the listener into a highly Convergence is perhaps the key charac- they merged.distilled element of truth. The combina- teristic of the coming Digital Era. Con-tion of personal connection and the rifle vergence is an inherent property of our The new digital world is characterized byshot of truth aim to penetrate the media digital medium of information and com- seven qualities:oversaturated listener. Worship in a broad- munications, because print, graphics,cast world tends toward a celebration styleconcert engaging the audience with itsupbeat complex rhythms and simplified Summarythemes. The existential, entrepreneurial • Digital communication is the third revolution • This transformation is emerging inand fluid worldview of broadcast is some- in the dominant medium of communications. churches where sermons adopt a moretimes referred to as Post-Modernism. In the sixteenth century dominance moved non-linear, open-ended technique, and from oral to written communication, and worship is more interactive. Worship isThe Print Era lasted for 400 years, coming in the 20th century dominance moved becoming more indigenous—created byto an end within the lifetime of people still from print to broadcast. Now digital com- and for the local congregation.alive. The Broadcast Era will have a much munications—PDAs, computers, and theshorter run. Already, broadcast’s domi- Internet—are bringing a revolution which is • As we face the challenge of the transi-nance is yielding to the digital media, and likely to produce an even more transforma- tion into a Digital Era, we must build ourthey will likely become the dominant me- tion of our lives. institutions well for what lies ahead.dia of communication by about 2010. • There are seven qualities which characterize AuthorTHE EMERGENCE OF A DIGITAL   the new digital world: interconnect, complex- M. Rex Miller is viceCULTURE ity, acceleration, intangibility, convergence, president of sales andDigital media combine text, graphics, immediacy, and unpredictability. chief concierge forsound, and data in such a way that we ex- Spencer Furniture andperience things in a much more integrated • In the new digital culture, education is author of The Millen-format—multisensory, multimedia, and changing toward self-learning and teachers nium Matrix. He willmultinetworked. As a result, boundar- are moving away from being grade specialist be a keynote speaker at the NACBA 51sties separating disciplines, organizations, and toward becoming general facilitators national conference. He can be reached atstructures, and people begin to dissolve. handling several grades at once. see convergences of things that once Spring 2007 NACBA Ledger
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  4. 4. “ Redesigning our institutions forEra is stresses1. Interconnection: We used to live in a “domino world,” in which one change logically caused the next. Now we have entered a chain-reaction world and opportunities of the Digital of exponential shifts. Interconnection means that our problems and opportu- nities are intimately linked. Emerging now the greatest challenge we face. ” networks—virtual communities based on common interests—have begun to In digital media, the past boundaries together multimedia presentations for level our hierarchical organizations. of knowledge and organizations blur, class projects. These digital kids are learn- crumble, and eventually integrate in ing to think and work differently from the2. Complexity: Complex systems behave new ways. TV kids a generation ago. in complex ways. Simply changing a line of computer code can cause ripple 6. Immediacy: Digital media shrink the In the emerging digital culture, children effects that move through the systems time allowed between question and do not grind out their lessons by rote in many different ways. Faced with such answer, request and fulfillment. We are memorization. They no longer sit passive- complexity, old analytical tools cannot now expected to respond to the world ly in front of a television and say “Huh?” anticipate the potential consequences with a speed similar to that required of when asked what they learned. Children of actions. A single word from Federal fighter pilots in combat. An F-16 pilot now are absorbed in an interactive-game Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke must master a different set of rules for environment, pursuing treasure hunts of may cause financial markets to collapse decision making, because there is little knowledge over the Web. They integrate and even governments to fall. or no time for reflection in an environ- what they learn, expand far beyond the ment that changes at high speed in an assignment, and retain a high level of3.   Acceleration: Each new technology irregular, disorderly, and unpredictable enthusiasm. and concept leads to faster change, so manner. that change compounds and acceler- Youngsters using digital media are push- ates the pace of human life. The in- 7. Unpredictability: Complex, highly ing education toward self-learning, and creasing speed of communications interactive systems behave unpredict- it’s likely that self-directed learning will accelerates business transactions, ably. As a result, well-intentioned at- become more and more the norm. Teach- which accelerates production and mar- tempts to improve conditions may ac- ers will move away from being grade spe- keting, which accelerates capital tually worsen them. A legal system that cialists to becoming general facilitators growth, which accelerates investment, heavily penalizes physicians who make handling several grades at a time. In a vir- which accelerates further the develop- mistakes may cause the doctors to tual little red schoolhouse, technology will ment of new technologies. give up their practices, thus increasing afford a shift back to the teaching relation- the number of people who are sick or ship. Continuity will lead to greater effec-4. Intangibility: In the new digital envi- incapacitated. tiveness, and that effectiveness will create ronment, we have little or no connec- opportunities for mentors and higher lev- tion to the original sources of informa- RETHINKING OUR INSTITUTIONS els of fulfillment for all concerned. tion and things we buy, use, or believe. The digital media require us to rethink our We are moving away from a world we institutions. Our educational institutions, I refer to emerging churches in the digital can touch and hold to a world that op- for example, are likely to rely increas- era as Convergence organizations. They erates on intangibles like information ingly on the digital media—and for good carry the DNA of the seven criteria of In- and reputation. Arthur Andersen, the reason. So many of the challenges that terconnection, Complexity, Acceleration, accounting firm, offered some tangible schools currently face—from rising costs Intangibility, Convergence, Immediacy services such as accounting, but it also and textbook obsolescence to flexible and Unpredictability. Their organizations offered intangibles, such as its cred- schedules and parental involvement— tend to be horizontal, holistic, networked, ibility and reputation. When its client have solutions in the new technologies. learning based, collaborative, highly Enron imploded in scandal, Andersen’s adaptive, and ever-changing. Architecture reputation went up in smoke. Today, children not yet in school are provides a means to a multiple set of ends adeptly using computers to send mes- and therefore not necessarily the central5. Convergence: Print, graphics, sound, sages to their friends and downloading force and identifier for Convergence orga- and data can all reside in a digital me- MP3 music files from the Internet. The nizations. Facilities are more distributed, dium, such as a CD or DVD, in the form kids soon learn how to use search engines embedded in their communities and of bits and bytes of zeroes and ones. such as Google to get information and put multi-purposed. The foundation of truth Spring 2007 NACBA Ledger 5
  5. 5. Oral PrintCollective Bard. Play, recitation, ritual, ceremony, family, elders, and genealogy Book. History, indexing, encyclopedias, dictionaries, libraries, catalogs, provide continuity with the past. museums, schools, and organizations help preserve the past.MemorySense of Tribal village. Each person is a composite of the community. Interaction Independent individual. Concepts and principles inform character. is restricted to a small, localized population. People come in contact with a wider range of individuals through theIdentity thoughts and ideas of teachers and through books from around the world. Individuals feel autonomous and can think private thoughts.Truth Relational. Truth’s credibility is tied to the messenger’s credibility, Principle. Truth is based on the content of the message alone, because because message and messenger are tied together. written language developed structure and rules (logic, history, analysis, expert opinion, and other tools of deduction) to determine meaning.Reasoning Dialectic. Open-ended form of question and answer. This method does Logic. Linear thought arrives at an either-or conclusion. Print reaches its not aim for a fixed conclusion but attempts to reach equilibrium between destination with greater efficiency than open-ended conversation, andProcess two juxtaposed concepts. logic offers closure.Perception of Revelation. Understanding comes from revelation, direct experience, Law of identity. Understanding begins by recognizing the objective re- and knowledge handed down over generations. Knowing something is ality of things. Knowing is linked to seeing external distinctions.Reality linked to understanding the internal nature of a thing.Learning Process-centered. The search for truth and understanding comes by Content-centered. The orientation is toward standardized learning. sitting at the feet of a master or guru. Learning is a preparatory process, Students are batched according to age or learning level. The material and the skills of learning and inquiry are often the focus of the teacher is taught consistently to all, and students work to achieve tangible mile- and his or her student(s). stones.Work Farm. Focus is on the land and the goal is to grow the crop. Harvest is Factory. Goal is to produce more at lower cost. Reducing things and the reward. labor to their simplest components along with a logical process of as- sembly will lead to productivity.Building Wealth Land. Acquiring land and developing its use. Capital and manufacturing. Wealth acquisition centers on the use of capital and labor to produce goods and services.Sense of Time Present or presence. Time is a continuous present because we have no Past or objectification. The past is separated from the present. Print recorded history, only retold stories. The retelling of experience makes creates a sense of passing time because we have the means of compar- past events seem current. ing past words and descriptions with current thought and reality. Time marches on. A word read is a word in the past. The contrast between past words and current thoughts creates a sensation of progress—moving forward from the permanent record.Management Steward. A steward acts as a caretaker for the entire household, taking Manager. Economic entities are characterized by command and con- the perspective of the owner and fulfilling not only his functions but his trol, division of labor, vertical integration (owning all the resources and intentions. means of production instead of outsourcing).management is based on the premise that people need to be structured and tightly supervised in order to be effective.Value Reliability. There is value in what is tried and true. Productivity. Productivity is valued. To get it, break work down into its smallest tasks and focus effort to accomplish each task as quickly as possible.Production Meeting the need. People will take what they get. Improving standards. People take what they need.Medium of Barter and trade. The ethic of reciprocity in one-on-one valuations. Currency. A rational means of standardizing valuation and providing a flexible, efficient means of exchange.ExchangeArt Symbolic. Art is a means of interpreting the meaning of life and the Perspective. Art seeks to become visually true or accurate. Art also is sacred. Intricate and disciplined symbolic language is developed to expressed from the artist’s perspective, whereas the symbolic language reveal the multidimensional reality behind the stories and characters of of early art removed the vantage point of the artist in order to portray a faith and lore. mystical reality.
  6. 6. Broadcast Digital Our Communications Eras How shifts in communications media can affect other aspects of human lifeDocumentary. Excerpts from newspapers, magazines, television pro- Database. Networking, user groups, FAQs (frequently asked questions),grams, news audiotape, and videotape help viewers research and relive search engines, databases, and virtual communities help to examine thethe past. past and model it toward the future.Crowded stranger. Image and impressions inform character in a flu- Cybersoul or anonymous intimacy. Individuals design separate iden-id, ephemeral world. We interact with an even wider range of people tities for different roles and contexts. Identity comes from the multitudethrough television and radio. These unattached and often unselected of interactions from around the globe. We can be a member of numeroussources aim at a broad audience. The individual as spectator participates communities and experiment with numerous identities.vicariously. Image and impressions weigh more than character in a fluidephemeral world.Existential. Truth is validated through experience, the force of convic- Contextual. Truth is malleable and relevant within particular contexts oftion, or some tangible outcome. The concrete reality of the moment takes meaning. Community (virtual or otherwise) tests and validates reality.priority over distant and abstract concepts.Fluid logic. Thought is a process that flows like water, leading to many Systems thinking. Understanding how the parts of particular systempossible outcomes. Conclusions are not fixed and will change, and the interrelate and how the system works over time leads to determiningresults can take quantum leaps. So the answer to any logical question is, probable outcomes. Reality is complex and interconnected. Individual“It depends.” Context and bias are part of the equation. events appear random. Instead of a causal chain, multiple potential out- comes are measured by probability.Uncertainty principle. Understanding reflects the unique and intimate Chaos theory. Understanding reflects the fact that reality is fluid, highlyinterplay between the observed and the observer and is no longer con- complex, and interconnected. It behaves as a system rather than as dis-sidered fixed. crete events and is understandable by means of general patterns.Experience-centered. Text learning is supplemented with movies and Context-centered. Teachers create a collaborative learning commu-videos. Group presentations, participation and life experience are often nity. The collective experience takes priority over individual and privatefactored in. The focus is on individual students and their unique needs. needs.This creates a proliferation of curricula and services to addresses thoseneeds.Service. The goal becomes to use information about consumers to make Federation. Work is organized in networks of independent producersproducts they want or to create demand. This shifts the focus to col- that collaborate in production. At the same time, the consumers and pro-lecting and using information in the design, production, and delivery of ducers collaborate in the production and delivery of goods.goods and services.Distribution and debt. These tools accelerate growth. The shifting Creativity and community. The intellectual content of product is nowtastes of a culture shaped by broadcast create opportunities for compa- more valuable than the material itself. This creates volatile markets.nies that can quickly respond to those tastes. This shifts the focus towardmore efficient means of distribution.Future or impermanence. History is dead, and the future does not Virtual or time travel. The world is simultaneously seen, heard, felt,exist. A sound-image captures awareness but leaves nothing to connect and experienced. The future as well as the past can be seen in the pres-it to. Broadcast media wipe out past references. There is no past—only ent due to highly realistic representations of past events and scenariosa fleeting present. of possible future events.Leader. Leadership becomes more important than management. The Interweaver. Networks, virtual teams, and virtual corporations charac-focus is on how to release the potential of individual workers as opposed terize the new economic system. Managers become facilitators or weav-to how best to control them. ers of networks. Management takes on a less definable structure and behaves more like a web of collaboration.Quality. Quality of services is prized; both the process and the whole are Creativity. Creativity is valued in the interactive relationship of con-important. Lower cost and improved performance are not contradictory. sumer and producer.Creating want. People take what they want. Creating fulfillment. People design what they want.Credit. Accelerates the cycle of transactions. Allows for local and global Techno-barter. Different mediums of exchange are employed, includingtransactions to occur with equal ease. forums such as eBay, standardization of the euro, frequent-user cur- rency, affinity programs, and reverse auctions.Concept or process. The artist moves away from a focus on content to Interaction or participation. The observer must be drawn into the ar-a focus on process, approach, and medium. Familiar expressions are de- tistic experience and own the artist’s perspective through participation inconstructed (as in Cubism) and irrational patterns of chance are explored it. The line between artist and observer blurs. Art within a digital medium(as in Jackson Pollock’s work). is completely malleable. The artist may become more of a facilitator of real-time experiments in altered perspectives stimulated by the content and the observer’s unique response, as in Utterback’s installation art.
  7. 7. finds new power in the wisdom of the faith A few years ago, I spent several hours with The North Atlantic tankers give us a phe-community as an interconnected and an oil company executive charged with nomenal metaphor for today’s institutionsdynamic assembly. Sermons are highly designing and constructing the firm’s oil to consider as they rebuild themselves forinteractive, rediscovering epic story tell- tankers. This helped me construct my own the challenges of the Digital Era. Today’sing and adopting more non-linear open- mental picture of how to build for an envi- institutions must navigate stormy seas ofended techniques. Worship is highly inter- ronment of turbulent change. social and technological change. Unfor-active, not necessarily single leader lead tunately, we are still building the socialfusing classic along with contemporary Building an oil tanker is an amazing feat. equivalent of vacation cruise liners: large,themes. Worship is becoming more indig- The number of details is mind-boggling, slow structures made for calm, balmy seasenous—created by and for the local con- and the obstacles are incredible, especial- and friendly ports of call. These “cruise-gregation. Worship is rediscovering many ly if it is being designed to face the North liner” institutions may be a little moreof oral culture’s sensibilities toward ritual Atlantic, the most treacherous environ- user-friendly, but they are built for calmre-enactment and body ministry. This ho- ment of all. Remember the Titanic! seas and a sunny horizon. And that is notlistic, interactive, convergent worldview what we are likely to get.takes our discussion beyond debates be- North Atlantic tankers must be able totween Modernism and Post-Modernism. withstand a head-on collision with an Today, we need institutions built likePerhaps it reflects a dialectic synthesis. In iceberg at seven knots. Without dropping North Atlantic tankers to meet the colos-either case, we are in a radically new era anchor, they must maintain a stable po- sal waves of largely unpredictable socialpsychologically, socially, and spiritually. sition while buffeted by 50-foot waves. change. They need to be highly agile and To cope with such a turbulent, hostile fast-changing, with extra capacity, aware-FACING THE DIGITAL CHALLENGE environment, the North Atlantic tankers ness of the environment, powerful stabi-Clearly, managing the transition into the have multiple redundant systems acting lizers, and buffering, like the double hullsDigital Era will not be easy or problem- as safeguards and backups. They have of the We must expect challenges in most powerful stabilizers on their sides to keepof our institutions, so we need to rethink them in position even while enormous Redesigning our institutions for stressesthem and build them well for what lies waves crash over them. and opportunities of the Digital Era is nowahead. the greatest challenge we face. Congregational Resource Guide A free, online guide to the best resources on topics that matter most to congregations. The CRG draws on the expertise of The Alban Institute, the Indianapolis Center for Congregations, and other specialists. Hosted by The Alban Institute; offered as a gift by Lilly Endowment Inc. Contact us for a free introductory DVD and user guide! Phone: 800-486-1318 Email: