Technology and the Church : How do we connect to Jesus? #gen2gen

Here are the slides to a presentation that I did today at this “Generation 2 Generation” conversation with the General Board of Discipleship and the Texas based conferences of the United Methodist Church. Below is an unedited article I wrote as part of the collection of talks. I went a little off script for the talk as you can probably tell.

Technology and the Church: How do we connect with Jesus?
by Gavin Richardson

Talking technology and the church these days can be a tricky as politics in the church. Similar words mean very different things to a host of different people. I am going to focus this article on “tools” of technology. There will be some naming of specific technology tools, but it should be minimal as even by the time of the printing of this article something is probably out of date and far from the cultures everyday consciousness.


Being considered by many as an “early adopter” and keeping company with some innovative tech types on a regular basis I get a lot of tool chatter. At the writing of this article I am receiving some 50 Google+ invites to ‘circles’ each day this week. When you read this that news will either be a big deal or no deal at all, thus is the life of a social media technology tool these days.

Our church leadership many times will many times get pre-occupied with the tools of technology or refuse them altogether. Why not have a pre-occupation, they are tangible in many ways, something of substance to talk about. The tools are the things that the cultural media likes to churn up. Hey, you can talk to us at….. (or actually talk to an intern) because we really want to know what you are thinking. We feel we have to own the latest tool in order to be relevant to a “they” that we have no clue who “they” really are. I hear pastors express in a manner of seeking forgiveness “I’m not on the Twitter yet.” As if I am some papal associate who needs to grant forgiveness for this awful sin. The tools are the micro things that need to be implemented in order to be relevant. However, we often never actually reflect on what the tool actually does for and to community.

Truth in the tools is this. We have people who love to embrace the new tool because that is important to them and those who wish to hold onto traditional tools of the past because that to is important to them. I say neither is bad, just different and if we come to understand some of those differences then we’ll be able to navigate the implementation of any new tool that comes along the way.

I am a terrible gardener. Horrible. Really really bad. Nothing lives in my gardens of any real beauty for any significant length of time except for some weed that might flower. My arsenal of gardening weapons is many and they cover a wide array of technological eras. I have a fancy spade that has indentations for measuring how deep a hole is (I really like that) as well there is the plain old boring nothing spade. In my arsenal of gardening tech is a plain old lumber saw. I never saw fit to buy a tree saw, that is until I needed to trim a tree. Too late at that point, right? One thing our house seems to have plenty of, bush trimmers. We have some extended handle manual trimmers, old classical manual wood handle trimmers and the fancy electrical trimmer. Call me crazy, but I use all three to try and tame the bushes of our home. The long handled manual trimmer can get into those far reaching spaces and up on top of a bush that I let get too tall (remember, I am horrible gardener). The electrical trimmer can speed its way through two or three bushes in the time it might take me to do one manually. Inevitably I notice that too much was cut off a bush and it looks more funny than normal, so I have keep trimming till it gets it just alright. Generally that takes a bit more time. Those old classical wooden handle ones are cool for me. I feel as if I am actually doing some work with them. The blisters from chopping away after awhile because I forgot where the gardening gloves were feel really good. The reverberations that move back up my body when I hit a branch that doesn’t want to be cut with my first powerful scissor strike. The wooden handle trimmer forces me to be a bit more choosy with my work and it takes more effort and time, but in the end I am generally pretty pleased. I am actually pleased with any of my work because they all helped me to try and create a little beauty in my otherwise messed up garden.

I get the poor results when I try to take my electrical trimmer and rub it onto the bush without plugging it into it’s power source. That takes forever, but it does cut eventually. Likewise, the other trimmers don’t do much unless I manually open them up and shut them. My neighbors would look at me funny for brushing over the bushes with a trimmer as if it were an electrical one.

Maybe you see where my silly analogy here.

When we think of the tools that come along with how we want to engage and move into this technological era we need to not just equip ourselves with one trimmer, but with a few different trimmers. When it comes to doing a full regiment of tending to the garden, we also need to have more than just trimmers. We cannot rely exclusively on one tool alone. So expand your technology toolbox. In the same mindset, we have to use these tools with their proper design. Marshall McLuhan has been quoted as saying that we ‘often move the content of the old technology as the content of the new’ and that is disingenuous to the new technologies. Translation, using our primary communication tool, the bulletin, and re-posting all that content and only that content onto a Twitter is a poor use of the tool and not plugged into the true power of that tool.

The greatest technological invention for the church, and for our most of our global culture, is the printing press. We have with the advent of the Gutenburg printing press started a protestant revolution, printed bibles for the masses, put together books, spread the news of the church in newspapers, created leaflets, printed out those wonderful Wesley sermon books and even the hymnals. Our church culture is totally shaped by the printed word, more so than many of us might be able to imagine because it is so evasive. It is no wonder that we have a hard time leaving behind our ways of gardening for some 500 years. But, the expansive development and adoption of new technology tools is changing that landscape and as a church we need to figure out how to garden in new ways. I heard a quote the other day saying that ‘people are not afraid of change, they are afraid of loss’ and that is so very true. I adopted a friends quotable of “To achieve something good you have to trade in a good.” Again two true nuggets that can be carried into these conversations. We want to shift our churches into a place of faithfulness and implement some good things. However, we acknowledge that we are trading something very good in order to make this change. Our people are not so much afraid of change, but of the loss of the good they affirm. You don’t get much flack when you start a contemporary service with all the projection and rock band as long as you don’t do it the same time as the good traditional service and infringe on the good looking sanctuary.

The video image is our game changer for today. It will never take the place of print or push it so far from existence that we forget about the days of print, but it is changing and making its own cultural impact on us and thus the church (I am the church and you are the church, we are the church together, right?). Our learning is not just a linear fashion of left to right and streamed thoughts. They function more in images and parsing stories together. This is not some younger generational thing, ask your congregation members what type of tv they watch and how much of it they watch. You might be getting some surprising results. Older generations are watching more and more television from the tv medium. It might be a “news” show, which according to Neil Postman is all about entertainment even if it is called news, that is on for hours all day. Maybe it is silly reality television dramas. Teenagers and Young Adults are tuned into streaming television and short videos on YouTube. Recently Netflix was cited in research as occupying 25% of the internet bandwidth every single day, increasing in the evening hours. The Khan Academy started using short YouTube videos to teach students, many of whom have issues with traditional learning environments, high end mathematical equations that are able to be processed and repeated in the classroom environments. TEDtalks have taken a regular conference setting and made it a global movement of sharing ideas, art, design, and creative solutions to world issues. We have re-shaped our learning and digestion of information in forms of video available to us today.

The computer, in many ways is just a tool used to create the print or video mediums. That is starting to change as it becomes more and more a tool for relationships. The cell phones, make the information of websites, the social media platforms and burst information mobile so that anyone can be within connection and thus a relationship. Some tools will rise up and be noted for years to come as the culture shaper of a new era. But I am not so brilliant to name that right now. I can dream up some ideas as you can as well. With today and tomorrow we will need to figure out how we make these things as part of our gardening tools. For now, you and I both need some old school and innovative gardening tools. Might not need every innovative tool as it will just prove to be a gimmic. We might need to find again some old tools as there is still good value to what they bring to the garden.

So, what are the tools for tending to your garden?

Delegation Grudge Match! #umc #umclead #tnac2011

While at Annual Conference we found ourselves in some deadlocks of General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference delegate voting. Talk was made of suspending the rules in order to implement a more stream lined and exciting approach to choosing delegates for GC & JC. Have an all out Grudge Match!


Headline Match! Delegation Grudge Match! Not sure who or how to vote for candidates? Not sure how to get someone from making amendments to the amendments that wasn’t even ratified or was taken out of the order of discussion for or against. Not sure who gets voted as a delegate for the big league conferences?

Undercard Match! Probationary Candidates vs the Board of Ordained Ministry!! Who is good enough to get ordained but then those who are to be passed for another year or two?.. Well, Let’s settle this once and for all with a United Methodist Holy Conferencing Grudge Match (you are welcome to market it as a Death Match if you like).

So in this Wesleyan Battle Royal we came up with some of the fighters on this Holy Conferencing Royal Rumble (feel free to create your own.

  • “Pastor of Disaster”
  • “The Pastor of Pain”
  • “The Vicar of Vexation”
  • “The Reverend of Rough”
  • “The Clergy Killer”
  • “Minister of Mayhem”
  • “The Church Terminator”
  • “The Fundamentalist”
  • “The Libanator”
  • “The Protester”
  • “Blessed Peacemaker” (special guest referee)
  • “Honky Tonk Pastor”
  • “Rev Riot”
  • “Means of Grapple”
  • “The Bishop of Bullying”
  • “The Witness”
  • “Superintendant of Smashing”
  • “Undercover Baptist”

Feel free to create any fighters story lines.. I’m personally looking forward to the battle between “the Minister of Mayhem” v “the Bishop of Bullying.”

Poke the Church! #umclead

Last week I spent a good part of a day listening and communicating with a number of folks during my UMC’s global Leadership Summit webcast. It was a good time to be a twitter native. Our community of folks were not intentionally courted for the webcast, but we sure did have our own little conference. Jeremy has a great run down of all that fun.

The main focus of the summit was content that is held within this “Call to Action” a document created for the church that tells us stuff we’ve all pretty much known. The United Methodist Church is dying (at least in the USA) & there are some basic tenants of vibrant growing church communities to refract off of.

My problem engaging the Call to Action as I did with the ReThink Church campaign is simple. We are still doing a bunch of talking..

Recently read “Poke the Box” by Seth Godin. Like most Godin books he beats his themes like a roadkill on the interstate. Poke the Box is this.. Get out there, stop talking and do something..

Our church hierarchy needs to stop being a talking head and get out and do something if they expect to bring change to the denomination that has offered a living. Are our bishops actually helping to lead change hands on? Probably not, because that task might seem gigantic. But if you can do that for one or two and find some successes then the credibility and branding of that change agent carries greater than saying the right things.

Agency heads and employees need to stop seeing their work as some given a career but a passionate mission that takes immersion into where they need to be. It is my observation that agency work is about meetings after meetings to know what is the right thing.. Who needs right all the time when constantly worried about being right leads to an eventual death?

I don’t care about people who want to talk change. I want to see and know people who are doing change. That is exciting to me and worth a global conversation.

in my opinion..

prezi for the presentation : not your mamma’s powerpoint

i tweeted about prezi the other day. erin told me i needed to check it out (she was quite proud to know that she knew something tech that i didn't). i am doing a quick intro presentation on tech & church today for a small group of pastors and the rest of the time together is q&a and i thought, heck i'll try out prezi for this.

well, it is really cool!

what i've done is pretty simple. i've taken images that i've garnered for other presentations over the year and inserted them all onto my 'canvas.' i did the path thing for the few slides i want to make sure to start going through getting the session time going, but after that you can move in and out and focus onto each element on the canvas as questions or ideas come up. 


i am super stoked about that. so many times in doing these church presentations on tech you get a huge gamut of knowledge, questions, and 'expertise.' now i can adapt for the audience as i see who is there and the questions they ask.. brilliant! i can also put a number of presentations on the canvas and then just re-route the 'path' of the presentation for a more specific focused presentation.

i'm stoked to share this with this pastors group and i'm stoked to share this with you & tell you to go kick the tires. it does cost an annual fee, but not an unrealistic fee. especially for those who use it on a regular basis.

note: for the stickler, i did correct the gutenberg spelling.

in case you missed your weekly pbs tour : ginghamsburg work with darfur

if you involved in the united methodist church at any church geek level, as i am, then you no doubt know that ginghamsburg united methodist church does a lot of work with darfur. they were recently profiled on public broadcasting’s show “religion and ethics weekly.

gold, silver, bronze : top methodist moments on youtube

so why not!

on monday i gave out medals for the top john wesley moments on youtube. figured i'd give out medals for methodism realized over youtube.. why not!

this list i couldn't help but get onto some of my soapboxes, so i hope you don't mind some of my subjective judging.. feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments

Clayride gold medal: the methodist clayride – i was pleasantly pleased to see this back on youtube. years ago i had a copy of it that i uploaded to youtube but was asked to take it down by a certain agency. i felt that was a real loss at the time because the video then created a lot of buzz and nostalgia amongst us methoblogger types. not to mention, its a great video for sharing the history of the methodist church. if i remember correctly it had over 15k views (mind you this was the early days of youtube as well). so i hope the clayride gets to ride on & as the methodist presses in the early days of the movement shared its stories, theology, sermons, etc. maybe you all can help share this gold medal of methodism.

Picture 1 silver medal : methodist amendments  maxie dunnam – whoa the scandal!! maxie gets the medal for this one because his video showed up on my radar first, though eddie fox put his up a few days earlier. these videos struck off the biggest abuse of the youtube medium by methodist pastors at large. seriously, lets take our sermoning communication medium to a media medium that is short, sweet, entertaining, and engaging (see how youtube community reacts by how they mashedup maxie). still, in the metho-nerd circles, this was scandalous to take the churches business outside the authorities of the general/annual conferences. which, may or may not be a bad thing.. not to leave them out, bishop jones & tex sample took notice and made their counter arguments as well. for stirring the pot and getting a whole lot of amendment mush on youtube, maxie gets the silver medal.

Picture 8 bronze medal : hallelujah chorus by mute monks – okay, this is silly, its only methodist because this one happened to have happened at a methodist church and the youth basically ripped off an otherwise other youtube sensation, but with a hit count of 100k and just observing the reaction of the congregation (or lack there of) and the pastor (what was that?) at what i assume was a christmastide service.. oh boy. bronze medal for having the cajones to try it pine castle umc

Picture 4 standing looking up : patriot guard – this a news report, from united methodist news (i assume), on the methodist pastor who helps with the patriot guard. for those that don't know what the patriot guard is there is just a simple search on youtube and you will get countless videos, some even by national news coverage. this gets the honorable mention for a couple of reasons, 1. it tells the story of how some have take their community into action for the forgotten and the fallen of our culture. 2. it has a pretty decent hit count (i have a version of same video on my youtube channel) which almost doubles it. yes, #2 is not nearly as noble as #1. 

so tell me who got robbed from the podium. there's lots to choose from

gold, silver, bronze awards : top john wesley moments on youtube

as i look over the church landscape & how they use technologies, i started wondering.. how is our church founder, john wesley, being represented on youtube? and with looking over all this (and the winter olympics in play right now), i decided to medal the top wesley moments on youtube.

 Wesleychapel gold: john wesley chapel linebacker : the young folks at houghton college put this satirical parody of the terry tate office linebacker commercials together & they are just brilliant. involved a bunch of the students and some of the faculty. they reflect some of the core wesleyan theology tenants within the video mixed into a bunch of "ouch" and laughing moments. clear cut gold medal winner!

Wesleysermon2a silver: john wesley sermon, thoughts on war : mark topping is apparently know as a john wesley impresonator. this excerpt is taken from his dvd doing his shtick. the except is posted on the or more about the methodist church of great britain channel which has a few other cool videos. this sermon has the most hits of the excerpts. what i think is funny is quickly wesley would be run out of a pulpit in todays umc for preaching the way he did. the solid silver winner!

Wesleyvideo bronze: john wesley a heartwarming story : this is our dark horse that came out of no where in the medal podium to sang the bronze. i give you the history of john wesley via the confirmation class of first united methodist church of mercedes, texas. what are you doing with your claim the name curriculum? bet it is not as cool as a silent movie motif of wesley's life. anyways, this campy funny approach to sharing wesley's story is by far more entertaining than any of the other powerpoint movie presentations (though some of the foreign language, to me, ones were pretty cool).

Picture 8 standing looking on: relcaiming wesleyan tradition : yup, we tried to see if this thing could go viral for kevin some time back, so it had itself on the 'watch' list, but in the end, it couldn't pick up the medal. this little diddy by the gbod spins off the guinness commercials, which i suppose it okay since wesley had some guinness influence.

**look for the top medalists videos for the united methodist church. that's going to be a tight competition