Appropriate Technologies for An Emerging Congregation...

One of my colleagues at GBOD sent our staff a link to this video today. With it she noted that while these technologies are very expensive at the moment, some of them are already in use in industry. And she wondered and asked us to join her in wondering what they might mean for the church.

It's a good wondering to foster for a bit. Such exercises help us reimagine what a world looks like, and realize the world doesn't have to look or behave quite like it does today.

But there's a flipside, too. The reality is that some congregations are quite likely to be "earliest adopters" of technologies like these-- wealthier ones, at least. And when they do, they will "set the market trend" for what it means to be "relevant" in worship or whatever other forms of ministry they engage in. In fact, they will spend the big bucks now precisely so they will be known as the "market leaders."

Which means that those who don't adopt it rather quickly after they do-- well we know what they are! Not relevant-- anymore.

The trouble with this game is there is no good ending to it. The cycle just repeats-- to the empoverishing of many. The next big thing comes out, the wealthiest invest in it and "look cool," then others join the bandwagon, driving down the price a bit. But by the time "that big thing" becomes affordable or even useful to most congregations, "the next big thing" is out, and the cycle continues. And so the technology gap widens, and the digital divide makes an ever cleaner divide between the haves and have nots.

But what if we normed things differently.

What if rather than deciding everyone should "go after the latest and greatest" we instead, as congregations, focused on making sure every congregation had the basic technologies they actually needed to function sustainably as congregations within our current cultural setting?

What if we began asking questions in the "developed world" in the US that we've been asking for decades, with great positive effects, in the 2/3 world? What if we focused first on "appropriate technologies" for all congregations instead of "the bleeding edge" for the wealthiest few?

Appropriate Technologies

I was introduced to the field of appropriate technologies while I was a student at a Mennonite seminary.

I am no Luddite. A geek, yes, but not a Luddite. I'm composing this blog on my dual-boot Win7 and Ubuntu (Linux) 11.10 laptop-- in Ubuntu. Why? Because Ubuntu is faster (total bootup time less than 30 seconds), more efficient, more stable, open source and free.

And two other things-- sustainable and adaptable in ways no proprietary operating system can ever actually afford to be.

Sustainability may not be at the top of the list of folks looking to impress others with the "bleeding edge." But it might be helpful if it were closer to the top of the list for Christian congregations in the US and the developed world.

News flash-- in the developing world, where Christianity is multiplying the most, sustainability is

What I think this behooves us ALL to work out is what "appropriate technology" is for our particular contexts.

If I were to make a "universal" listing of this for US congregations at this point, I might include the following:

1) Indoor plumbing and accessible restrooms on the same level as worship and educational space.
2) Sufficient lighting
3) Reliable heating and cooling
4) Appropriate musical instruments for accompaniment
5) A plan in use (not just on the shelf) for reducing carbon footprint and energy use-- on premises and by all members in their homes
6) Amplified sound systems for any space holding more than 30 people
7) Landline phone service with voicemail or an answering machine on premises; smartphones for all professional staff.
8) Broadband internet connection with wireless made available on premises in any spaces used by the congregation or other groups.
9) Computers on site with up to date office and publications suites for staff use.
10) Printers on site for document generation.
11) Security system appropriate for local context. 
As I look at this list, it seems to me that the latest most of these would have been considered "cutting edge" was perhaps a decade ago (broadband Internet and smartphones-- BlackBerry back then). The "edgiest" thing here is probably the "carbon footprint reduction" plan--- but for economic and well as ecological reasons, this should be considered a no-brainer now. I am also aware that we have a number of congregations in the US still that do not have even some of the most basic of these-- including indoor plumbing, accessible restrooms, and a telephone with some kind of answering service (voicemail or machine).

Peace in Christ,

Taylor Burton-Edwards