This is Article 3 that I wrote with Ed Stetzer regarding a Listening Call we hosted with evangelical leaders across North America.
Reminder about the series: In this series, we want to share the five questions Lausanne is asking in preparation of the fourth Lausanne Congress, as well as the most recurring answers/themes to those questions coming out of North America.
Question 3: What promising breakthroughs or innovations do you see that can accelerate the fulfillment of the Great Commission?
We live in an age of constant innovation and breakthroughs in science, medicine, and technology.
Just so we are on the same page, let me define innovation and breakthroughs. I’m borrowing from Ted Esler’s innovation definition where he writes, “Innovation is the use of something new to create solutions. It can include invention, the creation of something new, or it can be a mixing of existing things to create something new. It might be technological, but it is not limited to technology. It is about products, services, processes, and ideas. Breakthroughs are related to innovation as they are a sudden, dramatic, and important discovery or development that helps to improve a situation, provide a solution, or solve a problem.
The church has been seen (in general) more as a Luddite than a technophile. However, what we have witnessed over the last several decades is an increasing number of church leaders, churches, non-profit, and Christian organizations leveraging innovation and breakthroughs for greater gospel impact. In our listening call, the leaders provided dozens of innovations and breakthroughs they see that are helping to (or can help) accelerate the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
In this post, I want to present the top three.
There are variations of social media.
Social networks, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tik Tok, and Snapchat are one variant of social media. These platforms allow people to network with one another sharing personal updates, thoughts, experiences, photos, and videos. Another variant to social media is bookmarking sites like Pinterest and StumbleUpon. Bookmarking sites provides a platform for users to save and share resources, articles, blogs, and images with others.
YouTube and Vimeo are examples of media sharing networks. These platforms allow users to create, curate, and share their media videos with the world. Did you know that YouTube has 2.3 billion users worldwide, that over 500 hours of video are uploaded every-minute to YouTube, and that everyday people watch 1 billion hours of videos on YouTube?
According to a recent Pew Research study, roughly seven-in-ten American use some kind of social media platform with Facebook and YouTube being two of the most widely used platforms. Adults under 30, are most likely found on Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok.
I share all of this to bring awareness so you can see why church leaders see the rise of social media as an innovation and breakthrough that can help accelerate the Great Commission. With that said, social media is like any other tool—you have to know how to use it effectively to get the desired results.
Digital Technology is similar to social media, but still distinct and its own separate category. I think the digital technology that everyone is most familiar with today—thanks to COVID-19—is Zoom! Zoom is cloud-based video communications technology that allows individuals, businesses, organizations, and educational institutions to conduct video and audio conferencing, webinars, distance education, and more.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the use of this kind of digital technology in the church. Today you’ll find churches hosting video calls after services, offering Alpha courses via Zoom, leveraging video chat for small group engagement, and more. In short, churches are leveraging the digital technology of video chat and conferencing to extend their reach.
Another area of digital technology that is helping to accelerate the church’s participation in the Great Commission is Bible translation. Because of the digital, not only is there newer technology that aids with Bible translation, but there are digital platforms that make it easier for larger translation teams to collaborate on a translation.
While there are certainly more digital technologies in existence that can help accelerate the church’s participation in the Great Commission, I’ll mention one more and that is SEO (or search engine optimization). Many companies leverage SEO to help them understand their potential consumer or client. When companies, businesses, and organizations understand what people are searching for, questions of life they are asking, and the kind of content they are consuming, they will be more educated about how they can connect with them.
What if churches began leveraging the digital technology of SEO not only for their website but for potential classes, ministries, videos, and sermon series? It would allow them to better know the people they are trying to reach with the good news of Jesus Christ.
Decentralization of the Church
This is not necessarily a new innovation or breakthrough, but one that has been recovered in post-Christendom. In Christendom, most church ministries and programs were centrally located and, for the most part, ministries and missions were performed by professional clergy. It’s not that the centralization of the church is bad per se, but an over-centralized heavily institutionalized church can restrict the movement of the gospel and the church’s reach.
Over the last several decades the church in North America has experienced a rise in the decentralization of the church in various ways. Naturalizing church planting was one way the church decentralized. Now, almost every major denomination has a church planting arm.
Churches have also decentralized through adopting some model of satellite/campus church. Again, while many of these churches have “central services,” they have sought to expand their reach through the creation of multisites. In addition, microchurch movements like The Underground have embraced a decentralized model of church where the goal is to recover the priesthood of the believer by giving agency to God’s people to plant churches, teach the word, disciple others, and thus engage in God’s mission.
One more area where decentralization in the church has occurred is in the marketplace. This trend has risen over the years as many churches seek ways to embed themselves into the ebb and flow of their community. Whether through the creation of coffee shops, recreation centers, counseling centers, shopping centers, art galleries and more, churches extend their reach by creating these marketplace extensions to bless the community and reach a postmodern and post-Christian culture.
Throughout church history, in every major era of church history (Hans Kung sketched out six major paradigms), you can find innovations and breakthroughs—such as the Pax Romana and the Roman roadway system, the Gutenberg printing press, the rise of trains, automobiles, and planes, to now the internet—that helped accelerate the advancement of the good news of Jesus. As we move deeper into the 21st century, we will continue to encounter newer innovations and breakthroughs that can be used as tools in the participation of the Great Commission.
This should be something we celebrate as well as something that should give us pause. Wonder Woman has a great line in Justice League where she says, “Technology is like any other power. Without reason, without heart, it destroys us.” In a similar vein, we should not wield innovations and breakthroughs recklessly but wisely and winsomely by developing a working and robust theology of culture, mission, and church that effectively reaches a world in desperate need of the good news of Jesus Christ.