I’ve always enjoyed reading the annual blog posts and articles about predictions for the coming year. There’s something fun about seeing if they come true, although I rarely see follow-up posts detailing how many, if any, actually did come true. (Spoiler alert: most of them don’t.)
In the world of technology, it seems to be the trend to make big and bold predictions. Remember when tablets were going to replace all computers? Or when smart watches would be more useful than smart phones? More often than not, technology predictions are way off base, or just too early.
The usefulness of new technology is risky, and churches don’t have the luxury of taking risks when it comes to finances. So rather than tease you with new and exciting technology your church won’t be able to afford in 2018, I’m going to share seven technology trends you should be aware of and how they might affect your church, without recommending that you go out and spend money on them.
1. Video will be the norm for consuming content.
We’re really not far from this right now. Scroll through your news feed in Facebook and you’re going to see more videos than photos, and those text-only posts will be rarely, if ever, shown. Plus, videos are more likely to be shared than static content.
This poses a challenge for churches because video production is not cheap, but thankfully the value of videos is not in their production quality but in their authenticity. Words can be edited, photos can be touched up, but videos (real videos, not the CGI-filled Hollywood videos) show life how it really is.
In a world in which churches deal with the stereotype of hypocrisy (which is often well earned), videos provide a way for us to be authentic and show the church as a welcoming family of believers in which there is forgiveness of sins and grace is freely given.
2. Voice searches will become the norm for finding information.
This may be a bit early, since as of last year, only 20% of mobile searches on Google were voice, but that number is only growing as devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo become commonplace.
While this may not seem like it will impact churches, remember that voice searches are typically questions, and if your church website doesn’t answer the question, other websites will. Here’s a fun test: ask a voice assistant “what time are the worship services at [insert your church name here]?”
3. Integration of tools will be more user driven than ever before.
This topic is one we often discuss at Concordia Technology Solutions as a developer of church management software. We often receive requests from customers to integrate our products with third parties. We do that with many standard applications and services, like Microsoft Office and Google Maps, and we have partnered with organizations like Vanco Payment Solutions and Paychex to create custom integrations for their products.
Integration services like IFTTT and Zapier allow people to connect completely independent applications and have them work together. Have you ever wanted to add the weather forecast to your calendar? There’s an applet for that.
The important thing for churches to think about is the time they can save by integrating different applications. While these efforts and results won’t be earth shattering, every minute that can be saved is one more minute that can be used to connect people with the Gospel.
4. Personalization will become the expectation of audiences.
Every morning and every afternoon, I get a notification from Google about traffic between home and work. I never asked Google to do this, but I look at these notifications and have now come to expect them. I don’t listen to traffic reports on the radio because I don’t care about all traffic in St. Louis, just my route.
I have high expectations for Google, and thankfully Google always delivers. But the fact is that people’s expectations about personalization and relevant information have increased since companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook have made that a priority. And those same people bring their expectations for personalization to churches.
Now, I’m not saying churches need to offer the same level of personalization these big tech companies offer, but it is important to remember relevance in your communication with your members. Because people are so used to receiving personalized information, they tune out the messages that are irrelevant, and if only a small percent of what you communicate is relevant to them, they will start to tune you out too.
So the next time you go to send an email to the entire church, ask yourself, “Is this really relevant to everyone?” And consider fine-tuning your recipient list.
5. Drones will open up new opportunities for accessibility.
Drones are top of mind for me because I spent some time over the last few weeks learning how to fly one. While I had a lot of fun and learned some of the best practices, I’m not quite ready to go buy one for myself, nor do I recommend you do so for your church.
However, if you or someone in your congregation has a drone, you might be able to use it to take some great photos or videos of your church. The cameras are quite powerful, and they capture a perspective you don’t normally get.
In addition to photography, drones are also being explored for uses in broadcasting live events, delivering packages, and providing transportation. While it might not be in 2018, I can imagine a day when drones are affordable and useful enough to broadcast church services, deliver meals to the homebound, and who knows, maybe replace the van for bringing people to church.
6. Augmented reality will become more commonplace.
While virtual reality (VR, or full emersion in a digital environment) is starting to take off in gaming, augmented reality (AR, digital projections placed on a video of a real-life environment) has more practical applications for everyday life. It’s already being used for shopping, education, maintenance, and fun, and Facebook has announced it is prioritizing AR in its future development. While VR requires a headset, AR can be utilized on a phone or tablet, making it far more accessible.
While I certainly don’t expect churches to spend time learning the skill sets needed for creating content for AR, it’s important for them to become familiar with this technology to explore new uses for it. Imagine a Bible study where you can share a 3D model of the Ark of the Covenant, or the ability to leave notes for your setup team in the space where they are setting up for an event. While this may not be ministry-changing, it could provide better and more engaging experiences.
7. Bots will increase the value of personal interactions.
I recently had a problem with the cable box at my house and called the support line to try to get it fixed. The entire interaction was completed with their computer system; I never spoke to a person. If I were a curmudgeon (which isn’t too far off from the truth), I would be upset about the emergence of robots, or bots, in customer service because of the removal of the human element. On the positive side, having no humans involved allowed the interaction to take place even at a time when people wouldn’t be working, which was quite convenient for me.
Through the use of bots in combination with artificial intelligence, companies are able to handle interactions in radically different ways than ever before. Training people to answer obscure questions can be difficult and time consuming, but training bots, or having bots learn from interactions, is far more scaleable and potentially more effective (depending on the industry).
In churches, the practical implications are fewer. While a bot may be able to answer questions like “what time is Bible study?,” people are called to share the Gospel. As interactions with bots become more commonplace, personal interactions will become fewer and therefore more valuable, which could be great for churches as people seek out places for personal connections.
So what do you think? Are these far-fetched predictions that couldn’t possibly come true? I hope that after reading them, you recognize the opportunities that are coming for you—at the least to learn these technologies, and at the most to leverage them for the sake of sharing the Gospel.
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