Seven Digital Disruptions in Churches
I had no idea what was about to transpire.
The year was 1994. I was serving as pastor of a church in Birmingham. I did not have the foresight to see how churches were about to be disrupted by the digital world.
Now, over twenty years later, I can look back and see the massive digital changes. But I was not prescient. I have been greatly surprised.
So what are the digital disruptions churches have experienced? I don’t have an exhaustive list, but here are seven key disruptions.
- From the house to Facebook. We once connected with members and guests with home visits. Today, we are more likely to connect on Facebook and other social media.
- From the worship service to the website. A guest’s first point of contact used to be the worship service. Now they go the church’s website to garner first impressions.
- From the offertory to online giving. This shift is growing. Churches of all sizes better have online giving as at least one option for giving.
- From the newsletter to the blog. When I became a pastor in 1984, I wrote a column for our church’s print newsletter. It had the highly original title of “From Your Pastor.” Today, more pastors and staff communicate via their own blogs.
- From the cassette to the podcast. I’m really showing my age now. My first sermons were distributed via a plastic cassette. If you happen to come across one of my sermon cassettes, please destroy it immediately for the sake of the kingdom. Another way podcasts have disrupted churches is providing weekly messages from other pastors, especially well-known pastors. It can be tough on pastors when a church member says, “Matt Chandler says . . .” or “Andy Stanley says . . .”
- From the paper Bible to the digital Bible. In the past: “Please open your Bibles . . .” Today: “Please open or turn on your Bibles.”
- From the announcements to the app. Some church apps automatically update with news and prayer requests. By the time you hear it on Sunday morning, the news is old news.
From Thom Rainer’s blog:
“I don’t understand why our offerings are down. Attendance is not down.”
“It’s a bit scary. If we lose our two highest giving families, our offerings will be down almost 20 percent. None of the younger families will replace that.”
Those are two representative comments from pastors who have expressed specific concerns to me about their church’s finances. Moreover, they are often perplexed why offerings are down when other factors point that offerings should be higher.
These are not random comments. A recent study by LifeWay Research showed that over half (51%) of Protestant pastors said their church’s offerings were still affected negatively by the economy. Only 13% said the offerings were improving.
So what’s behind this somewhat gloomy perspective? Why might your church’s offerings be struggling? Here are six clear reasons.
- Giving to churches lags economic growth. The church member who just got a job after several months of unemployment often does not resume church giving immediately, especially at the pace he or she gave during his or her previous employment.
- The Millennials are skeptical givers. Those born between 1980 and 2000 are often reticent givers. They want to be certain the church is a good steward of the contributed funds.
- Charitable giving overall is struggling in many sectors. It’s not just the churches that are feeling this challenge.
- Giving to the institution is the motive of most of the Builder generation (those born before 1946). Subsequent generations are more likely to give to a cause or a vision. As the Builder generation fades, so does institutionally motivated giving.
- Tax laws are hurting wealthy charitable givers. New tax laws for wealthy individuals do not give full tax credit for charitable giving.
- Declining frequency of attendance. I have noted at this blog and at the Rainer on Leadership podcast that the number one reason for decline in church attendance is members attending less frequently. This trend also affects offerings since some members only give when they are in worship services.
The challenge is real, but the situation is not hopeless. Leaders of churches who can communicate a clear and compelling vision are more likely to see increases in church offerings. Also, churches with high expectation membership classes typically see higher offerings as well.