Will the iPad Replace the Bible?

Will the iPad Replace the Bible?
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Technology in the church is nothing new. Some pastors say its role in shaping Christianity dates back to the church's founding.

"Two-thousand years ago, the earliest Christians used things like papyrus and Roman roads to carry their message to new places," Brandon Cox, lead pastor of Grace Hills Church in Bentonville, Arkansas, recently told RealClearReligion. "Those were technological advancements of their day, and in the 1500s, the printing press -- the first thing that rolled off of it was a Bible.

"The iPad is the printing press of 500 years ago."

The Barna Group reported in February 2015 that just more than half of protestant pastors agree that the Internet is an effective ministry tool. And eight in ten use the Internet to build relationships, up from 64 percent of those surveyed in 2000.

But as social media, mobile devices, and online resources find their way into church congregations, worship seems to be changing.

"There are different churches for different people," says Josh Burns, marketing manager and blogger for Social Church. "There are churches that are going to invest heavily in the arts and music and technology, and they're going to reach a certain demographic of people that another church who may intentionally decide not to invest in those things may not reach. [Technology] has definitely changed the dynamic of the church and the people inside the church, but I don't know if that's necessarily a bad thing. It's a tight line to walk."

And that line may lie between church as sacred or as entertainment.

Rachel Held Evans, author of Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, warns in the Washington Post that technology might make church too "cool."

"Many churches have sought to lure millennials back by focusing on style points: cooler brands, hipper worship, edgier programming, impressive technology." Evans argues these elements "are not the key to drawing millennials back to God in a lasting and meaningful way."

Burns says that might be right, especially when a church invests heavily in flashy technology but doesn't teach "sacrifice" as a key tenet of Christianity. Instead, Burns said, "we crave authenticity. We crave relationship."

However, Burns suggests, social media can take a church brand and make it authentic.

"Social media offers us that way to connect with someone on a one-to-one level, and it's our responsibility in the church to make sure that that's authentic -- it's not just a brand per se," Burns said.

Connecting with others online is Social Church's forte. The resource for churches, created by Justin Wise, coaches pastors on how to go online in the right way.

Burns said social media -- Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and more -- is inherently neutral in its spiritual standing.

"They're simply tools and channels we can use to connect with other people and hopefully share the gospel in that," Burns said. "The mediums in and of themselves are not biased one way or another; they're neutral. They can be used for good or for evil, and so I think we as Christians are tasked with using what we have available to us to spread the gospel."

Cox's book, Rewired: How Using Today's Technology Can Bring You Back to Deeper Relationships, Real Conversations, and the Age-Old Methods of Sharing God's Love, focuses on recovering social media's ancient roots to help build real relationships. 

"'Media' is just information, 'social' just means relationships, and before the age of television, radio and Internet, we used to share news person-to-person," Cox said.

"The tools are new, but the basis for [social media] is ancient."

Still, Cox isn't suggesting pastors cut Sunday services short by tweeting out their sermons. "I think one big precaution would be making sure you don't replace real face-to-face relationships with social media," Cox said.

Along those lines, Burns challenges churches to know who the people in their pews really are.

"Churches just need to be who they are. Don't try to cater to someone you know nothing about."

Anna Dembowski is a 2015 National Journalism Center intern at RealClearReligion.

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