By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
DALLAS, Texas—Could it be that today’s blogs, Twitter, Facebook, iPods, Skype, YouTube, and Flickr … are the stained-glass windows of yesteryear?
Throughout history, the stained-glass windows found in churches and cathedrals told the story of the Gospel, using elaborate art and decoration. But today’s tools are much different. Are they effective?
Greg Atkinson believes they are.
Director of technical arts at Bent Tree Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas, Atkinson believes that there is a shift in the way the Church looks, functions and ministers to the world.
Atkinson has a degree in church music with a minor in religion and has done graduate work in worship, leadership and communication. He helped create, develop and lead WorshipHouse Media, a website which provides videos for instant download for churches.
In his church, Atkinson uses videos to provide visual elements to the worship: countdowns, sermon openers and closers, as bridges/interludes between songs and for illustrations of sermon points.
But for Atkinson, the use of technology doesn’t stop with just the weekly services. He harnesses web 2.0 technology to make connections with people all over the world.
“The reality that we are missionaries in a digital age is becoming increasingly more apparent and hard to ignore,” he said, pointing to the explosion of technologies on the Internet, which are changing the way people connect with one another.
Social media such as Twitter (twitter.com), Facebook (facebook.com) and Tokbox (tokbox.com) offer free real-time connection opportunities that Christians can use to spread the Gospel virtually all over the world, he said.
On Twitter, users simply answer the question, “What are you doing?” as regularly as they wish. Facebook extends this status reporting to include email capability as well as the posting of photos, videos and links, which all point to the passions and personalities of the users.
With this social media, Atkinson says that people in the virtual world tend to know more about each other than people in the real world do.
“I don’t know if it is good or bad. It’s a reality,” he said, explaining that the easily updated statuses in Twitter and Facebook allow for what he calls “false intimacy.”
“In my office, if someone asks how I am doing, I am polite and just say, ‘Fine,’ even if I feel lousy,” he explained. However, on the computer, he feels freer to write that he is having a lousy day. To which, he receives responses from his virtual friends all over the world who say they will pray for him.
And as a traveling consultant, he is astounded at how this media takes away the small talk when he finally meets people face to face. “We already know each other because we have been corresponding with each other,” he said, explaining that those who follow him know about his family, his typical days, and whether or not his back is feeling better since he injured it lifting a box during ministry to homeless people in his community.
They also know that he is passionate about ending modern-day slavery, that he loves the TV show, “24,” and that Jesus Christ is number one in his life.
Like Skype, Tokbox takes the chatting to the next level by adding video into the equation. The free application allows users to send video emails recorded by the computer cameras or to have real-time video conferencing several people at once. Tokbox can be embedded into the users’ Facebook and other websites.
“These technologies give us an unprecedented opportunity to connect with people,” said Atkinson, explaining that ministers should look at social media as tools instead of just mindless fun.
He urges users to read others’ statuses to look for opportunities to share their faith in their normal every day activities. He also said the platform helps others discover more about important projects and causes. Church members’ involvement and care for each other speaks loudly to others who are in on the conversations.
This innovative media affects everyone who uses it, from the senior pastor to the church member to the family member who now lives in another country.
“All of the sudden, this brings the whole concept of ‘technology’ to the forefront for regular pastors and church staff members – including the non-techie,” said Atkinson. He calls this shift of “universal technology,” which means that every church leader is engaged in, using and communicating through technology – not just the tech pastor.
To that end, Atkinson, is co-writing Church 2.0, a book that is a collaborative conversation on technology, innovation and new media, written along with David Russell, Rhett Smith, Tony Steward and Cynthia Ware. In fact, the authors use Tokbox in video conference to discuss their writings.
In addition, leads local forums in major cities throughout the country, speaks at various schools and seminaries and teaches at high profile church conferences throughout the country. He will host a Church 2.0 Local Forum in nearby Washington, D.C., at National Community Church on Mar. 27 from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. (http://theaterchurch.com/location/ebenezers for more info about the host church.) This gathering is for church leaders of all kinds to get together, meet, network and discuss issues such as innovation, technology and social justice.
But Atkinson does have his cautions. Too much reliance on the computer is unhealthy, he acknowledged. He suggests that users have intentional dark days where they don’t have access to their laptops. “Spend one day a week in nature and get away from technology altogether—just you and God,” he said, noting that otherwise, these items become all consuming and become idols in one’s life.
“Be on guard and have the discipline to protect you and your family,” he said.
For more information, read Atkinson’s blog at www.gregatkinson.com or email him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.