VILLANOVA, Pa. (CNS) — A steady decline in the number of Christians who go to church doesn’t mean Christianity is dying but that church members want a personal connection they aren’t finding in church, said the keynote speaker at an Oct. 14 technology summit at Villanova University.
Technology can provide that personal connection, according to Steve Hewitt, editor-in-chief of Christian Computing Magazine since 1989.
He outlined ways that churches should be communicating with members — broadcast text messages; broadcast voice messages; Facebook and websites; YouTube and email; and even personally addressed and handwritten mail.
Broadcast text messages are the most effective, according to Hewitt.
He gave the keynote at “Technology Summit II: Technology in Parish Life” hosted by the Villanova School of Business’s Center for Church Management and Business Ethics. The second such summit to be held at the Catholic university was open to parish management professionals from across the United States.
Each month, the number of churchgoers who attend a service just twice a month declines by 2 percent, Hewitt said. But at the same time, 60 percent of Christians note that they pray each day, he added.
The biggest thing church members want from their faith experience is personal communication, Hewitt said. In the time of Jesus, personal communication was king and it is king again today, he said.
The summit opened with a welcome from Charles Zech, the Villanova center’s faculty director for church management. A prayer followed, facilitated by Jim Gallo, center director; Peg Smith, director of technology at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Maple Shade, New Jersey; and Deacon James Grogan of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Freehold, New Jersey.
The day’s agenda included two rounds of breakout sessions covering topics such as social media, church analytics, technology in youth ministry and mobile church apps, and a panel discussion titled “What I Wish I Had Known” about technology.
The breakout sessions and panel discussions were facilitated by professionals from Villanova University, parish managers from around the country, and various organizations with a focus on digital interaction, including Interactive Connections, a faith-based educational technology service for catechetical ministries.
Hewitt’s speech was titled, “What’s New in Technology and Why Everything Is About to Change.” He explored trends in technology over the years and what that means for the future.
He is the founder of Christian Digital Publishers, which publishes Christian Computing Magazine and The American Church Magazine, which he heads as founding editor-in-chief. He also started Christian Media Magazine.
He was a pastor for more than 20 years before he left to pursue magazine work full time.
Hewitt launched The American Church Magazine in 2008 to address a decline of churches in America. He visited churches across the country and interviewed churchgoers, parish managers and others to find ways to reverse the cycle.
Christian Computing Magazine is an online, free publication that is designed to help church management better use technology in ministry. For the past 25 years, Hewitt has been studying the changes in technology to be able to predict where the future is headed and how technology can be best used.
He talked about today’s big players in the technology industry, their pros and cons, why they are failing — if that is the case, and what to expect from them in the future.
“Microsoft is dying,” Hewitt said. He joked about the sigh of distress he let out when he heard that Skype was bought by Microsoft, indicating he thinks it is destined to fail. He said it is interesting that Microsoft is trying to reinvent its image to be like a company that he said is also failing: Apple.
He said Apple’s future is almost entirely up for debate and that since the loss of CEO Steve Jobs, who died in 2011, the company has been on a steady decline. While most might think Apple is what is hot in technology, it is Google that is hot, according to Hewitt.
Google is on the rise, buying out several large companies in the last year — from home automation products to humanoid robots to traffic detection software.
It is the first to experiment with what Hewitt called “visual interface computing” — known as Google Glass. The interactive computer looks like a pair of glasses, projects a display in front of the wearer’s eyes and operates with voice-activated commands.
He noted contact lenses are being developed that could work the same way — for up to five hours.
“If you’re in church and your pastor is giving a great sermon … the game is on,” Hewitt joked.
What’s next in the technological realm? Hewitt said it is “thought interface computing.” NeuroSky is one of many companies developing the technology, which is similar to Google Glass but doesn’t use voice commands — the mind controls it.
Being able to have any amount of information at our fingertips would diminish the need for education, Hewitt said, and would change everything in society as we know it. He expects this technology to be widely available within the next eight to 10 years.
“Right now, it’s all about mobile computing,” Hewitt said.
He referenced a survey that his magazine took asking readers how they studied the Bible. Fifty percent of respondents indicated they read the Bible through a tablet or a smartphone. He noted that what is most shocking about this is that the majority of the magazine’s reader audience is made up of pastors or church leaders.
What is one piece of technology that all churches and parishes should use? According to Hewitt, it’s Apple TV.
“Electronic whiteboards cost around $3,000 or $4,000. Apple TV costs $99,” Hewitt said.
He noted that the small box would allow mobile apps to work in Sunday School classrooms or during worship services to provide an interactive and personal atmosphere for attendants.
Hewitt closed his speech joking that he probably left the majority of those in the room with their heads spinning. But he was outlining the future of society and the implications for all those who will be around to see it.