Big Tech and the Church: Decline, Hope.
No one likes to talk about a decline in engagement. I don’t. You don’t. No one at Meta (formerly known as Facebook), Twitter, SnapChat, TikTok, or the Church wants to talk about a decline in numbers.
Kevin Roose, a technology columnist for the New York Times writes, “For years, most of the conversation about social media companies was about how powerful and dominant they were. These days? Not so much.” Notably, in the last year Meta stock has dropped more than 60%. For SnapChat, its more than 80%. Let’s leave Twitter alone for now. Interestingly, even TikTok, wildly popular with younger generations and dominant in the social media market, is watching closely as new apps like BeReal and Gas are competing for scrolling eyes. BeReal and Gas are unique, because they attempt to cut across destructive social media habits like negative comments and filtered realities by encouraging people to post authentically or with compliments.
The narrative is no longer about big tech dominance; now it’s about decline.
As a church leader, I can’t help but think—if enormously wealthy, market-driven, scientifically buoyed social media and tech giants cannot stay ahead of decline in their industry, how can I defeat the narrative of decline pervasive in the Church?
You know the data. The United Methodist Church, to which I belong, has experienced numerical decline every decade since 1970. Other mainline denominations haven’t fared much better. In fact, even the largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Church, has experienced decline in recent years. According to Barna, in research published in March 2020, only one in four Americans consider themselves practicing Christians, almost a 50% drop since 2000. They define a practicing Christian as a self-identified Christian who agrees strongly that faith is very important in their lives and have attended church within the last month. Furthermore, recent data suggests that the post-pandemic return to church has plateaued.
To understand these trends, Carey Nieuwhof outlined reasons why people haven’t returned to church. It’s important to note, there is some good news in the midst of all the data: Millenials are actually returning to church in higher numbers than before.
With all of this in mind, I remain optimistic for several reasons. At least, I choose to be optimistic.
First, I am hearing from church leaders, staff, and amazing volunteers, a renewed willingness to try new ways of sharing the message of Jesus. We all know the refrain, “We’ve never done it that way before.” Thankfully, that phrase is going out of style—fast!
I’m also optimistic because this is the Church. We have a mission no tech company could dream of having! Our mission is Jesus’ mission.
Finally, I think the Church can learn from Big Tech. There are reasons to hope.
Reason One—An Abundance of Resources
Big Tech companies like Meta, Google, and others use significant portions of their budget to research new technology. For many churches, non-profits, or local businesses, financial resources are not always abundant. However, churches and other similar organizations often have abundant people resources and passion. Every church is gifted with different resources given by God. It’s a matter of identifying those resources and putting them into motion.
Reason Two—Innovation is the Norm
Technology changes fast. New technologies are soon outdated, so constant innovation is required. Today, church leaders and their churches are more willing to innovate, explore, and try new things. Churches are learning to try new and different things regularly before making big investments. Often, these new experiments lead to new learnings for the future.
Reason Three—Connection is a Human Experience
Social media companies understand how humans work—we are wired for connection. Big Tech maximizes that connection with scientific research to produce products we can’t seem to put down. Yet, the superpower of the church is our ability to create connections with people and with God. No algorithm can substitute for the work of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives.
Reason Four—Giants Don’t Last, but a Mission Does
The Roman Empire eventually fell. Meta doesn’t dominate the social media world like it used to. Even particular churches come and go. The one thing that doesn’t change is the mission of the Church.
Technology companies worry about decline, but the Church has a whole lot of reasons to hope.
Rev. Dr. Joshua Clough serves as Location Pastor for Resurrection Overland Park. Joshua also partners with our ShareChurch team as Director of the ShareChurch Academy to provide practical leadership resources to pastors and other leaders. Joshua completed his doctorate in Practical Theology and Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. He runs marathons, ultra-marathons, and because he grew up in Seattle, drinks a lot of coffee.