THE e-CHURCH MODEL FOR THE 21ST CENTURY: A call for re-discipleship

The church is a community of the Spirit giving witness of the Trinity to an alternative and hopeful future of a community of disciples.

We must realize we live in the midst of profound social and cultural change driven by the fourth industrial revolution of digital technology and globalization. Churches of all types and denominations are struggling to adapt to new patterns of belonging and participation in this new age of technology.

In the Theory of Constraints, we look for the root cause. So, for us, the root cause is usually that which blocks or inhibits us from achieving our goal. The challenge for Christian communities, is how do we cultivate a Christian faith and discipleship in a secular environment that no longer gives credence to it? For starters, we need to ask what the question is first that we are struggling over. Is It a question of church and culture, or church vs. culture? Or is it a much broader question of the gospel and modern culture: The church in the contemporary world. It means embracing what the world has to offer as an avenue to discipleship. What does it say to live a life focused on the gospels in our contemporary culture? It is not a question of how to do church differently, but how to do discipleship in the modern world and all that it has to offer. So, we must look at what our constraints are that prevent us from answering the questions: Church and culture, or church vs. culture?  The church in the contemporary world.

Many churches think they have made their investments in upgrading their technology. Most of those upgrades are seen in presentation software, audio/visual and databases to store information. Little has been done to prepare for evangelization, in a digital, technologically focused modern world using tools that most of us never realized was possible twenty years ago. We struggle with knowing what investments we should make in this arena. We know we have not prepared ourselves with education for understanding what for e-discipleship, e-church, e-mission, and e-church planting, look like in this new industrial revolution in the modern world.  The real survival test for churches in the new millennium is an adaptation of the contemporary world for the greater good of the gospel message. Look at what St. Paul was doing in this time. Adapting the culture his preaching and writings to introduce the gospel of Jesus.

Being a church leader in the e-discipleship era — or even surviving in the e-discipleship environment — means more than just putting an “e” in front of existing programs and services, or taking a church’ current programs and processes and “Web-enabling” them. It means fundamentally transforming existing discipleship strategy, operations and technology infrastructure. It involves performing an RE-MISSION of your goal.

The first step in successful transformation is to understand the ground rules of this new industrial revolution, which include being more sensitive to changing congregational requirements from a technology perspective, strategizing on a greatly accelerated rate, and dealing with a faster-moving and more unpredictable field of unknowns. Again, think St. Paul, and the unknowns he encountered, it comes with the territory of discipleship.

Executing the wrong transformation strategy can be as disastrous as not transforming at all, and there are already dramatic examples of this coming out of many churches and denominations. I am sure all of us reading this has a scar or two to support that statement.

The fundamental mistake that most churches make is to use the Web as a way of defending their existing mode of discipleship. Rather than opening up new avenues, that is rather than reinventing themselves, doing a re-mission to their strategy. Most churches try to defend the “self” as is and apply it to any new venture or program. Another related mistake is to predict the endpoint, by deciding to transform into a church portal, or denominational or conference exchange, or some other outdated technology model. Predetermining the parameter is just as much a handicap as defending existing models.

e-discipleship transformation is also not about improving financial efficiency, which will contribute only so much to the bottom line. Churches should have three goals for conversion: mission expansion, congregational retention, and operational efficiency.
The last piece of the transformation puzzle is looking at the transformation of the entire journey to discipleship, rather than at a change of a single event in the enterprise (i.e., Collaborative or c-Commerce such as online giving).

For churches to accomplish successful transformation, most churches will partner with other organizations, consultants or content providers. But traditional consulting organizations – both organizational management consultants and technology consultants — are also struggling to redefine and transform their business models for the e-discipleship, e-mission revolution.

The traditional consulting model is too slow, quickly taking one, two or even three years to formulate and implement a new re-mission strategy. With this timeline, congregations and those who you are trying to reach will have moved on, as if you’re standing still.
The traditional approach is also disjointed. The practice of having church strategists create e-discipleship strategies for the modern world and then “throw them over the wall” to their IT counterparts generally leads to significant disconnects between the strategic vision and the operational reality.

When working with consultants make sure they fully understand the fourth and fifth industrial revolution and the technology that is driving the revolution. Make sure they know, a new consulting model, is what is being called for to accomplish the transformation, one that focuses on the challenges of successful e-re-mission transformation and it includes:

  • Integration of strategy, process, and technology
  • The use of pattern recognition in the formulation of strategy, process, and   technology • Integrated change management
  • Measurements. Remember if you can’t measure it, there will be no success
  • Rapid time to market
  • Design for systematic adaptation
  • Early prototyping and strategy iteration using the prototype
    Implementation in “slices.”
  • The flexibility to enter an engagement at any point – business or technical.

Next week we will look at why pattern recognition is so important.

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