The first wave was oral. Religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Judaism, Catholicism, and Islam used oral traditions to transmit scriptures, rituals, hymns, folktales, mythologies, or chants from one generation to the next.
The second wave was all about written communication. Goldsmith Johanne Gutenberg was a political exile from Mainz, Germany. He began experimenting with printing in Strasbourg, France. He invented the printing press around 1436. Gutenberg returned to Mainz several years later. By 1450, the first movable type allowed people to print marketing materials.
In 1472, William Coxton was the first to use print advertising. He printed an advertisement for a book and nailed them to the church doors in England. Church leaders transitioned from hand-copied manuscripts to the first print run of the Bible in Latin. It took three years to print around 200 copies.
Legend has it that in the month of October, 1517, priest and scholar Martin Luther posted his 95 thesis on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. He mailed his point of view to the archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg, Albert of Brandenburg. Martin Luther realized the potential of the printing press. In the 1520s, Martin Luther’s use of technology brought a significant increase in the number of printing businesses. Luther even brought the experienced printer Melchior Lotther from Leipzig to Wittenberg to establish a printing shop.
The third wave of communication was visual. Initially, some pastors resisted video technology. They saw preaching as a sacred act and believed that the spoken word was powerful. As video projectors replaced overhead projectors, PowerPoint became popular in church services in the early 2000s. The use of ProPresenter, video clips from movies, TV, and other outside sources became the norm. Media Pastors in churches grew in popularity, just as hiring an Online Church Pastor is becoming more common today. We are now using image-based channels (YouTube, social channels, and Online Church) to stream church content.
The fourth wave is the loss of “real presence.” Sixteen years before the 2020 pandemic, in August of 2004, Craig Groeschel received criticism for starting an online church. Laura Turner wrote an article in the New York Times titled “Internet Church Isn’t Really Church.” Here is how she described her wrestle:
- “Going to church – sitting in a room with other people for an hour and a half on Sundays – is non-negotiable for me, unless I’m out of town.”
- “The intention behind live-streaming services – to make the church and its attendant benefits of community, prayer, and worship, available to everyone with a smartphone – is a good one. But it presumes that God is primarily present to us one on one, as individuals, rather than as a community of believers. This is not what the Bible says…”
- “In an era when everything from dates to grocery delivery can be scheduled and near-instant, church attendance shouldn’t be one more thing to get from an app. We can be members of a body best when we are all together…”
Church leaders today post their point of view on social channels. Instead of mailing a letter, we send emails and text messages as a way of direct marketing. We are all learning as we minister to our congregations. Neither Blog 101, Podcast 101, Social Channels 101, nor Lead Generation 101 were courses during our time at Bible College. Artificial Intelligence (A.I.), 5G, and virtual reality are pushing us to the forefront of using technology to extend God’s kingdom.