Can Church Tech Ultimately Improve Human Connectivity?


During COVID-19, nearly every church utilised technology to keep its congregation engaged.

Many viewed the pandemic as just another interruption to their most essential means of discipleship —in-person worship — and planned for communications to return to prepandemic methods after sheltering-in-place mandates ended.

However, as the pandemic receded, churches discovered unexpected benefits to their newly adopted tech.

Some even saw the forced change as an opportunity to reimagine church. They brainstormed how to ​​enhance livestream service quality and deepen connections with congregants through online platforms.

But others have cautioned against too much tech adoption.

It could encourage congregants to depend on leaders to handle communication and outreach tasks.

Or encourage leaders to view their churches as consumer “products,” focusing on analytics, charts, and figures rather than the fundamental functions of pastoral ministry.

Virtual church?

A study on the State of Church Tech 2024 conducted by Pushpay — a fast-growing software as a service company in the faith sector — reveals a somewhat predicted, albeit still surprising, change in American church attendance.

Our desire to return to a pre-COVID style church has diminished.

The study claims the desire to return to in-person-only ministry is now waning, driving enthusiasm for church tech solutions.

In 2024, just 10 percent of churches said they were sticking to in-person-only services, while a whopping 90 percent are either keeping or enacting a hybrid model (in-person and online).

In last year’s report, nearly three out of 10 leaders said they might move back to in-person-only services, signaling a possible shift away from a hybrid. But in 2024, that figure (those returning to in-person-only ministry) fell by 21 percent.

According to the report, less than one percent of churches are currently fully digital, but some pastors are concerned this number will rapidly grow in the next few years.

Back in 2021, after churches were returning to a “new” normal, assistant professor and pastor Jared Wilson tweeted, “Virtual church isn’t church.”

“When I was pastoring, there was a reason I regularly visited shut-ins and nursing homes rather than just emailing them or sending them a newsletter. Embodiment matters,” Wilson added.

“Biblically speaking, it is even necessary.”

Wilson told MinistryWatch that virtual church also obstructs genuine community, membership and pastoral care.

It transforms into an “individualized consumer product” immersed in a “pragmatism antithetical to the spiritual concerns of the New Testament vision.”

But PushPay Chief Technology Officer Aaron Senneff told MinistryWatch that he rarely encounters someone advocating leaving in-person ministry to go entirely virtual.

Senneff recognizes that in-person ministry is effective but often leaves out alums, shut-ins, and online churchgoers “who won’t be reached without a digital presence,” like livestreaming services on the church’s app or website.

Tackling the problem of anonymity

Senneff said one of his priorities is to solve the fundamental challenges of anonymity, which have been a growing issue since the pandemic.

It’s too easy to walk in and out of church without ever connecting with someone.

But this happens online, too, he said. “Many churches have thousands of people watching but have no idea who they are. We want to help large churches operate in a small way.”

It is possible to use technology to foster meaningful connections, he said.

Digital footprints, such as attendance and volunteering, indicate engagement.

Senneff advocates for a symbiotic relationship between technology and staff, where digital systems complement rather than replace human interaction.

These systems can help identify individuals in need and assemble church data into information leadership can use.

For example, if data indicated that a person stopped tithing after a period of consistent giving, leaders might deduce he or she could be experiencing family or financial distress and reach out.

Another example may be looking for indicators of volunteer burnout. Staff could note how often someone signs up to serve and consider giving them a break before risking burnout.

In response, Wilson agreed that digital methods can tell us some important things, but not “the most” important things.

These methods threaten to replace substantive relationships among members, said Wilson, and the pastor-member connection bound up in the New Testament vision for the local church.

“The Bible’s primary concern about church behaviors and patterns are not quantifiable metrics but rather the fruit of the Spirit, maturation in Christ through discipleship and so on,” he said.

“Those are the most important ‘metrics,’ and they are not things easily discernible by digital footprints.

“They require actual relationships, actually engaged pastors and other leaders (not merely digital observers or programmers), and actual intentionality to disciple, not merely to ‘resource.’”

He said the solution to anonymity lies in pastors shepherding the flock, ensuring every member receives relational care, even in larger churches.

“If the COVID experience taught us anything, it’s that virtual connection can be a helpful tool, but it absolutely is no replacement for the meaningful connection of in-person relationships,” said Wilson.

“Life-on-life community is the only solution to the problem of anonymity.”

Responsibility key

Editorial director for 9Marks Jonathan Leeman believes tech tools can be used well or poorly, like any technology.

“Responsible pastors will use those tools to prevent people from falling through the cracks,” he told MinistryWatch.

“It’s easy to miss or forget people, especially as a church grows.”

He said pastors can regularly remind a congregation of the responsibility to help one another follow Jesus and build one another up in the faith.

“Helping other Christians follow Jesus is what it means to follow Jesus. This is not just the job for pastors but for every Christian. It’s Christianity 101.”

Leeman suggested pastors prioritise discipleship and clear expectations for membership, practice church discipline, and increase the number of elders for better care.

Consolidating services promotes accountability and community, avoiding anonymity issues.

As for PushPay CTO Senneff, he said in a time when IT and ministry are starting to intermix, he would like to see churches shift their views of tech’s role in the church.

“I would love to see churches consolidate tech tools and better use them to further the kingdom,” Senneff said.

“For them to think about improving as a whole to strongly connect with others.”

  • Article published in Religion Unplugged
  • Jessica Eturralde is a military wife of 18 years and mother of three who serves as a freelance writer, TV host, and filmmaker.
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