Today at my kitchen sink, while cleaning up some breakfast dishes, I had one of those “ah ha” moments. It was as if it was sent from above.
Here is the idea. Think about what educational technology and the “contemporary” Christian church service have in common. Whether you are a believer or not, it is hard to deny the similarities.
Over the course of the last twenty years, many churches have seen big changes to the typical Sunday morning worship formats they offer. For years, churches were seeing a decline in numbers and an apathy amongst its congregation. When asked why, many members…and especially young ones…said they just weren’t getting a personal connection with the traditional singing of hymns and congregational responses. Sound familiar? What are educators hearing when they ask today’s student who seems disinterested in school and apathetic? It’s pretty much the same thing. These students are struggling to make the personal connection with the traditional way schools operate and present content.
What did churches do? They listened to those they aim to serve and they tailored their offerings….well, some did. For many of those who did, they saw a return of parishioners and renewed interest. According to a Crosswalk.com article, a 2009 study found 64% of churches that updated their services or created contemporary offerings saw their numbers grow.
Education should be paying attention and following some of the same principles when it comes to integrating technology.
Principle #1: If we don’t meet their needs, we will lose students. If these churches hadn’t gotten creative and realized the legitimacy of the desires, church goers would do just that…go, and take their tithes and offerings with them. With the increase of “schools of choice” laws and the pushing of vouchers by some politicians, it is just as easy for families who don’t feel the personalized connection to take their state foundation grants down the road with them to a different district. The proper use of educational technology can tailor that education and create that personalized connection. We in education need to listen.
Principle #2: Meet those we aim to serve on their schedules. Churches began to meet members more on members’ schedules and not just on the church’s schedule. Many of the “mega churches” offer Saturday night services or Sunday evening services for those that just can’t roll out of bed or have mid-Sunday morning conflicts. They are also using technology to stream church via the Internet or they create podcasts of their services. Educational technology has amazing abilities to break down the same dependencies schools have on rigid scheduling and limited course offerings. Content, courses, and lectures can all go online and on portable devices. It can be streamed over the Internet and classes can meet in the virtual spaces of wikis and classroom management systems like Moodle. Schools can be creative and unlock learning time from the 8 to 3 mold, just as churches are unlocking worship from 11:oo to noon on Sunday morning.
Principle #3 Remain true to your core content. Even though there may now be a five piece rock and roll band up by the altar, the music is still about the same God that “What a friend we have in Jesus” is. The service may look vastly different from the outside but it’s the same truths that are being pursued. It’s the same Scriptures being studied. Philosophically for me, educational technology is a way to pursue academic truths and develop deeper understanding of the content to be learned. I am a firm believer that the liberal arts must be cherished and that classical studies teaches the contemporary human to inquire and think on a higher level. Now harness those pursuits to the tools we have technology wise and the discovery is ramped up 100 fold. Bringing the classics into the context of today makes it personal to kids. GoogleLitTrips.com is a perfect example of taking great literature and exploring it through Google Earth…relating sometime ancient locales to our contemporary world. Even Steve Jobs during the launch of the iPad2 heralded this pursuit. “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities that yields the results that makes our hearts sing.”
What neither education nor the rock and roll church can lose sight of is the human relationship factor. Isn’t that mission of both really? Technology can do a lot of things for both, but if we are not fostering respectful inter-personal relationships in either space then we are missing the boat and no matter how slickly produced, the messages will never find their targets. Computers can never replace great teachers and podcasts can’t replace exceptional preachers.
The Framers and Founders of America called for a separation of Church and State. It doesn’t mean the two can’t learn from one another though.