What's the church's role in an information age? Honestly, what's the church's role in any age?
I have multiple conversations--inside and out of Group--about this topic. I listen to visionary leaders talk about the way to nurture kids to be fully devoted followers of Christ, the way to impact families so parents take their role as primary faith influencers, and more. And the one thing I hear--a lot of--is information.
In one conversation recently, I asked a children's pastor where his parents go for information. Is their immediate reaction to see if the church has a brochure on a topic...or do they google it...go on facebook and ask their friends...read a blog about it...order a Kindle or iPad version of a book on it? He said their first default is not the church.
Hmmm...not the church. If we're not the repository of all authority on every subject, then what is our role? We scramble to teach on every topic--and we often struggle when people don't show up for classes on things like parenting, don't we? (I'm not saying the Word of God doesn't speak to all of life, by the way. It does!)
Again, if people today aren't looking to us for information on the topics of their daily life, what is the church for?
What is the unique God-given mission that the church has that no other entity in all of culture is geared to, nor equipped or empowered to meet?
#1 on my list is to encounter the living God in ways that are transformational. (And in all honesty, the information model we use could be getting in the way of that.) It's about transformation, not information. We like to say around here at Group that "faith is not a subject; it's a relationship." I think the unique role of the church is not to just inform people about God but to introduce them to God and help them experience God--while they're at church!
#2 on my list is the wonder of the body of Christ and everything that entails: community, sharing, fellowship, support, encouragement--just look at all the "one another" verses in the Bible to make a list. The Bible says that they'll know we're Christians by our love. I believe the church's role and what we need to experience at church is this amazing love and community that'll transform us. Sadly, our information model of all of us sitting in rows and listening to a sermon, then filing out at the end gets in the way of this kind of community. Every single time we're in the body of Christ's presence, I believe we need to facilitate relational connections. (We do this every week in our Buzz curriculum for kids by having what we call Buzz Bond--where kids strengthen their relationships with one another.)
But beyond any resource or tool, I think God is calling the church to come back to what it's meant for. And I don't think that's going to happen by reading a blog (like this one), googling for information, going to a conference, or taking another class. I think it's going to happen when we cry out to God and ask him by the Holy Spirit to do a work in us that is impossible without him showing up. I think we've worshipped long enough at the altar of information as leaders and in our church practices; and it's time to wake up to what we're really meant for.