For hundreds of years, communication has flowed pretty much in one direction, from the top down. The industrial revolution brought great change to societies as new businesses grew in size and hierarches of management helped things flow efficiently. Instructions and directives were given at the highest levels and workers were expected to comply.
The church has followed the same organizational structure for more than two thousand years. The Catholic Church has its hierarchy of pope, bishops, cardinals, priests, etc. Protestant churches have their denominational leaders, district supervisors, division leaders, and pastors. And pretty much communication too flowed in only one direction, from the pulpit downward. However, at the turn of the 21st century this flow of communication was disrupted.
Many factors have caused this disruption. These include the invention of the telegraph, then the telephone, and now new digital technologies. This last factor, I think, is one that has changed the world the most because it affects people at all levels of society: young and old, rich and poor, from every culture and nation. The invention of the computer, the internet, cell phones, social media applications, blogs, web sites, have given more people the ability to change societies, governments, and businesses—technologies have given everyone a voice. Let me give a few examples.
All social media applications allow people to voice their opinions about products, services, companies, injustice and more. Much of the Arab Spring was organized through the use of Twitter. These days, American businesses have whole teams of people monitoring social media channels listening to their customers. News organizations listen to their viewers through any and all social media applications. And why have the above organizations devoted so much effort and resources to listening and understanding their constituencies’ complaints and preferences? Because they have learned that if they don’t listen and keep their customers happy, they will soon be out of business. But what about churches? Are pastors listening to their congregations?
It seems they are not, and lots of people are communicating with their feet. People are no longer willing to sit, watch, and listen. In my last blog post, I wrote about the “Nones,” and the “Dones”. Among this group are those who are “done” sitting in pews listening to somebody preach at them. In both Catholic and Protestant churches, weekly attendance is declining. Comments from people who no longer attend church say that they are tired of the pulpit/pew divide. But it doesn’t seem pastors are listening because according to the Pew Research group, more and more people are becoming unaffiliated with a church.
Customers, or using church terminology, congregants now harness tremendous power. They have a voice and want to use it. What will it take to create open channels of communication in the church? Are pastors willing to give up the pulpit, stop preaching, and start having conversations? Are they willing to accept a church that is less structured, with less hierarchy, and open to change?
By Guest Blogger, CK Miller