Populations are aging, there is a decline in the number of youth attending church, congregation and possibly even contributions are shrinking... This list keeps growing. Then of course, there is fake news, putting the church under a cloud instead of on it.
Managing church affairs in these turbulent times is becoming increasingly complex. But don’t despair. There is a silver lining to these dark clouds — the advances technology is making in the evolution of everything that touches mankind will help the church streamline itself.
Today, we have digital transformation solutions to augment the way a church is managed; effectively reach out to attract the devout; and improve operational efficiencies in ways not imagined before.
So the questions to ask are: at the macro level, how quickly will a diocese adapt, be more innovative in promoting church affairs and focus on rejuvenating itself over the next two decades? On a micro level, how can a parish come up-to-speed in terms of managing its affairs? And what can be the impact of these changes on the congregation, the clergy and the church itself?!
One big change in experience will be that for many things that we go to a church for today, we may not need to go to a church. We could instead, just do it in the privacy of our homes, or we might go somewhere else that is not the big, huge building in the middle of town.
More and more church interaction will take place online. We are finding that out as it happens.
Like other areas of life, religion too has suffered the consequence of social distancing that has been imposed during the current global health crisis. As the Covid-19 spread worsens, churches will realize how helpful an online presence can really be. Besides, staying away from the church week after week, if not months, can alter religious habits permanently.
Alarmed by this possibility, some churches have already begun to connect with their congregations online, through Youtube and other social media platforms or parishioners find themselves going straight to sites such as pray.com to sustain their faith.
Later perhaps, far more personalized sermons can become a distinct possibility. By volunteering to share your inner feelings about issues and current state of mind impacting your life, you could help the pastor understand you better and respond appropriately.
More important, these interactions can happen in real-time. Rather than waiting and addressing them when small issues turn into big problems. And become more difficult to resolve.
Like we said earlier, you may be willing and begin to share most of your personal information online — like the way you currently do for booking an exciting and adventurous holiday destination or carrying out consultations with your personal online physician. This same principle could work for personalizing a sermon, a concert or a play that is being organized or sponsored by the church.
Imagine a waiting room outside a pastor’s chambers. And there are lots of chairs. Those are likely to be the very first things that could disappear. Or made redundant by the church of the 2040’s. The pastor will be able to schedule his flock, so that they can meet the pastor one by one. Each one informed as to when they need to come and meet him or her.
iChurch can be AI enabled to promote a lot more interactions between a congregation and the church. These interactions can be happening through the mobile phone or mobile devices that tell individuals where they need to go, what the event is all about, who the person is they need to contact, and what the next steps to take.
This can also happen through some of the screens mounted on the walls of church foyer as well. The screens will sense and recognize a particular individual, so when they come near the screen, there will be a customized message popping up.
You would imagine that online, the colour of the walls or decorations of the interiors of the online church could be customized digitally. These could be personalized based on the preferences of different families, and then it could be customized based on the occasion to intensify the user experience and narrate possible scenarios that could unfold.
Like sometimes, you want to be happier. Sometimes you just want to be more peaceful. Sometimes you want to be excited about certain things... These emotional states can be customized and integrated into the kind of experience you’d like to trigger.
When you then turn up physically in a parish, the chances are that the usher may be a ‘robot’. Now, that’s a little bit of a strange concept. But increasingly — and probably by 2040 — real pastors needn’t be present to greet at the entrances of a church, unless of course it is a big church event.
Video streaming, combining with other augmenting technology can help bring family members on site and vice-versa. Like when loved ones are abroad, or are experiencing time constraints, or busy with some other thing that needed more urgent attention. You can sort of see them rather than texting them or anxiously waiting without understanding what’s going on.
If we do look forward twenty years or so, in many countries around the world, we will be connecting and interacting with the church more often, more intimately and much faster than we do now. Perhaps, you needn’t even be dressed in your Sunday best – no suits and ties... no silk sarees or chic dresses... just a T-shirt and a pair of jeans will suffice.
After all, even the perception that an individual has, “this means I’m myself, and I can do the things that I used to do before” will make a really big difference. This is an example that may not take ten years. What might take longer however, is for it to be adopted routinely by parishioners, and by more and more of our dioceses.
What would the pastors of 2040 be like? Possibly he or she will be somebody who is very comfortable using digital technologies. Perhaps he or she has actually first done a degree in computer science — rather than necessarily be trained first in theology — and certainly will have gone and explored how IT is being used in other industries, whether it’s in car manufacturing or in banking sector or retail stores, and understood how best to integrate the technology to manage church affairs.
What could be also envisaged is, an early step in the training of future pastors, they would start teaching about digitalization of the church management and operations. Will be taught about IT systems and how pastors can play an important role in optimizing these online platforms. Leveraging the processes and recognizing the value of technology in promoting spiritual well-being of the flock and improving the efficiencies with which the church is managed..
Why wait till 2040. With iChurch you can make the future happen now!