Friedman Technology

It all began with my call for computer assistance.  During the course of the conversation I learned that the person assisting me was not only from India, he was in India.  “Wow!” I said to myself.  It happened again when calling about a credit card bill.  “That’s interesting,” I observed.  But I never asked myself why.  That is, until I began reading Thomas Friedman’s book, The World is Flat; A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century.  It’s the most fascinating and eye-opening book I’ve read in a very long time. 

Friedman’s thesis is that with the convergence of computers, email, fiber-optic networks, teleconferencing and amazing new software, people can collaborate with others around the world in a more equal way than ever before in history.  These incredibly fast changes in technology and communications are evening the playing field around the globe, creating a flat world where it’s almost impossible to keep up with the constant change.

  • Do you know where your tax return was actually processed?  Accounting firms all over the United States outsource to India.  In 2003, 25,000 U.S. tax returns were done in India.  In 2004, it was 100,000.  In 2005, it was 400,000.
  • Are you aware that many U.S. radiologists outsource cat scans to doctors in India and Australia?  X-rays taken in the U.S. during the day are sent by email to other parts of the world, then are read overnight while you are sleeping.  The results are back in your doctor’s office in the morning.
  • Can you believe that some U.S. global executives have full-time personal assistants in India?  These assistants do their research and prepare their PowerPoint presentations while they are sleeping and email them back to have them on their boss’s desk the day he/she needs it.  And it’s cheap!  Every year India produces 89,000 MBA’s, who earn from $18,000-$24,000.
  • Has it ever occurred to you that the person taking your McDonald’s drive-through order might not be where you think he/she is?  Some McDonald’s restaurants are outsourcing their drive-through ordering to people at a call center hundreds of miles away.
  • Did you ever dream that some U.S. high schools outsource their tutoring to India?  Students put on a headset and are linked directly through the Internet to tutors halfway around the world.

In West Michigan, many communities have experienced the closure of manufacturing plants and the outsourcing of production to other countries where the cost of doing business is cheaper.  The resulting loss of employment is painful, as residents move away or become unemployed.  We even feel the effects in our local churches.

Change is often hardest on those who are caught by surprise or refuse to adapt.  On the other hand, those who plan for change and quickly adopt the latest technology have the leg up.  Louis Pasteur once said, “Fortune favors the prepared mind.”

The trends affecting our world impact the local church as well.  Unfortunately, rather than be out in the forefront of change and innovation, the church often lags behind, citing the timelessness of the truths of the Bible and warning against accommodating to the culture.  I believe, however, that in order to reach out effectively to people living in the 21st century, the church must be flexible and nimble, discovering new ways to share the good news of Jesus Christ in order to transform the world.    

From time to time over the course of the summer, I will be sharing insights gained through Friedman’s book.  Admittedly, The World is Flat is 659 pages long and is not light beach reading, but I am convinced that as pastors, we must be aware of the rapid changes taking place in our world so that we can be great leaders. 

Here are initial suggestions and questions to provoke a conversation. 

  • Have you ever considered outsourcing some of the needs in your church?  The purpose might be to save money, but, more important, to enhance innovation and increase effectiveness.  Outsourcing possibilities might include custodial work, graphics, computer maintenance and food service.
  • If you don’t have a church web site, now’s the time to create one.  It’s one of the best tools for evangelism today. 
  • Do you offer the opportunity for church members to pay their pledge by credit card?  Gary and I do that at First Church, Grand Rapids.  The church has the benefit of regular monthly income from us, and we don’t have to remember to write the check!
  • Have you put your newsletter on line?  Sue Wright sent out The Rapper district newsletter last week, but we had to have the material ready several weeks before printing, so it was already outdated.  We hope that the email Connection will be more timely.
  • Can church members and friends use your web site to sign up for classes or reserve a meeting room or watch last Sunday’s service? 
  • Do you have an email prayer chain?

Every church, no matter how large or small, can adapt its congregational life to the year 2007, but it will take vision, persistence and a willingness to change.  Are you willing to take the lead?

Blessings, Laurie

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