Technology: Handle with Care

dibbleThere is nothing easier than getting involved and over-involved with today’s easy-to-use technologies. And nothing potentially so damaging for your ministry. Take this from someone who has built, sold, marketed and used software technologies for more than 30 years. They can be a great blessing, or a life-threatening curse.

Don’t Kid Yourself

Threat #1: You become convinced you can’t understand technology.

The Teacher tells us, “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9c) I think he was talking about technology. From the dibble to the database, we have invented tools to make our enterprises more productive. The trick is to remain focused on the problem you are trying to solve and the results of your attempts. Don’t allow yourself to think that technology and its tools are part of a magical system that will work as long as you keep feeding it money, time and people. You can understand the new tools.

Threat #2: You hand off dealing with technology to a techie.

You can’t have it both ways. Believing technology may help solve some need for organization or productivity and handing off the solution to someone who can’t communicate with you. You must retain control over the solutions you put in place. I love technology experts and expertise, but don’t continue to work with anyone who can’t explain what’s happening in a way you can understand.

Threat #3: You fail to count the cost of technology.

With technology, the costs we fail to count include start-up costs, periodic costs, and opportunity costs. We undertake solutions that take too long to implement and carry with them tremendous, unanticipated expenses. One ministry I know spends more than $10,000 per year that they cannot afford just on license fees, not to mention labor, for 1% of a technology that duplicates another system they already have. Two other ministries spent millions (with an “M”) on new, replacement technologies and all they produced were cost overruns. Don’t become another technology tragedy.

What to Do Instead

We need a technology that helps produce better decisions about technology. Well, here’s a list:

  1. Get in touch, really in touch, with the problems that need solving and don’t take your eyes off them. I have been in many meetings where after long and complex discussion about solutions, someone asks, “So, what is the problem we are trying to solve?” Silence often ensues. We have forgotten or never described the problem out loud. In objective, quantifiable terms. You and your team must agree ahead of the meeting with the expert what it is you are trying to accomplish and why and how you’ll know when you’ve accomplished it. This takes persistence.
  2. Demand explanations you can understand from your experts. It’s sad that the leaders responsible and accountable for churches and ministries so often are cowed by technology experts and abdicate problem solving to them. This is pride. It’s hard to keep asking for a clearer explanation of what experts propose to do or have done. But you must keep trying until you get satisfaction. Pray for humility about this.
  3. Test every idea, plan and progress report against your goals. You have to actually have goals in order to do this. Don’t wait until the end of the project when a Board member asks, “So, how did this project go so very wrong?”
  4. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. You’ll choke. Experts should be able to demonstrate progress as they go. This is especially true for people who build websites. They should be able to produce a clear, written description what they will do or a working model without spending lots of valuable time. You have the right to insist on this.

I want to encourage pastors and lay leaders, executives and managers to tread very carefully as they make their way through the technology jungle. Don’t become snared by your shyness when talking about technology solutions, and don’t be intimidated by experts who are great at talking to machines, but not as good with clients. Put mission first and demand results. Ask for help with what ails you, but watch out for the fly in the ointment.

Future Topics

  • Volunteers or Paid Consultants?
  • Networks – Who Needs ’em?
  • New Media – New to Whom?
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