Tag Archives: technology

How many churches are there?

Have you ever wondered exactly how many churches are in an area? I have often wondered that so recently I undertook the task of collecting a record of churches in Georgia1, about 10,000 total, and plotting them out in a heat map.

Click here to see the result.2

I’ll continue to develop this visualization to make it more useful and interactive. If you are interested in helping out or have any suggestions, questions, or comments feel free to contact me. If you want to donate to this project in order to see it expand (hosting is cheap but not free), feel free to send a donation.


  1. Data collected from Yahoo’s local search service via YQL. So blame data discrepancies on them. []
  2. Site uses a lot of experimental technology and is known to work best in Google Chrome. If you experience any difficulties please let me know. []
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Biometrics and the case for human uniqueness

A report from The Economist on the use of biometrics in security systems concludes with the line

And everyone would be better served if a good deal more was known about what it is, biologically, that makes each and everyone of us a unique human being.

This, after the report outlines how biometric systems can and have shown how biometrics such as fingerprints and even our very DNA (separate source) have been shown to not be as unique as we once believed. The final question, then, comes from operating on naturalistic assumptions that humans are merely the sum total of their physical components.

It’s only too bad that so many in our society have abandoned the classic notion that humans in particular are not merely complex machines. The concept of a soul is seen as foreign to so many in our culture. There is, however, mounting evidence that points towards the uniqueness of men as originating from somewhere other than the physical atoms that make up our bodies.

For an excellent treatment of this subject, I highly recommend philosopher JP Moreland‘s excellent work on the subject, here is a paper titled “Naturalism and the crisis of the soul”. Here is another overview of the subject by Greg Koukl titled “All mind, no brain”.

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The equalizing effect of the internet

The rapid growth of social media platforms and technologies have flattened and democratized the communications environment in ways we are just beginning to comprehend. –Dennis J. Moynihan, U.S. Navy’s Chief of Information1

A friend of mine once asked me why I thought it was the case that so many churches and ministries have failed to adopt a social media strategy. My answer for this, borne out of my deep seated cynicism for what Udo Middleman rightly calls “The Market-Driven Church“, is quite simple: They are afraid of the equalizing effect social media has.

It is all too common to read disparaging comments about bloggers by those who, in times past, would have been insulated from insults by “the common man”. Happily (for some anyway) those days of unequal access to a platform from which to share our opinions with a wide audience are long gone.

Mark Twain once cautioned his readers not to “start a fight with a man who buys his ink in barrels”. It used to be that if you wished to be heard you would start a newspaper. An expensive endeavor to say the least.

Now all we need to do is spend 5 minutes to create a blog on Blogger or WordPress.

True, this equalization brings with it the problem of having our world saturated with frivolous, unhelpful, sub-par, and often downright false information. However I believe Alexis de Tocqueville was right in his assessment that failure to discern good information from bad information is a failure on our part, that free access to “the press” is a net gain.

How much more civil would we be, how much more productive would our conversations be if we thought of every man as having the potential to reach millions overnight with their message?

When it comes to churches and ministries, empires will necessarily be changed. The one man show will likely not fare well. But with God’s grace and guidance, and a little help from a technology that is able to bring and enforce unparalleled equalization among the members of the body, mutual edification and a true ekklesia will once again thrive.

  1. This quote is from a synopsis titled ‘Navy’s social-media handbook is required reading for political campaigners‘. It has been recommended to business as well, and I would also highly recommend this to church businesses. []
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Knowing when to say no to new technology

In the West we tend to have a particularly hard time saying “no” to any new technology that comes along. This is rather unfortunate on our part. New technologies carry with them fundamental changes or shifts in our culture. And not every shift or change is well thought out, anticipated, or even beneficial.

In 2006 the Prime Minister of Cambodia, Hun Sen, decided to ban the use of camera phones after his wife inadvertently received pornographic pictures on her new phone.

I have written to the Minister of Telecommunications to delay the use of certain mobile phones. We can wait 10 more years until we have managed to improve morality in society. -Hun Sen

Of course, Hun was ridiculed at the time by almost every news outlet in the West. Who wouldn’t want a camera phone? What a Luddite

But with sexting becoming such a problem among teenagers I am left wondering. Was Hun Sen’s decision really so outlandish? What if Hun Sen was able to understand something we in the West desperately need to learn.

Namely, when to say no (or not yet) to new technology.

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Basic psychology of cyberspace

People act differently online than they do in person. I’m sure we all know this intuitively. And while some people, such as Marshall McLuhan have dared to pontificate on why this may be, what psychological work has been done to understand this phenomenon?

Here are a few excrips from a portion of a book, The Psychology of Cyberspace, by notable psychologist John Suler. The section these excripts come from is titled “The Basic Psychological Features of Cyberspace” and is worth reading in full.

Reduced Sensations

Can you see a person in cyberspace – his facial expressions and body language? Can you hear the changes in her voice? Whether an environment in cyberspace involves visual and/or auditory communication will greatly affect how people behave and the relationships that develop among those people. Multimedia gaming and social environments (such as the Palace), audio-video conferencing, podcasting, and internet-phoning surely are signs of the very sensory sophisticated environments to come. However, the sensory experience of encountering others in cyberspace – seeing, hearing, and COMBINING seeing and hearing – is still limited. For the most part people communicate through typed language. Even when audio-video technology becomes efficient and easy to use, the quality of physical and tactile interactions – for example, handshakes, pats on the back, dancing, hugs, kisses, or just walking together. – will be very limited or nonexistent, at least in the near future. The limited sensory experiences of cyberspace has some significant disadvantages – as well as some unique advantages – as compared to in-person encounters (see Showdown).

Texting

Despite the reduced sensory quality of text communication, it should not be underestimated as a powerful form of self expression and interpersonal relating. E-mail, chat, instant messaging, SMS, and blogs continue to be the most common forms of social interaction for reasons beyond their ease of use and low cost compared to multimedia tools. Drawing on different cognitive abilities than talking and listening, typing one’s thoughts and reading those of another is a unique way to present one’s identity, perceive the identity of one’s online companion, and establish a relationship. E-mail relationships in particular have evolved into a very complex, text-based form of communication – with chat or IM relationships approaching that complexity.

Equalized Status

In most cases, everyone on the internet has an equal opportunity to voice him or herself. Everyone – regardless of status, wealth, race, gender, etc. – starts off on a level playing field. Some people call this the “net democracy.” Although one’s status in the outside world ultimately will have some impact on one’s life in cyberspace, there is some truth to this net democracy ideal. What determines your influence on others is your skill in communicating (including writing skills), your persistence, the quality of your ideas, and your technical know-how.

Recordability

Most online activities, including e-mail correspondence and chat sessions, can be recorded and saved to a computer file. Unlike real world interactions, the user in cyberspace can keep a permanent record of what was said, to whom, and when. Because these interactions are purely document-based, we may even go so far as to say that the relationship between people ARE the documents, and that the relationship can be permanently recorded in its entirety. These records may come in very handy to the user. You can reexperience and reevaluate any portion of the relationship you wish. You can use quoted text as feedback to the partner. One sign of a flame war is the blossoming of the infamous arrows >> that highlight the ammunition of quoted text. Although it’s tempting to think of the saved text as an objective record of some piece of the relationship, it’s fascinating to see how different your emotional reactions to the same exact record can be when you reread it at different times. Depending on our state of mind, we invest the recorded words with all sorts of meanings and intentions.

Although the ability to record has many advantages, there is a downside. Because people know that everything they say and do in cyberspace can be tracked and recorded, they may experence anxiety, mistrust, and even paranoia about being online. Should I be careful about what I say and where I go? Will it come back to haunt me? Who might have access to these records?

It is important for us to understand the landscape of cyberspace if we, especially as Christians whose goal is to proclaim the good news, are to operate effectively in it.

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Technology as a god

Technology has become a god “in the sense that people believe technology works, that they rely on it, that it makes promises, that they are bereft when denied access to it, that they are delighted when they are in its presence, that for most people it works in mysterious ways, that they condemn people who speak against it, that they stand in awe of it, and that in the born-again mode, they will alter their lifestyles, their schedules, their habits, and their relationships to accommodate it. If this be not a form of religious belief, what is?”

Neil Postman, The End of Education

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Internet Ministry

I love reading Alan Knox’s blog, Assembling of the Church, mostly because Alan provides clear insights into the Christian life as expressed in Scripture. Recently Alan has written a few posts on internet ministry wherein he explores the role technology, and social media in particular, plays in regards to evangelization and discipleship. Generally exploring what the life of a Christian in relationship with both believers and non-believers alike looks like when expressed in a synthetic communications medium such as the internet.

Here is an exscript of Alan’s post titled “Internet Ministry” which, I believe, captures the essence of what could be the best thing to happen to Christianity since the printing press.

In my two previous posts concerning internet ministry (“What is it?” and “Evangelism and Discipleship“), I defined internet ministry as “the use of online services, apps, functions, and technologies in order to serve people with the intention of helping those people grow in maturity towards Christ” and concluded that even if we pursue evangelism online, our ultimate goal should be discipleship – that is, not simply making converts, but helping people maturing in their walk with Jesus Christ.

In this post, I am will discuss one of the major benefits of serving people using online resources, and I will show how this benefit can also be a disadvantage.

Of course, the benefit that I’m talking about (as indicated in the title of this post) is the global connection, meaning that by using online resources we are able to connect to people all around the world. Until very recently (less than 100 years), if I wanted to communicate with someone in another country, it would take days, weeks, even months or more. Today, I can talk with people from every country on the planet in seconds.

In previous generations, the only people who could carry on conversations with people of different religions were those who traveled to different countries, or those with neighbors who were part of different religions. Today, anyone with a computer or cell phone with an internet connection can communicate and interact with people from any number of belief systems.

So, the ability to communicate with other people has been drastically improved through the use of online resources. Because of the advancements in communication, many have compared the invention of the internet to the invention of the printing press. And, in many ways, the two inventions are similar. Both inventions dramatically increased the ability to communicate ideas.

Alan goes on to discuss how the apostles used long-distance mediums of communication, letters, to edify, encourage, and generally disciple the early churches. He also goes on to caution us against forming an undue attachment with a particular medium of communication. Specifically neglecting interpersonal or face-to-face communication.

Overall I would say that Alan is on to something that could be pivotal for the body of Christ. What I mean by that is that just like the printing press gave the average Christian access to the Word of God, advancements in technology in general and social media in particular can give the average Christians access to each other.

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