I recently watched the Will Smith movie Collateral Beauty, which centers on his character, Howard, and his response to a terrible loss. The unusual title — indeed, the theme of the movie — is illuminated during a conversation in which an older woman tells a younger one not to miss the collateral beauty in a death she is facing. By that, she means that out of tragedy and difficulty can come new life and opportunities.
The movie struck me as particularly appropriate to Lent, Easter and the story of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Death and loss are painful, but they also can bring unexpected grace. This is a theme we face personally and as a society dealing with the radical changes the world presents us today — especially when it comes to technology and the disruption it has and will continue to cause.
Journalist and multiple Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman’s most recent book, Thank You for Being Late, discusses the age of “dizzying acceleration” we’re living in and how to cope with it. “In two and a half years researching this book, he had to interview all the main technologists at least twice, because things changed so quickly,” The New York Times review of the book says.
In a similar vein, Netscape founder Marc Andreessen famously said in a 2011 Wall Street Journal editorial that software is eating the world, and he has been proven right. For example, Airbnb, Uber and Lyft, and streaming services Pandora, Spotify and Netflix have upended their industries in the past decade; they may be in the travel, transportation and entertainment businesses, but they’re made possible by software and the internet. They’ve brought about the end of doing things one way and the beginning of something very different.
While such technological advances are exciting and present many opportunities, they also mean the world is changing and we need to change with it, or get left behind. Those adjustments can bring struggle and loss — in this case, of “the way we’ve always done it.” But technology can be your friend; it certainly is to the millions of church members who have embraced smartphones and laptops and use them to run their lives.
We see more technology in operations, communications and services, but churches are famous for lagging in that area. Sure, one reason is money. But even adoption of electronic giving, which can help cost-effectively manage your budget and increase contributions, trails churchgoers’ expressed preference for it, according to our Churchgoer Giving Study.
In the world that Friedman and Andreessen describe, it’s time for churches to shift from a singular reliance on the collection plate to a multi-faceted approach to giving, one that offers all sorts of ways for members to contribute to the church when and how they want to.
After all, we can book a traditional hotel room or a private home, inn, castle or houseboat; take the train, hire a limo, hail a taxi or Uber and Lyft our way to the airport; listen to a CD, play the radio or stream our music. Today’s world is about options — for many, one of the positive aspects of technological change. Why shouldn’t the church offer the same for an important need such as collecting the tithes and offerings that fund critical ministry and missions?
In his own op-ed piece that discusses his book, Friedman says, “Accelerations in technology, globalization and Mother Nature are like a hurricane in which we’re all being asked to dance.” Giving up an old way of doing things, no matter how good or necessary the reason, is a kind of death. But learning to dance in the storm created by change can bring new energy to our lives and work, including the work of the church: a collateral beauty all its own.