Accelerating the Great Commission: Where Do We Need More Research?
Written by TM of JC on June 29, 2021
Question 4: Where is further research needed to accelerate the Great Commission?
We live in a world that’s always conducting research. Because we are bombarded by various kinds of research every day, we tend to forget the purpose of research. The purpose of research can range from information gathering to problem-solving or to increase our understanding in an area, field of study, or discipline.
For the church, the question of “where further research is needed?” can be met with a warm reception or a cold rejection. There may be some who believe the church doesn’t need to do any further research and all churches need to do is to be faithful to the Bible and let God worry about the results—especially when it comes to the Great Commission. On the other hand, there may be those hungry to receive the latest research so they can pivot their strategy with the hope of being more effective missionally.
We at the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center and Lausanne North America believe in research. Therefore, we welcome more information, data, and research in areas with the hope of becoming more effective at the mission.
On our Lausanne Listening Call last March, over two hundred christian leaders shared what areas they believed more research was needed in to accelerate the Great Commission today. After spending some time with the data, we broke down the majority of what was shared into the following three topics/areas where more research is needed in order for the church in North America to become more effective at participating in the Great Commission.
1.) Learning how to be human in a technopoly.
Neil Postman in his book, Technopoly, notes three classifications of culture: tool-using cultures, technocracies, and technopolies.
Particularly from the late 18th century towards the later part of the 20th, America was predominantly a technocracy (to use Postman’s language). In a technocracy, inventions and innovations of technologies are used to enhance life and make it more efficient. Postman writes:
Technocracy… sped up the world. We could get to places faster, do things faster, accomplish more in a shorter time. . . . There were empires to build, opportunities to exploit, exciting freedoms to enjoy, especially in America. There, on the wings of technocracy, the United States soared to unprecedented heights as a world power (Technopoloy, 45).
Even with technology enhancing life, making it more efficient to live, move, and be in the world, there was still this essence of human beings controlling technology for and towards a greater purpose.
Times have changed. For the past 20 years or so, we have tapped into the digital age and experienced the technological revolution. The age we now live in is what Postman calls a technopoly.
Different than in a technocracy, human life, in a technopoly, finds its meaning in machinery and technique (52). Human beings, in a technopoly, are consumed by technology. Technology becomes more valuable than being human because technology is what gives humans their value—what you can do through technology, what you can buy through/with technology, what you can view through technology, etc. And what happens in such an environment is the slow erosion of what it means to be human.
In this digital revolution, this technopoly—where people tend to consume the digital and the technological without ever asking the question should we, or how much should we—the church needs more research. We need more theological research and study around what it means to be human contextualized to those in the West. We also need more qualitative research around the negative and damaging effects of technology on the theological essence of what it means to be human as well as best practices for individuals and families to control technology rather than allowing technology to control them.
2.) Understanding and leveraging the power of data, social media, and online engagement for the church in a digital age.
There are certainly positive upsides to living in a digital age. While the church, in general, tends to be slow in adopting new innovations and technologies, it may be a good thing for more research to be conducted with churches that leverage the power of data, social media, and online engagement for greater ministry and mission impact.
I believe churches need a comprehensive strategy to reach the world—especially the people in North America. Churches can no longer employ an analog ministry and mission strategy in a digital world. However, I think many churches will need to see the proof of the strategy before they adopt the strategy. That’s why more research needs to be done.
We need research that measures the effectiveness of online engagement. Churches need to know the best practices to reach people, keep people engaged, and what prompts them to connect with the church from the online world. Churches need to know how to grow their social media platform—not so they can be more popular but so that Jesus can become more famous! We need research on how to leverage online data for a city, community, or zip code that may be used to craft sermon series, launch new ministries, or plant new churches. Churches need to know how they can leverage the digital space for effective discipleship without the fear of replacing physical gatherings and community.
In short, we live in a time where information and data are endless. Furthermore, our potential reach to disseminate information and knowledge is limitless. However, with the proper research in the hands of church leaders, churches can utilize digital platforms to have wider and deeper participation in the Great Commission.
3.) Different models and levels of being a multi-ethnic church.
Multi-ethnicity or the multi-ethnic church has become a trending topic for North America over the past few years. I see this as a good thing as churches should strive to reflect the community and cities as they give witness to the power of the gospel that unites people in their diversity.
However, there’s not a one-size-fits-all multi-ethnic model for churches. As anyone in this space would agree, multi-ethnicity is not only complex and messy but also difficult. Under the banner of multi-ethnicity, there are multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-cultural, and multi-socioeconomic elements. Each layer, under multi-ethnicity, adds a level of complexity and difficulty.
Since the rise of multi-ethnic resources over the last two decades, North America has experienced a rise in the number of multi-ethnic churches. I believe this trend will continue—especially as North America’s demographics become more diverse. However, more research is needed to understand the practical outworking of this theological impetus. In short, we need more research around theories and models for churches desiring to be multi-ethnic.
Bob Whitesel, Professor of Missional Leadership at Wesley Seminary, wrote an article a few years back entitled, “Five Types of Multicultural Churches: A New Paradigm Evaluated and Differentiated.” In this article, Whitesel writes the following:
This article assesses the strengths and weaknesses of differe