In reading Anthony Elliott’s Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction, one gains perspective on the landscape of contemporary social theories and global ideas. Anthony covers issues on the local, national, and global level and points out their influence in many aspects of life. From the outset, Elliot states the book will cover the five themes, in this blog post I want to draw attention to, in short order, Elliot’s first theme, the relationship between individual and society.
In the Christian faith, the revealing of God as the triune God of Father, Son and Spirit speaks to a multiplicity of theology subjects, but at the core, it speaks to the relational nature of God. In speaking of the triune relationship, Kathryn Tanner writes, “The triune God is a God who perfectly communicates the goodness of Godself among the three Persons of the Trinity in perfect self-unity. In the scientific realm of quantum mechanics, entanglement speaks to the relational nature of all things at the particle level. In Elliot’s work, he also brings to light the importance of relationship in all of the social theories that are covered, but I want to particular lean into the social theory of Manuel Castells: The Network Society. A Network Society is essentially people having the ability not only to be connected via technology but dependent on it. By charting the rise of global information networks and the network economy, Castell declares, “advances in information technology, and especially the rise of the internet, are fundamentally transforming the core structure of networks in our time. While all may not agree on Castell’s social theory, there is no denying the influence of technology on people and the church, which is where I turn to next.
One of the most natural places to see the effect of technology on the church is the multi-site church model. In the year 1990 according to the best figures, there were only ten multi-site churches. By the year 2012, there were five-thousand multi-site churches. Video technological advancements have made it possible for one pastor to be in multiple locations at the same time. We even experienced the phenomena during the Hong Kong advance as we visited Saddleback Hong Kong. While one can see this through the lens of McDonaldization or Globalization and possibly limiting the individual expression in a different society. One can also see the benefits as Pastor Lee expressed in his own words, he (Pastor Warren) is the Sunday pastor, and I am the Monday pastor, meaning having a multiplicity of leaders offering different gifts to one body. This understanding allows for the network society (in this case the church) to be connected through technology literally on a global scale while also having a local impact.
In closing, another example of the benefit of technology hits closer to home as we have recently started experimenting with online classes for our church. A few years ago, we did some internal research, and the findings told us that the average drive time of our congregation was around 45 minutes. In comparison studies have shown twenty-one percent say their drive is 5 minutes or less, forty-seven percent say it takes them 6 to 15 minutes and twenty-three percent commute 16 to 30 minutes. That means 91% of churchgoers are under a 30-minute drive and only nine percent say it takes them longer than 30 minutes to drive to church. As you can see, our church on average falls into the nine percent and makes it that much harder to get people to come back to church on another “off” night. Therefore, we are trying to leverage the power of technology where they do not have to drive and be in the building to take a class. One benefit that we have seen so far is the increase in people wanting to take part (as in signups have increased). While we are still early in the testing phase one negative that I have noticed is the issue of connected versus relational. The triune God reveals Godself as a relational being, and I have come to understand that human beings at the core are also relational beings. In his book, A Failure of Nerve Friedman defines leadership as, “essentially an emotional process rather than a cognitive phenomenon”. In this case, the cognitive phenomenon equals, we are all in one place via technology (connected) but interaction is limited and measuring emotions is limited at best and non-existent at worst (no relational aspect). Again, we are early in the process, and maybe this tension of connected but not relational can be worked out through different teaching styles, but I am leaning more to an online and in-person type class, with the in-person meeting having longer gaps in between to account for the travel.
 Anthony Elliott, Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction, (Routledge: New York, NY, 2014) 11.
” Kathryn Tanner, Jesus, Humanity and the Trinity: A Brief Systematic Theology, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 35.
 “Quantum Entanglement.” Wikipedia. November 06, 2018. Accessed November 07, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_entanglement.
 Elliott, Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction, 309.
 “Multi-site Church.” Wikipedia. June 07, 2018. Accessed November 07, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multi-site_church.
 George Ritz defines McDonaldization as “the process by which the principles of fast food restaurants are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society and the rest of the world”, See page 39 for more: Anthony Elliott, Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction, (Routledge: New York, NY, 2014) 39.
 “How Far Do Americans Drive to Church?” Facts & Trends. September 21, 2017. Accessed November 07, 2018. https://factsandtrends.net/2017/09/21/far-americans-drive-church/.
 Edwin H. Friedman, Margaret M. Treadwell, and Edward W. Beal, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, (New York: Seabury Books, 2007), 13.