By Eddie Pipkin

I’m a doodler.  In a former life, I drew quite a bit.  I actually made a few bucks drawing political cartoons back in the day.  I honed this skill in, of all places, high school physics, where I doodled through through each day’s lectures, developing a solid caricature of the instructor.  All of my (handwritten) notes through high school and college were adorned with copious swirls, arrows, shadings, and whimsical scribbles.  And it turns out, science says I was right to indulge.  Such low tech, playful note-taking apparently helped me retain more info, make more connections, and release more creativity.  Research reveals that low tech strategies can promote just those outcomes.  So, while I’m a big fan of high-tech solutions to solve ministry problems, don’t turn your back on the power of low tech to do big things.  Sometimes, it’s the better way.

First of all, if you are a person who still prefers to make handwritten notes on a yellow legal pad, don’t let others ridicule you.  There are many benefits of physically writing down notes and ideas (as considered in this article, “Want to be Successful? Start Doodling.”).  Author Jordan Taylor notes that doodling has a bad rap.  It looks like we’re being lazy, daydreaming, or unfocused, but the combination of physical and mental interplay merge to create a useful cognitive process:

The next time you’re stressed out at work, dwelling on a particular challenge or in need of a solution to a problem, start doodling. A growing body of research is proving that those erratic scribbles, random shapes and repetitive lines scrawled along the margins of your notebook can help boost memory and improve cognition while jumpstarting our creativity. It’s also been shown to simply help us calm down, relax and think clearly.

So, give yourself – and your team – permission to dawdle doodle-fully.  Or as a creativity exercise, take it a step further and encourage the process.  In our multitudinous meetings, we are increasingly a circle of people with screens laid out before us.  Try saying, “Okay, this week, no screens.  We are going to go old school with pen and paper only.  And by all means, doodle!  In fact, when we finish up, let’s show each other our ‘doodle notes.’  I have a prize here for the wildest note-doodles.”  [I might suggest one of those adult coloring books.]

I am not advocating the abandonment of our electronic note-taking or amazing planning apps.  But perhaps there is something to be said for taking contemporaneous notes live on paper and then transferring them later to their ultimate electronic home.  Yes, this sounds like double-work.  But it’s useful repetition.  The physical, old-school note-making has the positive effects noted above and then allows us to refine and revise our thoughts as we transfer it to the electronic portals from which it will be disseminated to our colleagues.  What we write down – not type down, but physically move pen or pencil across a page – we retain more faithfully.  That’s why I always enjoy seeing that old school practice of a sermon outline insert in the church bulletin, a place where people can interactively fill in blanks and take notes.  [Again, I emphasize: social media posts that follow up on a sermon are also an excellent interactive strategy, but it’s hard to slip a social media post into one’s Bible or tape it to one’s mirror for further reflection.  We should embrace the classic Methodist “both-and.”]

There are many areas of ministry in which the embrace of old school techniques can bear fruit.  We tend to think the millennials are rolling their eyes at us when we propose any solution that isn’t based on technology – and maybe the hip, young folk on your leadership team really are rolling their eyes at you – but there is plenty of evidence out there that the young singles and families who are searching for a church community are wanting to give some of that 24-7 connectivity a rest and slow things down to a more civilized pace.

To wit, the revival of the telephone call.  Remember that ancient technology in which rather than chatsnapping, gramming, tweeting, or texting in short ambiguous bursts, we actually “talked” at length about what was going on in our lives.  In her article in The Atlantic, “Talk to People on the Telephone: It’s Time to Start Calling Your Friends Again,” Amanda Mull notes that for people under 50, the telephone call has been supplanted by all those other efficient, smartphone-based options.  Texts and emails, however, come with their own hazards:

  • That chain of back-and-forth messages that never ends.
  • The loss of nuance and context that leads to misunderstandings and confusion.
  • The chaos of “group” communications.
  • The lack of intimacy and depth.
  • The obsession with getting everything written “just right” (including the pressure to attach just the perfect emoji to make up for that emotional nuance so easily reflected in good ol’ human speech).

One-on-one conversation eliminates many of those issues produced by fancier technical solutions, Mull writes:

Chatting on the phone provides the bliss of unreviewable, unforwardable, unsearchable speech. If something comes out a little weird, there’s no record of it (unless your conversation partner is secretly recording it, in which case you have deeper problems). If you misunderstand something, there’s no day-long email chain correcting your error. If a conversation has a tense moment, you can’t scroll back up to critique your performance until the heat death of the universe. Snapchat blew up a few years ago because pictures sent between users on the app disappeared 10 seconds after being viewed; talking to someone on the phone has provided the same freedom in verbal form since the days of Alexander Graham Bell.

In the end, old school communication is not only counter-intuitively sometimes more efficient, it is essential to promoting healthy relationships.  I don’t really like typing on the phone, so I have a rule that if a text conversation gets to four exchanges back and forth, I’m done with it and make a phone call.  In general, texting is great for quick logistics and checking in briefly on people in a “thinking of you” sense, but it must be supplemented by a good old-fashioned conversation on a regular basis.  There are plenty of congregational care stories in which people feel disconnected from their church because although they received the weekly e-news, the sermon follow-up text, the online survey, and an invitation to the discipleship video, no one took the time to have a “conversation” with them.

Likewise, our obsession with high-tech worship.  There are lots of bells and whistles, video projection systems, premium sound systems, and lighting systems that can set the tone of a room with the push a button.  But unless people feel like they are having a meaningful “conversation” with God, they find highly produced worship services to be an empty and unsatisfying experience.  The tech is a supplement, a tool, not the goal.  In researching this blog entry, I came across a thoughtful reflection on this topic (“Is Technology Enriching Our Worship?”), referencing a Mennonite global youth summit from 10 years ago, but wrestling with still relevant questions such as whether amplified sound drowns out collective singing and whether a tight, professional praise band usurps homegrown, culturally diverse worship expressions.  The author, Andy Brubacher Kaethler, makes a provocative claim:

Today, we are more likely to shape our understanding of who Jesus is and how he related to others by our own use of technology than we are to shape our use of technology by our understanding of who Jesus is and the nature of the kingdom Jesus inaugurates.

Tech has never been essential to core principles of discipleship, communication, and worship.  It has provided access and accessibility in powerful ways – just think about that printed Bible which revolutionized access to the Gospel – just think about the delightful ability to access multiple translations of that Gospel instantaneously with the smart device in your hand.  But the Gospel message is, and always was, lived out in intimate interactions between humans and their Creator and humans with one another.  We’re all just doodling along together.  And that’s just fine J

What are some intentional low-tech solutions you have employed in your ministry?  What are some examples of things you think are better achieved by a simpler approach?  What high-tech solutions are overblown and oversold?  On the other hand, what are some examples of things that are much better addressed with high-tech strategies?  Share your good thoughts, your questions, and your doodles in the comments section!  [And for bonus fun, check out the articles at Low-Tech Magazine for info on obsolete inventions and hacks for living off the grid.]