One issue I've been rationalising my feelings on recently is that of the "electronic church". Not a full-blown "virtual church", with no physical congregation, but just conventional church enhanced by new technology. Since becoming a Christian I have been involved with five churches, congregations, fellowships, call them what you will. All have been what might be described as mainstream and reasonably demographically varied. My membership of the first two predated the internet revolution, although they have perfectly reasonable little websites now, inevitably giving more information about the exquisite architecture and the occasional cream tea than what really matters, but hey.
The latter three have increasingly less excuse for on-line mediocrity. The first of those, I was involved in putting together a small and static website, but it became obvious no-one else was remotely interested. Long after it became hopelessly out of date because no-one could be bothered to maintain it after I left, it still peddled its misinformation. Eventually it was taken down and replaced with a "coming soon" message for a new site. That new site recently went on line, and appears to comprise just a badly-designed and wonkily-scanned letter head. The middle of the three isn't doing too badly. The congregation is typically a bit younger and more technologically aware, and after a shaky start, they seem to do quite well with their reasonably well-updated website and emailed supposedly-daily news digests. An on-line prayer forum failed dismally though, and efforts to set up discussion mailing lists were blocked for no reason other than lack of understanding, so not everything's rosy. In that we start to see the problem: everyone realises that "going electronic" is a desirable thing to do, but most people (including those typically making the significant decisions, unfortunately) have never used the internet beyond looking at a couple of websites and sending an email, so do not understand the potential that is there, the choices there are, and the pitfalls to beware of.
Finally we have my current church, which a year or so ago was talked into leasing a content management system geared towards churches. It's powerful and flexible, and its flaws are slowly being addressed. But having been involved in the management of our site for a while, I can see that without major attitude changes, it's going to be just as doomed as any I have seen in the past - and cost an awful lot in the process. The trouble is the same problem that blighted the first of the three churches: no-one's interested! People still prefer their notices on a sheet of paper, perhaps a dozen (mainly rank-and-file) members log in to the website in any month, and most forthcoming events only get mentioned on-line by virtue of being logged in the definitive hall-booking calendar. I have suggested feasible technical improvements to the company producing the back-end system, to enable sites to be "pushed" towards their congregations more effectively (probably three-quarters of our number have internet access, just understandably can't be bothered to look at a website that has probably not recently changed) but there has been no progress so far. Ultimately, the good intention is there, but not the conviction to carry it through properly. And we always have to remember that quarter without the internet access, and that electronic communications have technical problems and so on. Although, as I have already said, everyone appreciates the place of technology, I think some people are rightly scared of going "fully electronic"; they are resisting out of principle as much as anything, but let's not have a baby/bathwater scenario.
I'm not at all surprised by any of the experiences above. What it comes down to is that the "information age" is not something that established congregations are about to embrace. If a new congregation set up that specifically emphasised its electronic communications and so on from the word go, I am sure it would be a significantly different matter. But would we want a church full of geeks?