James Thompson introduces you to the tough state in which the church is today, in regard to software usage, and takes a peak to FOSS as a solution.
The problem within...
The church is in a tough state right now, trying to reestablish its identity in a post-modern thinking and increasingly fast paced world. Technology has jumped by leaps and bounds yet the average church is probably in the early to mid ninety's at best technology wise. And on top of that there exist many problems in many churches relating to how they are using the technology they do have.
For an example: I have heard of one church that has no less that twelve computers between secretaries, ministers and other locations in the church as well as two servers. But of the operating system and application software they use on a daily basis only one of the licenses is legal. And I can't imagine this situation is too atypical.
The truth is that this church doesn't operate this way because they want to, it is because they have to, at least in their mind. They have a budget for IT of a few hundred dollars a year and with the age of their systems that is barely enough to cover repair costs. There is no way this church with its current mindset and budgetary restrictions could handle becoming legal in terms of software licensing. But even if they could, would that really be the best thing? I mean their accounting software releases a new version every year, Windows; which is the OS in use, is updated every few years and other bits of their software are updated on varying schedules. There is no feasible way they could keep up to date and remain legal in terms of licensing, so instead they steal the software. YES, I am going to say it, even though I hate everything about proprietary software licensing practices they are stealing according to the letter of the law, and yet there are those in the church who will try to justify it. I will not bother discussing their justifications because they are idiotic at best.
I have to ask myself, what kind of an example is this setting? Church leaders stand in the pulpit and preach against sin and that people need to get right with God and all the while, every day the church is using software that is stolen? That is hypocrisy and blatant, and in many cases unashamed and unrepentant hypocrisy! It is a tragedy that our churches are like this.
Now please hear me, unchurched skeptic, not all churches are ripe with this and other forms of hypocrisy but there are enough out there that you should be suspicious of the message they preach. But I implore you to not abandon the teachings of God because fallen, sinful men can't live up to what they preach. If we could live up to every bit of our preaching we would have no need of the Grace of God but because of our sinfulness we still have to rely on His mercy, so please don't misunderstand my message here. Also, not all churches knowingly engage in piracy, some are simply naive and don't know what they are doing is illegal. Also remember that although I am chiefly concerned with these practices in the church, they are no less common in secular institutions.
It is a tragedy and a systemic problem that our churches are in such a condition. But what is the answer, what is the way to turn this around? Well there are multiple answers, depending on how the church wants to go.
* First, the most drastic response is that the church could abandon technology that they can't legitimately afford and instead take a step back. This is dangerous because the church risks becoming disengaged from the world they so desperately need to reach out to by become irrelevant in the eyes of our increasingly tech-oriented society. But even though this option is not a particularly good one, it is still a viable option.
* Second, the church could "suck it up," cut the checks and make technology spending a priority. This is not a good option either however because most churches are doing good just making budget to pay staff and fund essential ministries. And because of these budgetary strains this option would either require reduction in ministries or reduction in ministerial staffing that would lead to the same thing as the first option, a disengagement from the world due to lack of ability to minister rather than a potential lack of relevance.
* Thirdly, the church could actively seek out an alternative to the traditional way they think of technology. Change their mindset and look for a better solution. Thanks to the FOSS movement this is becoming more of a viable option every day and it is my goal over the next few weeks to begin examining this new and exciting option and offering my suggestions for how churches can begin to rethink the role and acquisition of technology in the church.
I hope this little teaser has peaked your interest and will bring you back over the next few weeks to see what I am going to be putting together. Next time I will discuss the differences between our traditional software monoculture as it exists in many churches today and the intriguing possibilities offered by the FOSS opportunities and products out there.
Come back next time!
-- James Thompson