The last two decades have seen dramatic political, economic, social and cultural changes affecting virtually every dimension of American Christianity. This new environment has definitely had its impact on Resource Centers and will demand new thinking and new models, practices and technologies in order to support and address the needs of the congregations and judicatories we serve. Addressing the spiritual needs of all generations will continue to be a challenge as we have also been impacted by lower budgets, increase of the cost of goods and more dependence on digital technology.
Many of us have seen fewer visitors to our Resource Centers. We are called upon to be out and about with those we serve, bringing resources (and our expertise) to the local congregation. We are learning how to put our collections online, develop more comprehensive websites, and engage in social media. And more of the resources, especially curricula and faith formation materials are available digitally – either downloadable or totally online.
In September 2009, CNN published a story, “The Future of Libraries: With or Without Books”:
“Books are being pushed aside for digital learning centers and gaming areas. ‘Loud rooms’ that promote public discourse and group projects are taking over the bookish quiet. Hipster staffers who blog, chat on Twitter and care little about the Dewey Decimal System are edging out old-school librarians.”
The Digital World
The relevant Resource Center of the future will be a marketplace for ideas. Forward-looking directors (and their judicatories) will create a conversational loop with its clientele. Being active on Facebook, Digg and Twitter they will share the latest news, resources and trends in ministry. As digital books replace traditional printed publications, the role of a Resource Center Director will be one of discernment and vetting much more than in previous decades.
As Phyllis Tickle states, we are entering into a new Reformation. The cultural changes brought about by the Gutenberg Press had an enormous impact on Christianity. That new way to interact with a surplus of content never before accessible to the common masses is not that different than what we are experiencing today. Today social interaction is a form of content itself. It is up to Resource Centers to take an active role in the creation and collaboration within this ethereal user generated content. Our role is to offer our expertise and guidance in how congregations and individuals interact with all that is now offered via the web (and more), much of which is not in keeping with our traditions and theological perspectives.
Many of us are digital immigrants (those of us born in the era of rotary telephones and manual typewriters) who are trying to catch up with “digital natives” (those who have always had desktop and palm-sized computers). John Roberto of Lifelong Faith Associates has spent a great deal of time and energy in recent years imagining what faith formation would look like if our churches fully embraced using 21st century technology. One of the ways he has shown how this can be done is through “curating” resources via the Faith Formation Learning Exchange. I have also tried to build such a resource site through my work with Building Faith: An Online Community for Christian Formation Leaders.
What does this mean for today’s Resource Centers?
Today’s Resource Center needs to be agile and collaborative. We need to be in partnership with our ecumenical brothers and sisters. We need to be in touch with the local congregation by building relationships and offering easy access to new ideas and materials that have been vetted by experts – us! And we need to keep abreast of what excites people, how they learn in today’s world and what the trends are in the world around us that has such an impact on our church.
One of the resolutions to come before the 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church in Indianapolis this July will ask the church for funding to create such an “Online Resource Center” in order to “Build the Continuum.” During its work over the past triennium, The Standing Commission on Lifelong Christian Education and Formation saw the increase of decreases – churches and dioceses cutting back on budgets and positions that help “resource” the church. The local congregation now depends on volunteers already strapped for time to search out curricula, best practices, training and ideas. If The Episcopal Church wanted to support folks in their ministries, providing an online clearing house of vetted links, resources and networking options would provide the vehicle for such collaboration.
What will the future hold?
 Tickle, Phyllis. The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why (Baker Books, 2008)
 These terms come from Julie Anne Lytle in her article, “Moving Online: Faith Formation in a Digital Age” (Lifelong Faith Journal, Spring 2020) and in her forthcoming book, Faith Formation 4.0: Cultivating an Ecology of Faith in a Digital Age (Morehouse, 2013).
- Investing in the Future (rowsofsharon.com)