Excellent Resource for Pastors

Luke Italiano

4 Stars

October 20, 2012

Viral: How Social Networking Is Poised to Ignite Revival by Leonard Sweet

Have you noticed that our culture has changed? Sure, it’s been in a state of upheaval about every decade for quite a while, but there’s something… different about the upcoming generation.

Sweet has noticed the difference. This book is incredibly useful for those who want to figure out the differences and how to harness them. Rather than slipping into what could have been an easy, “The next generation rocks and here’s why!” or “The next generation is going to have to shape up or have a crappy world,” Sweet walks a very good middle ground showing the strengths and weaknesses of the younger generation.

Sweet proposes two “types” of people: Gutenbergers and Googlers. Gutenbergers prefer paper books and logic. They prefer being told how it is. Googlers, in contrast, live technology and prefer stories. He’s very clear in presenting the two groups as points along a spectrum and provides a few tools to discover where you are. I happen to straddle the line but lean Googler. Sweet also points out that this isn’t a pure generational divide either; there are plenty of younger people that are Gutenbergers even as there are plenty of older folks who are Googlers.

As I mentioned, the book is very useful in differentiating and identifying differing characteristics that exist within a normal congregation. It also helps to pull apart some of the tangle that exists when the two groups interact. It gives some great tips for involving Googlers in a Gutenberger congregation that I’ll be using.

However, the subtitle is… a little overblown, in my opinion. “Poised to Ignite Revival”? Not so much. Poised to reach people with Jesus in their native languages using the technology that they grew up with? Yes.

What this book helped me most with is tackle what so many people don’t seem to understand. It’s not that those who are attached to their phones are “out of touch” or shallow. It’s that they operate differently. They are a different culture.

If I went to Africa to become a missionary, I’d try to understand the culture and speak Jesus in its language. Not change Jesus at all, mind you. I don’t want to take away from or add to God’s Word. Rather, I want to speak God’s Word clearly in words and ways they can understand. Why would I treat those who are wed to their phones as anything different? Or, in my case, why would I treat an organist who just doesn’t get piano music in church any differently?

I mentioned before that according to the book, I personally straddle the line between the two groups. That means I have something to offer: I can be a bridge and interpreter.

The book isn’t all perfect, though. Sweet tries to balance talking to several different groups without offending; he’s shooting for a large audience. Because of that, he avoids pretty much any but the most generic theological statement. He also states that Googlers are turned off by divisive statements – they like working together – so we should learn to avoid “rules” of theology and simple work together. He’s quick to backtrack after that statement and say there are certain things that we must agree on, and that he doesn’t want to toss out theology, but I suspect that those who want to toss out any doctrinal statements they don’t like could use this book to support themselves.

Despite that, the book is very useful for demographic data and ideas on how best to implement that data.

If you’re looking for ways to understand and communicate with the “other culture” or understand why church doesn’t seem to interest them, I highly recommend this book. It hit me square between the eyes: how my congregation does church doesn’t speak their culture’s language. I have a lot to think about. If you’re looking for a book that very well balances the positives and negatives of this culture, check it out. Sweet doesn’t paint a rosy picture, nor is he doom and gloom. I greatly appreciate that realistic look at what’s coming.