From Gutenberg to GPT:

The church’s need for technological adaptation

Jonathan Walter is a pastor serving as Ministerial Association media and communications manager, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

Kodak was once a dominant force in the photography industry. Throughout the twentieth century, the company was synonymous with film photography, commanding a staggering 90 percent of the American film market. However, change was brewing within its own walls.

In 1975, a Kodak engineer named Steve Sasson invented the first digital camera.1 This groundbreaking device, which could capture black-and-white images at a resolution of 0.01 megapixels, represented a significant departure from film. Sasson presented his invention to Kodak’s executives, but they were not enthusiastic about it. The prospect of digital technology threatened Kodak’s established, successful film business, and they chose not to pursue it.

As the new millennium arrived, digital cameras and smartphones, equipped with increasingly improving high-quality cameras, started to gain popularity. The convenience of digital photography appealed to consumers, and they began to abandon film. Kodak, having failed to recognize the potential of digital photography early on, was slow to adapt to this shift.

By the time Kodak started to focus on digital, it was already too late. The company, once a leader in its field, was unable to keep up with the rapid changes in technology and consumer preferences. In 2012, Kodak filed for bankruptcy, marking the end of an era. This turn of events serves as a lesson on the importance of being open to new technologies and being able to adapt to change.

The importance of adaptation

Similar stories can be told of countless companies that lost their edge and market dominance due to a failure to accept and adapt to revolutionary emerging technologies, such as the internet, smartphones, digital music, electric vehicles, and video streaming, to name a few.

While not every technological invention may directly impact the work of the church and how ministry is being done, many times, we do seem to be late to the game when it comes to utilizing new technology for the purpose of God’s mission. This reality can be frustrating, especially to members of the younger generation who see the potential but may not have the authority or opportunities to help the church with implementation.

Technology trailblazers

New emerging technology provides the church with a small window of opportunity to take advantage of its novelty in the eyes and experience of the general public. Being an early adopter can, depending on its execution, showcase relevancy as well as help get the message out in a more impactful way.

Let’s not forget how it was Protestant Christians who, as technology trailblazers, utilized one of the greatest media revolutions in history—the printing press. The Bible became one of the first major works printed by Gutenberg’s invention. The Reformation might not have had such a large and earth-shattering impact if it wasn’t for this, in its time, brand-new, cutting-edge technology.

Exploring what makes sense

As the world is facing and embracing the next here-to-stay technological revolution in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), we must be proactive in understanding, learning, and utilizing the tools it provides for the sake of ministry and evangelism. However, AI is much more complex than previous software and the mobile and digital device inventions of recent history. It is, therefore, crucial that, while exploring the options and using what makes sense, we also recognize the ethical, theological, and moral implications that AI brings to the table, both now and in the coming decades.

“The simple believe anything, but the prudent give thought to their steps” (Prov. 14:15, NIV).

May God help us navigate the ever more complex world of digital and AI “power tools” as we utilize what is good and worthwhile in our gospel work and outreach.

  1. Bill Hedrick, “Meet the Inventory of the First Digital Camera,” Photographer, May 9, 2021, https://thephotographeronline.com/current-issue/meet-the-inventor-of-the-first-digital-camera/.

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Jonathan Walter is a pastor serving as Ministerial Association media and communications manager, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

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