Peter Kerridge, Premier Media on "The Church in a Digital Age"

This is second of two blog posts based on my interview via phone with Peter Kerridge, CEO, Premier Media, London, UK on August 25, 2017. Part I of the interview appeared under the title “If Entrepreneurs Ran the Church – Then What?” on October 14, 2017


RG:         Entrepreneurs live in a world where they’re innovating, they’re taking risk, they’re embracing change, the world is constantly changing, society’s changing—and entrepreneurs thrive and in a sense benefit from that environment.  And then you have a church where typically there’s established leadership, there’s ways we always do things, there’s procedures, processes.  So what insights did you get from talking to these entrepreneurs?

PK:         The entrepreneurs were hopeful that things were able to be changed.  They all admitted that in their own environments they had all come up against a non-entrepreneurial mindset.  And they didn’t have any easy answers for that.  One strand of questioning was all about ministerial training and we know that ministerial training is very dated and really isn’t fit for purpose in a digital age.  The overall use of the word church and para-church post the i-phone is really, really challenging because you can have community on the telephone, you can have community on video chats, you can have community sitting in an office and if you’re sitting in a church hall you can have it in a congregation. 

There are lots of ways you can have community but generally churches define community as the folks that gather on a Sunday morning and are part of that particular worship process.  The whole idea of training and how ministers or church leaders interact with folk that are potentially under their care or working with them in communities, they all felt there were huge amounts of work to be done to help leaders understand what the context they’re working in is let alone the average congregation. 

So, yes, there was lots of hope but I can tell you that there a number of business people that are on the fringe of church life now who would have at one time been right at the heart of it and have just walked away in frustration that actually the faith that they profess and the faith that they really believe in doesn’t seem to be expressed very well through their local churches.

RG:         That could be said of every community I’ve researched whether it’s in Vancouver, Toronto, Texas, Singapore or Hong Kong.  But like you say, those entrepreneurs at one time would have been at the heart and now they’re on the fringe.  How do you get those people back in the centre? 

PK:         The UK has a history of Christian entrepreneurialism that went way beyond making a product but had an impact on society.  So this is the country which grew up Cadbury’s, Rowntrees and all of the major industrialists of a certain era seem to have had a social ethic which made sure that not only did they make money but that money trickled into society and what I think is the great tragedy is that right now there are many, many Christian men and women who have huge resource but do not feel that they can work alongside the established church community to make any meaningful difference and therefore they might put it into humanitarian causes that get to the heart of where they’re trying to get to quicker. 

But the problem you have, and this is a major problem, is that the only people who will invest in Christian initiatives are Christians.  If the Christians don’t feel able to do that, then Christian life and witness inevitably suffers and will continue to struggle.  This is a fundamental issue as to how do we envision about what could be in the terms of church. 

RG:         Would you say that there’s just a big gap between technology or innovation entrepreneurs and the culture of the church?

PK:         Premier has been running a digital conference for a decade now and an award scheme and I can count on one hand the number of senior church leaders who have been engaged with that project throughout a decade.  And that’s not because we haven’t invited them, offered them free tickets, offered them free dinners, offered them real insights to what’s going on. Generally, at this point, church leaders and certainly senior church leaders of a certain age, don’t understand it, don’t really want to understand it, they don’t think that this is really anything to do with them and their church.  So that might be a generational thing, but that’s definitely where we are as we speak today. 

I’d like to think that the younger lot are coming through and are really embracing it.  I think what they’re doing is at least dabbling their toes in it but what they’re generally trying to do is to think that while I have my church service on a Sunday morning, how do I use digital to get more people in my building.  I want to get my word out—can I write a blog and get more hits that way?  And it’s all very narrow in it’s imagining of what of what digital is doing.  It’s almost like having a Ferrari in your garage and using it to go down to the corner shop for your pint of milk and that I think is a very, very challenging place to be.  It’s totally unique in the world of digital.  This is probably the only group of people, maybe religion per se, but certainly Christianity is one of the very few groups who are really, not only not embracing technology, but almost refusing to even encounter it.  And it’s the same people – unfortunately, these church leaders will book their holidays with their mobile phone, they will do their banking on their mobile phone, they will read books on their mobile phone, listen to their music and surf the web, but they can’t somehow bring themselves to think that this actually might have relativeness to the gospel. 

If young people want to find out about Jesus, they’ll go on to Google.  They won’t show up at the building at 11:00 on a Sunday morning, they’ll just go on to Google.  And unfortunately, the church isn’t there.