New Cars, Technology and Core Purposes

By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

J.D. Power and Associates released a report this week about technology use in cars. Today’s luxury cars are packed to overflowing with every connected gadget automakers can dream up, and you'd think today's consumers would be wanting even more. But the report from J.D. Power begins like this: “Automakers are investing billions of dollars to put technologies in their cars and light trucks that are not being used by many of the owners of those vehicles.”

According to J.D. Power, new car owners aren’t using all of the new technology for several reasons. They don’t know how to use it. It doesn’t enhance the driving experience. And they already have other devices that accomplish the same tasks.

As it turns out, consumers only use the technology if it’s connected to the main function of the car. Lane warnings, blind spot detection, back up cameras, navigation systems, active cruise control--car owners like those things. If it makes driving cars easier and safer, then consumers use it.

Technology that doesn’t directly impact the driving experience, however, is going largely unused. Built-in apps? Nope. Apple and android connectivity? Nope. In-vehicle concierge services? Mobile routers? Nope and nope.

Eugene Peterson once asked, “How do I maintain a sense of pastoral vocation in the middle of a community of people who are hiring me to do religious jobs?”

An equivalent question for car manufacturers might be, "How do we focus on the service we're really trying to deliver--a safe and pleasant driving experience--over all the other stuff people say we ought to be doing, but that they really don't need? 

For churches that question might look like, "How do we maintain a clear sense of purpose in the middle of an extraordinary push to gain the attention of an increasingly distracted and disengaged culture?"

For individuals the question might be, "How does what I'm adding to my life add to or distract from my core purpose?"

As churches and individuals ask those questions, we can learn something from the J.D. Power report. People want cars that get them where they want to go safely, reliably and comfortably. If new improvements can make a car safer, more reliable, or more comfortable, people love it. But if the "newness" isn’t directly applied to the core purpose of the car, most people can take it or leave it.

People come to church out of an ingrained desire to be more holy, more healthy and more whole. If we can find new ways to help communicate truths, build communities, and create experiences that move people toward holier, healthier and more complete lives, then we should aggressively update how we do things. 

But if the new "stuff"--new ideas, new initiatives, new technology--isn't directly applied to the core purposes of our church, then people will find it more of an unnecessary distraction than a tool for personal growth and faith development.

That doesn’t mean we should reflexively resist all things new. Cruise control, airbags, anti-lock brakes, power windows and car audio systems were once new technology in cars. It does mean, though, that we should evaluate all change through appropriate filters—namely the core purpose filter.

Drivers don't adopt new car technology if they don't know how to use it, if it doesn't enhance the driving experience, and if they already have something else to fulfill the same function.

Maybe churches should use similar questions for new programs and initiatives:

  1. Do our people understand how the new stuff works?  Has it been clearly explained?
  2. Does the new stuff enhance the “church experience?” Does it directly improve the core things we’re trying to do?
  3. And, are we trying to fulfill a function at church that is already better fulfilled somewhere else?

As churches race to keep up with the times we shouldn’t be in such a hurry that we don’t remember to maintain consistent alignment with our core purposes.

And, by the way, what’s true for cars and churches might also be true for you. Have you added anything to your life that might be detracting from your core purpose--a habit, an attitude, a relationship, an unhealed wound? 

I've found it helpful this week to reflect on whether the  "new" things in my life are making me more or less holy, healthy and whole? I bet you would to.

And if you're wondering what your core purpose might be, here are a few suggestions from scripture. Take a minute to read Micah 6:8 and Matthew 22:36-40.

New and different and upgraded isn’t necessarily bad for cars or churches or people. New can be--and often is--a great improvement. But all that we do and all that we add to our lives should pass through those “core purpose” questions.  

Adding new things to cars that detract from their core purpose can be a multi-billion dollar distraction. That's no small thing. Imagine the cost when we're talking about people. 

See you Sunday.