Virtual Vitality: Bobby Gruenewald Links Technology and the Church
When Bobby Gruenewald first visited LifeChurch.tv—it's a real church whose name only looks like a website—in Edmond, Oklahoma, the most evolved technology he encountered was air conditioning. And even that was unreliable. Before the whir of servers and megawatt projectors and Gruenewald's current staff title as "innovation leader," the church met in a two-car garage and had dial-up Internet access. Even then, Gruenewald says, he had a passion for the gospel that remains decibels louder than any high-tech evangelism method employed by the church today. A self-proclaimed "adrenaline junkie," Gruenewald initially resisted the church's invitation to join its leadership team for fear of boredom. But after volunteering in technological and musical capacities at the church, he decided to sell two web start-ups from his entrepreneurial days and in 2001 signed on to a role—which includes co-leading a congregation of nearly 30,000 at 14 U.S. campuses—that he says is far from boring.
Gruenewald, recently named one of the top 100 creative people in business by Fast Company, has led leading-edge ventures at LifeChurch.tv such as online church services and YouVersion, a free Bible app with over 30 million downloads. But the high-tech world is tangential, says Gruenewald. "Technology is not vital to the church, but an amazing tool for encouraging vitality."
What's an "innovation leader"?
It's a very eclectic role, really not that far off from being an entrepreneur. I'm constantly focused on coming up with new ways of building momentum and helping connect people within the church. On a strategic level, I evaluate the effectiveness of each idea, keep an eye on changes in the broader culture, and watch for where God is already innovating ahead of us.
What does technology contribute to church life?
We've seen a spike in population growth in the past century, and we've seen a boom in technologies that can connect us like never before. So we have this opportunity—in my mind, it's a responsibility—to connect with people we couldn't before and share the gospel. I also think the church has been vastly wasteful, and technology can help us be better stewards by allowing us to share materials and avoid duplicating resources.
Keeping up with changes in technology must be difficult.
It can be, but that's not our main concern. We're so focused on keeping up with changes in how the gospel is received and discussed, it's a lot easier to not get caught up in the glitz of what's next. On a personal level, I've made a point to do technology fasts, because we need to teach ourselves how to set boundaries.
Where does LifeChurch.tv go from here?
We rarely think more than a year or two into the future; usually we plan on a six-week to six-month timeframe. But if we push into the future, we'll see a global church that is more unified because of better communication technology, much more focused on a common understanding of who Jesus is and why he matters. Maybe this is ironic, but I also hope we'll see some of the ministries we've launched online—live prayer and side discussions during online sermons—get integrated into physical campuses.
Hometown: Oklahoma City
Family: Melissa (wife); Audrey, 6, Robbie, 3, Emma, 5 months (children)
Favorite Bible verse: Galatians 2:20
Favorite book: America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940, by Claude S. Fischer;
Pet peeves: Anything that reduces speed
Hobbies: My kids; small home- improvement projects
Best meal you cook: Homemade ice cream
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Previous "Who's Next" sections featured Julie Bell, DeVon Franklin, Shannon Sedgwick Davis, Jon Tyson, Jonathan Golden, Paul Louis Metzger, Amena Brown, David Cunningham, Timothy Dalrymple, John Sowers, Alissa Wilkinson, Jamie Tworkowski, Bryan Jennings, L. L. Barkat, Robert Gelinas, Nicole Baker Fulgham, Gideon Strauss, and W. David O. Taylor.