Ya know, people have changed in the last forty years. In 1970, people learned by reading books and they read a lot of books too. Then in the late 70s cable TV was introduced. I remember watching HBO with my dad the first day we had it installed in 1977. It was a Saturday and we watched three movies in a row that first day. My mom came in after the second movie started and said, "This is not good." During the third movie she put a load of clothes in front of me and said, "at least fold these while you stare at the TV for another two hours." Two couch potatoes were born that day, by the way.
The Internet moved into the public space when AOL offered a cheap dial-up service in 1983 that gave people access to other people via chat rooms (early social networking as it's called now), news, information, weather, and so forth. What a can of worms that opened, huh?
Text messaging via cell phones has been around since the late 90s, but really took off in 2002. That's another can of worms entirely.
Today, people don't read books, or more accurately, don't fully read books, regardless of length. On great occasion, someone will call our ministry offices and say, "I just finished reading _________ and I have a few questions about it..." I'm always surprised, so I ask them to clarify the statement with, "Did you read the whole thing from cover to cover? If so, that's really cool!"
Lord knows I don't read books from cover to cover any longer unless I'm planning to publish the book through TOUCH. Then I read it three or four times to edit the text and give the author feedback. But other than this work-related reading and editing I must do, I don't enjoy reading. Even fiction.
Now I share all this to illustrate something really, really important. If you want to train small group leaders or disciple members, you had better not hand them a book, even a wonderful TOUCH publication and say, "read this and let's talk about the content next week." Why? It just won't happen.
You're probably going to have to buy the person a cup of overpriced coffee in a shop somewhere, ask them to turn off or put away their smart phone so they aren't inclined to tweet or text someone or post something to their facebook page, and ask them to converse with you eye to eye about the topics found in a book you're reading. And I'm not talking about teenagers here. I'm referring to people just like me, a 49 year old man!
Are books dead? Not quite. What has slowly died is our willingness to remain unplugged from computers and TVs for more than a few minutes at a time to read a printed book, which actually takes hours of time. Woah. HOURS of solitude reading a book? Are you nuts?
As a writer and publisher, I'm researching how to deliver training for group leaders and discipleship for group members in new, exciting ways for people who just refuse to sit down, unplug, and read a book to learn something.