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September 25, 2007

High-tech worship

Today's Washington Post features a thought-provoking article on the way technology is shaping the culture of church. From closed circuit TV, to podcasts (or Godcasts, as they're often called), to direct deposit tithing, the article offers a well-balanced look at the role technology has and should (or should not) have in churches.

One pastor quoted in the article said "his concern...is staying relevant in an age when Americans are constantly being stimulated by BlackBerrys, video games and high definition television. 'In the mind-set of the congregation, they may not think we are being current.'" Earlier in the article, the same pastor said, "I don't think that God would want us to try to evangelize like Jesus did 2,000 years ago." Taking a less extreme view, one church employee said, "We believe in the local church, and at the same time we believe in leveraging technology so that we can have maximum impact."

Taking the opposing view, another pastor shunned too much technology for fear that "people will just be sitting there, their eyes fixated on the screen. They're waiting to be given something instead of participating." And a professor and author cautioned that "One of the problems is that with video technology, you don't watch the pastor, you watch the screen, where he appears like a movie star 20 times bigger than reality."

How have you seen technology used, for good or for ill, in the church? What do you wish churches would start doing, or stop doing, with technology?

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It is hard enough to get people to understand that WORSHIP is a 2-sided event. You have to 1) show up and 2) WORSHIP !! Like the song says "Gimme that old time religion" The technology side in my church is limited to the sound system for the singers and pastor, and the use of a computer to make bookeeping easier. If 2 or 3 are gathered in His name, His spirit will abide, with or without TV


It is always difficult to think through what to do with technology.

The liturgy "work of the people" is not a spectator event. It is not a concert. The focus is not to be on the mucisians. The focus is to be upon God. Read Revelation and see how the worship in heaven. The worship service is not evanglism. It is the time when God holds court, and we pay Him worship along with the angels and archangels, saints and martyrs. Though we do not see them, they worship with us.

Technology in evangelism can be useful, as with podcasts, as with the Jesus film and The Passion of the Christ, as with web sites. But we need to be careful, for the medium does have a message of its own. What message does the medium have and how does it interact or interfere with the proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?

When the medieval church tried to figure out how to reach the illiterate masses, they turned to images. And that changed the theology.

We are a people of the Word, a people of the Book. Not of images, not of sound-bites.


(Insert tongue firmly into cheek.) Well, I see that Dr. Luther has made much of the work of this Gutenberg fellow, but I don't think it will catch on. The Church got along just fine for 15 centuries without printing presses; who's to say we won't do just fine without them for another 500 years? (Extract tongue.)

Any church that stops listening to God and starts watching trends is already in trouble. Technology is simply one trend among many.

That said, I'm annoyed when small churches use sound systems when everyone can hear everything just fine without them. I'm pleased when I go to large churches and I can actually see the pastor's expressions on TV. Our church has used video equipment for several very poignant pieces, as well as for man-in-the-street interviews - but we've also been exposed to some videos I'd rather have skipped. We've seen movie clips used to illustrate sermon points, and that's been controversial but also very powerful in some cases. Websites are almost expected these days, interestingly enough. PowerPoint for hymns and choruses is helpful when done well, but very distracting when done poorly.

I once went to a church where they used no instruments, since they believe the Early Church sang acapella, so they should also. Interestingly, they projected the words on the wall so everyone could see them without needing to have their faces down in the hymn books. (As a final sly dig at Mr. Gutenberg, I suppose one could promote the Godly virtue of memorization.)


As long as people communicate largely with non verbal signals, face to face, hand to hand, a meeting will remain the best way to relate.
And sharing a meal is still the way to ones heart.

See Acts.

The new believers met the non-believers on the steps of the temple, (a public place, therefore face to face), and invited them home, not to spout thelogy, but share a meal.

The unbelievers were convinced by the way they saw beleivers treating one another.

I challenge you to convince me how any technology can improve this basic formula.

Ken DV

Our church/denomination traditionally has Bibles in the pew racks, so people were not "encouraged" to take their personal Bibles to church. In our new church building with chairs, no pews, Bibles were picked up at the back of the church. But now the Bible verses are projected on the overhead screen, so the Bibles are not picked up as people enter, are not ready at hand. So if I am intrigued by the passage and want to learn more, I have to grab a Bible, or check it out when I get home (or become a BYO Bible member).
The point is the Bibles are not there in the pews, hands, and laps anymore. They are not ready at hand for visitors. There is no encouragement to read more, to discover for yourself (yes, even during the pastor's sermon!). So Bible literacy and knowledge decline when Bible passages are projected to a screen. I am all for projecting relevant passages to accompany the pastor's Bible-based sermon, but Bibles should be there for the opening of the Word at the start of the sermon. At least.


eauciel, perhaps advances in technology like electric ovens, stoves, and microwaves and other things like transportation of food have helped improve on the quality of the meal aspect of your formula. ;)

Our church uses projectors for the song lyrics and occasionally for informational videos. Our pastor isn't projected though, because it's not about him. I think he probably moves around the stage too much as well ;)


I don't think that there is any evidence that they didn't "spout theology", and every reason to believe that they did teach about Jesus and repeat His teachings.

"The breaking of the bread" may well be a reference to the sacrament of the altar, not to having meals.

Christianity did not start in a vacuum, but in the lived context of 2nd Temple Judaism, and indeed, the Christians continued to worship in synagogue and the Temple until they were excommunicated by the Pharisee party.


I don't have really firm opinions on these, but I'll take the view that very few people are taking.

Participation: People might be more willing to 'speak up' on a website (like this here) when they don't have the nerves of people right there. It's in writing so you don't judge by appearance. When you write you don't have to worry about people not remembering exactly what you said. I konw that when I write I can communicate better, my thoughts are expressed better.

Bible: When it's projected onto the wall people don't bring their Bibles. Ok, what if they can just pull it up on the laptop right there in service? What if they have the Bible on their ipod? What if they're reading the transcript of a sermon online and the reference is a link?

Raymond Takashi Swenson

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the basic Sunday worship service and the Sunday School lessons are pretty low tech. Congregations that get too large to require most adults to have some kind of responsibility are split, resulting in two to four congregations meeting in a single building on Sunday. Sunday School has occasional video presentations to supplement the lessons, but everyone in the class is expected to bring their scriptures and are asked to read several verses as part of the discussion. Songbooks are printed books. Music is usually live piano or organ music, with singing by congregations and to a more limited extent by local choirs, although a small congregation lacking people trained to play piano can use CDs with all of the standard hymns.

Many individual Mormons carry their scriptures on PDAs, so they can more easily take them to work and on trips. The Bible and Mormon-specific scripures like the Book of Mormon can be downloaded for free to PDAs from the church web page.

Computerization is primarily used to keep track of member records. Church finances are centralized; the donations (turned in usually as checks in sealed envelopes) are tallied and electronically deposited.

Each LDS meetinghouse has a satellite dish to receive the twice a year General Conferences of the church that are broadcast from the new 22,000 seat Conference Center in Salt Lake City. These include five 2-hour sessions over a Saturday and Sunday. At the Conference Center and in each chapel, projection TVs show the speakers and choirs. The system is also used for other broadcast meetings. Simultaneous translation is provided to mnay non-English-speaking countries, with many of the interpreters actually residing in the foreign nation and providing real time translation from English via a satellite channel.

Computerized publication and electronic transmission allows production of dozens of non-English language versions of the standard church monthly magazine.

The church has extensive postings on the internet at www.lds.org, which includes all church curriculum and copies of the magazines, as well as the full cross-referenced and footnoted text of the Bible and LDS-specific scriptures in English and Spanish, and entire books, such as a 350 page book on LDS Church history that is used as a text for college students. The entire text of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (about a thousand pages in print) is now available free on the web page. Members are encouraged to provide electronic feedback on the content and form of instructional lessons.

The auxiliary site mormon.org answers basic questions about the LDS Church and its doctrines, while also providing an easy way to find a local LDS congregation, as a service to members who are relocating as well as to those interested in visiting. The familysearch.org web page carries thousands of pages of family history information, compiled originally on microfilm from church records and government archives around the world, the original films being preserved in a climate controlled vault carved into the granite mountain where the stone of the Salt Lake Temple was quarried.

Additionally, the FARMS.byu.edu web page offers (free) entire books of scholarship addressing questions of interest to anyone studying Mormon beliefs and history and comparison to the beliefs of primitive (1st and 2nd Century) Christianity and ancient Judaism, as well as responding to works written by non-Mormons about aspects of LDS Church doctrines.

Intensive language training for newly called Mormon missionaries uses electronic study aids, though the main means of instruction is live teachers.

Inventory control and management of the LDS Church welfare system is of course by computer, while most of the labor at farms and retail centers is donated.

The work of performing ordnances for the living and for ancestors who did not have the opportunity to hear the LDS version of the Christian gospel are tracked using computer systems, with terminals at various points in each temple.

The extensive collections of the LDS Church History and Art Museum are viewable online, including the ability to rotate the view of sculptures.

Young LDS missionaries have restrictions on their leisure activities, but can stay in touch with their parents via email. They are authorized to use cell phones so they can use their time more effectively. Personal information provided by people interested in learning more about the LDS Church is routed electronically to the closest missionaries who can go and personally answer questions.

All the normal computer applications in a large organization are present, primarily at church headquarters and within nodes like Brigham Young University and the educational system for high school students that is offered for an hour a day outside of normal school hours. BYU itself is a center of computer research, and many Mormons are employed in various computer related enterprises in Utah, which is by some measures one of the most highly "wired" communities in the US.

So the LDS church emphasizes traditional non-electronic methods when they serve the purpose of involving everyone in giving service. They don't even use a video system to help babysit the kids in the nursery operated during adult Sunday School. Part of this is based on the principle that the church system should be simple enough that it can be replicated and operated even in the poorer parts of the world. The rest is the principle that giving service to each other is a way of fulfilling Christ's commandment to love one another.


Thanks for setting me straight Ken DV.
I will embrace any technology that improves food! But I was referring to the technology that is being used to improve the experience of "when 2 or 3 are gathered in my name".
Matt, I suspect that the breaking of bread in the last supper as well as the subsequent meals referred to in Acts was real and not symbolic. Jesus used a normal daily ritual to remind us of his being broken on our behalf. I would be interested to learn when, where and in what context breaking of bread became a sacrement administered by a priest at an altar.
My comments about "spouting theology" were not to minimise the effectiveness of teaching scripture, which can be done effectively with the help of information technology. I suspect that what was truly attractive to the pre-christian Jew in Acts, was the way the Christains loved one another, face to face, hand to hand, a practice that is not at all helped by the information technology available today.

Don Gander

Have you ever watched a good TV ministry that truely speaks to one's heart? Have you watched WITH someone else? My greatest problem with technology is that one becomes an observer rather than a participant. In my questions above, I have yet to see anyone (besides myself) bow in prayer when the person on the screen is praying.

Worship is not just learning. Worship is communion with Jesus Christ. We sit at the table with Him. We recline against Him. We weep with Him and we rejoice with Him. For some reason or another, video just doesn't seem to work on behalf of a congregation.

Also, if they don't include the musical score with the words (as in a book), I am usually lost. I need music. I think that singing is so poor today because few know how to sing - they just watch someone else or mumble just below whatever decibels the sound system projects.


Robert Kachadourian

It seems that there are good discussion points on both sides. However, when the church crosses over from being entertainment to being the church, that's going too far!!

There must be a balance. Young people have been brought up in the age of "entertain me". The church isn't in that business although more & more it's being pulled by the culture that way.

This is the second generation of "entertain me". I hope the thrid one won't say 'I'm not interested in church". "There's not enough entertainment there"

Once those words are utterred, it's time to build another church. May it never be so!!

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