Some Reflections on Technology and Church Communications

by Tim Gossett, Director of Discipleship

When I’m not working at Collegiate/Wesley, some of my time each week is spent doing marketing work for a new church website startup company called Aboundant. The websites we help churches to create are all done using what is called “responsive design.” This is basically geek speak for “looks great on any device,” and it’s a way of designing a website so that it automatically adapts to different types of screen sizes. Responsive design has slowly been coming into popularity for about three to four years now, and the existing C/W church website was designed using a responsive framework.

mobilegeddonIn the past few weeks, businesses everywhere have had to learn about responsive design thanks to a change in Google’s search algorithm, the mathematical formula that determines search result rankings. The popular name for Google’s change—which was announced a few months in advance of its rollout a few weeks ago—is “Mobilegeddon,” a term definitely intended to strike fear into the hearts of website owners. (If you’d like a good laugh, take a look at some of these images created to raise awareness–or fear–about the change.) In a nutshell, Google is essentially expecting businesses to make their websites mobile-friendly, or their search rankings will take a significant hit. Indeed, that has definitely proven true for a great many companies who hadn’t been paying attention to their web developers’ warnings.

Of course, while Google’s algorithm change is perhaps inconvenient for some businesses, it’s also an opportunity. In the first quarter of this year, 45 percent of all web page visits came from mobile devices, a number that keeps rising each year. (Source:  statista.com) Clearly, an organization’s well-being now depends on being mobile-friendly, and churches are no different. Websites which quickly adapt stand to benefit from better website rankings, which in turn leads to greater website traffic. (By the way, I’m at work on a few mobile-friendly projects, including a new website and a more mobile-friendly weekly email. If you’d like to be part of the team, let me know.)

I wanted to tell you about this reality as a way of thinking about the project underway to install and use screens in the sanctuary. (And in this case, I’m not talking about the ones we carry with us in our pockets during worship…though that’s certainly a worthy conversation to have some day too!)

To some in the congregation, the announcement about the screen installation came as a surprise, perhaps even an unwelcome one. Some hadn’t paid attention to previous Communicator articles indicating that the project was being studied and worked on for years by the Worship Ministries Cluster. Others were fearful that the screens would be disruptive or would distract from the sanctuary’s beauty. For those who would rather not see screens in the sanctuary, the project can seem unnecessary. These concerns are of course important and have been repeatedly taken into consideration by the team that has been working on the project.

On the other hand, there are also many in the congregation who are looking forward to the presence of screens. Some have experienced them in other churches or at faithspring and find that screens enhance their time of worship. Others simply can’t understand why we haven’t added them a long time ago, are used to screens being a part of every aspect of life, or understand the fact that adding a visual component to worship can be a powerful communication tool.

Change is not always easy, nor is it simple. We’ll no doubt experience various challenges with the technology (as we did on May 24, when the laptop suddenly crashed mid-service). We’ll certainly have a learning curve as we train volunteers to do a wide variety of tasks. Yet despite the challenges, I get very excited as I ponder the possibilities that come with having several new volunteers engaged in creating a more dynamic, creative worship service.

Here’s the critical theological question, though: Regardless of our feelings about change, do we believe that God can, does, and will work through technology to bring about deeper levels of faith, love, and action among our members, friends and guests? I’m positive we already clearly know the answer to that question, and I’ll explore that in the final part of this series in the next issue of the Communicator.

Click to read part 1 and part 3 of this article.