Some Reflections on Technology and Church Communications

by Tim Gossett, Director of Discipleship

In my own experience, when people talk about technology in the Sanctuary, they are almost universally talking about screens. This is probably because, in the past two decades, we have come to see technology as a special category of life, a whole subsection of digital products (computers, cell phones, software and so on) that we might purchase from a tech store or website.

I think this is not a very useful way to think about technology (though admittedly I certainly use the term in this way at times.) Consider these definitions of technology from merriam-webster.com:

  1. a : the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area :  engineering 2 <medical technology>
    b :  a capability given by the practical application of knowledge <a car’s fuel-saving technology>
  2. a manner of accomplishing a task especially using technical processes, methods, or knowledge <new technologies for information storage>
  3. the specialized aspects of a particular field of endeavor <educational technology>

So let’s think for a moment about the term “worship technology,” a phrase that frequently is equated with screens, computers, and equipment that records sound or video. There’s nothing inherently wrong with understanding the phrase this way, but it misses an important point: there are numerous worship technologies that have been used for decades or even centuries.

Church technology

A stained glass window is a technology. So is a church bulletin, a microphone, a hymnal, a banner, or a pipe organ. Each of these technologies was at one time new and even controversial in many settings. All of these technologies are now so commonplace that we forget their purpose: to help communicate a biblical and theological message to a large number of people simultaneously.

The red United Methodist Hymnal was published in 1989. If you have been part of the United Methodist Church that long, you very well may recall the fact that the “new hymnal” (as many church goers around the country STILL call it) was very controversial for a long time. Favorite songs from the previous red hymnal were nowhere to be found. Many lyrics were revised so that they would use inclusive language. New hymns like, “Here I Am, Lord” (a song previously printed primarily in Roman Catholic song books) were included and eventually became almost universally loved. Good grief…churches could even order it in colors other than red! (Heresy!) In short, everyone found something to hate…and love…in the new hymnal.

Let’s be honest…is this love/hate relationship with worship any less true today? There are persons in our congregation (I’d count myself among them) who are not particularly moved by classical music in the context of worship. Others cringe at the thought of having a band in worship. There are people in the congregation who will avoid coming to worship if the senior pastor or their favorite pastor isn’t preaching. Too easily we close our ears, refusing to open ourselves to a new message from God.

Pick any element of worship, and surely you could find someone who doesn’t like it, just as surely as you could find someone who values it. Worship technology in its many forms draws people closer to God, connects individuals to one another, gives us a shared and common experience, and enables us to utilize more of our senses during a worship service. Worship technology hopefully helps us to grow as disciples.

So the next time you hear someone complaining about screens coming to our Sanctuary, gently remind them that God used a burning bush, a donkey, plagues, and an instrument of torture (i.e. the cross) to communicate in surprising, visual ways. Surely, God can do so through video screens in a nearly 100 year-old Sanctuary, too.

Click to read part 1 and part 2 of this series.