One of the most significant trends in American church life over the past decade has been the dramatic expansion in the use of technology in the worship experience, particularly in what author Quentin Shultz calls “presentational technologies.”
Walk into an American evangelical church facility built in the last 10 to 15 years and you may or may not see a pulpit, but you will almost certainly see one or two large screens used to project electronic images. In some churches it is as simple as projecting announcements before the service and the words of songs and hymns during worship; in others, the screen may be used during the sermon to project an outline or key phrases.
In some large congregations, the screen is used for image magnification of the preacher during the sermon, so that people who sit far away from the front can see the facial expressions and gestures of the preacher. And in an increasing number of churches, the screens will be used to project a film or video clip that helps illustrate the worship or sermon theme; the clip will typically be used just before the sermon or some time during the sermon where a traditional illustration would have otherwise been used.
An increasing number of multi-media services and websites are now being launched for the purpose of providing visual images and video for use in worship services. These days, the preacher has his Bible study software in one hand and his media software in the other.
Like marketing, technology is a good tool but a terrible master. In one of his Breakpoint commentaries, Chuck Colson talked about a church which had just made a major investment in technology for worship. It put them in a tight budget situation, so they resolved it by firing one of their two pastors! That is an example of a church that put too high a priority on the use of technology.
In his book High-Tech Worship, Schultze says there are four possible approaches to the use of technology in worship:
Rejection –Some reject technology because of finances, some because of tradition, some because of theology – they fear it will change worship into entertainment.
Adoption – Churches may choose to use technology in worship the way it is used for other purposes, such as teaching and entertainment. For example, we might simply use presentational technologies the same way they might be used in an educational or corporate setting.
Adaptation – Rather than swallowing them whole, some churches discern how, when, where and why to use a particular technology appropriately in worship.
Creation – The pioneers among us are investing in persons or organizations that will invent the next generation of technologies specifically for worship. Rather than adapting technologies otherwise available, some churches are trying to create new art and technologies developed specifically for worship, rather than adapted from the secular marketplace.
As we move forward with the expanded use of technology in more and more churches, it is important to recognize potential problems:
Lack of clarity – does it obscure what God is saying or how we should be responding? Are they simple and clear, or do they have the potential to obscure what God is saying or how we should respond?
Distraction from worship – does it attract attention to the tech or images and away from the focus of worship? Are people watching the screens instead of the preacher or worship leader? Are they having a hard time focusing on the message being communicated because we are throwing too many visual images at them?
Awkwardness or difficulty in presentation – is it well planned and running smoothly? A church should not adapt any greater level of technology than it is prepared to do with excellence. Just because the megachurch down the road does something doesn’t mean you can mimic them effectively. Do only what you can do well.
Technology can be a great tool for the preaching minister if it is used with care. Like any tool, we need to make sure we maintain its role as servant, not master.
Question: How is your church using technology today?
Michael Duduit is founding Dean of the College of Christian Studies and the Clamp Divinity School at Anderson University. He also serves as Professor of Christian Ministry. He is the founder and still serves as Executive Editor of Preaching magazine, one of the nation’s premier publications for pastors. His email newsletter, Preaching Now, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences. He is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching, Joy in Ministry: Messages from Second Corinthians, Preaching with Power: Dynamic Insights from Twenty Top Communicators and Communicate With Power.