The use of technology in worship has many monikers, from “streaming media” to “IMAG” to simply the name of the most popular software application, “PowerPoint”. Regardless of the description, though, studies are showing that churches all over the country have begun to implement media in a live worship setting. But there is a difference between using PowerPoint and creating media that has the transformative ability to both connect people to themselves and to God.
Len: Recent studies commissioned by the secular audio-visual industry have shown that over 75% of churches in the United States have purchased technology systems or are planning to in the year 2001. Usually, these systems cost around $10,000 and consist of a screen, a computer and a video player. Jason and I produced The Wired Church: Making Media Ministry book/CD-ROM because we knew about this coming trend and wanted to outline a series of strategies for churches to begin to use media in their church life, from design to team building to technical to the most important part, understanding the differences between effective media and media that is not. Getting churches to accept technology as an integral part of church life was a primary goal for the book.
Jason: But screen projection will be a passing fad if folks don’t learn powerful ways to use the medium they’ve fought so hard to install. The sad reality at this point is that many have limited the new technology they’re appropriating to song lyrics, announcement, and other ways to present data. The screen is used simply as a repeat of printed hymnals or as an expensive bulletin board to display community events and information. Our mission in life is to show churches that the screen can be used for so much more!
Len: We’ve definitely realized a few things since the Wired Church came out. For one, my original mission statement, to speak the Gospel in the language of the culture, was not good enough, because churches have said they will use technology and claim that technology is the cultural language, but still not “get it.” Many churches don’t really have an idea of what media is supposed to do, if anything, in revitalizing how churches can transform lives with the Gospel of Jesus. Further, many churches have no strategy at all and only purchase technology for worship and/or education out of a vague awareness of trends. Churches point to success stories in their own regions and national stories like Ginghamsburg Church as both ammunition for their own media strategies and as frustration for why it’s not happening to them the same way.
Jason: I’ve attended many churches that are in the early stages of incorporating digital media into worship. Some are doing great stuff, the kind of stuff that makes you want to come back every week. Others are making an attempt, but are unknowingly falling short of what could take their worship experience to the next level.
Len: Churches often experience the same progression. Somebody says in a leadership meeting, maybe the pastor or the worship person, “we need to get a screen.” They might say, “Lyrics on the screen are better than reading them from the hymn book.” So they do that, and over the objections of many and through many theological, political, and economic battles, the church leadership gets their equipment installed over the next 6 months to a year. The transition causes great controversy and makes worship interesting for a while, sometimes in an intrusive sort of way.
Jason: Recently I attended one church that was trying hard but wasn’t quite getting it. Seemingly every other word that left the pastor’s mouth became an animated point via PowerPoint on the screen. Text flying in circles, shooting in from the left, falling from the top, and “OH MY!?Ãƒâ€žÂ¶ she can’t take much more captain!” That kind of sensory overload makes keeping up with the pastor feel like you’re a hamster running on a treadmill stuck on high. Cheesy clipart filled the screen on several occasions and the graphics for the most part were solid backgrounds or gradients. The experience left me feeling flat. If only they had used a present day metaphor, a film clip that related in some way to my life, or an artistic image that communicated to me at a heart level, I might have walked away inspired and excited by the message.
Len: Often what happens is that worship planners settle down into a pattern of using “IMAG” (image magnification, or use of cameras and a projector), song lyrics, sermon points, and an occasional movie clip on their screens. But no long-term substantial difference occurs. After 18 months they become aware that they need to do something else. Church leaders begin using words like “We need to go to the next level”, or “We’ve got to up the excellence standard.” Whatever the language they use, there is still behind it a desire to help the congregation become disciples of Jesus, and an awareness that media, as it is being done, is not contributing substantially to that. In fact, many church leaders, out of frustration, even develop theologies on why it is neither appropriate nor possible for media to communicate the Word of God in the same way that established forms of oral and written have done. Can it?
Absolutely it can. We are currently writing a book to be published by Abingdon Press later this year that addresses these questions. But the most immediate problem is to throw away the dominant construct of “presentation” media, as it is commonly known in the business world. “Multimedia” is a construct rooted in early 90s PC development. Ten years ago the term meant a cutting-edge communication style, but now “Multi-media” has come to symbolize a business-driven, computer-based standard that consists of a number of textual, aural and visual elements tossed together in a PowerPoint document, with little sense of design and zero sense of story or experience. PowerPoint is a medium that is neither rare nor well done, full of cheesy clip art and written by computer people that live in a TV culture.