The Contemporary Church and Technology in Worship

Background of the Study

Technology and the contemporary church have developed very much intertwined ever since the printing press began printing religious information and communications. Technology has been grudgingly adopted in many churches who initially fought against the use of technology in their communications however, failure to adopt such technology would have negatively impacted the church which has in almost all aspects given in and adopted new technological communication applications in support of the church in its role, functions, and services. The work of Harvey (2006) reports that the printing press “…revolutionized the church, serving as a major catalyst to the Protestant Reformation.” (2006) Harvey additionally reports that the Church became “reengaged in evangelism” in coordination with the printing press having been invented and the result was that even the common people in society were learning to read requiring the articulation of an “understandable, practical and believable…Gospel of Jesus Christ.”(Harvey, 2006) Harvey states that the Church became reliant upon printing technology. Benefits to church worship from printing technology are inclusive of such as “lectionaries and printed music…just two examples of the printing press and its influence on the Church life and work.” (Harvey, 2006)(

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Aim of the Study

The work of Paul Lamb entitled “From Oral to Digital: How Communication Technologies Are Transforming the Church” states that today’s churches use technology for:

  1. unmediated global communication;
  2. live streaming and audio of church services;
  3. teaching about faith; and
  4. fundraising. (nd)

Cultural fears relating to the use of technology according to Lamb (nd) include the fear that efficiency may be chosen “…over quality time” and that the traditions of the church “will be lost” with the institutions that traditionally and historically exist eventually becoming “irrelevant”. (Lamb, nd)

Literature Review

According to the work entitled “The Church and the Internet” published by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, the interest of the Church on the Internet “is a particular expression of her longstanding interest in the media of social communication” as the Church “has taken a fundamentally positive approach to the media. Even when condemning serious abuses, documents of this Pontifical Council for Social Communications have made a great effort in ensuring that it is clear that “…a merely censorious attitude on the part of the Church…is neither sufficient nor appropriate.” (Lamb, nd) Pope Pius XII 1957 letter ‘Miranda Prosus’ which was a Pastoral Instruction on the Means of Social Communication, ‘Communio et Progression’ and stated to be published in 1971 emphasized the point by stating that the Church views such media as being “…gifts of God’ which, in accordance with his providential design, unite men in brotherhood and so help them to cooperate with his plan for their salvation.” (Lamb, nd) It is stated that modern social communication media is a cultural factor and the Second Vatican Council is noted to have stated that while it is important to carefully “distinguish earthly progress clearly from the increase of the kingdom of Christ” however this progress is critically important to God’s kingdom as it may positively contribute to the “better ordering of human society.” (Lamb, nd)

According to the Pontifical Council the media “…of social communication” greatly supports the “…enlargement and enrichment of men’s minds and to the propagation and consolidation of the kingdom of God.” (nd) The ‘Communio et Progressio’ noted thirty years ago that modern media profers new methods of reaching the population of the world with the message contained in the Gospel and Pope Paul VI stated that the church would bear the burden of guilt before God should it fail to utilize the social communication media for the evangelization of the masses. (Pontifical Council, nd)

The media was referred to by Pope John Paul II as “the first Areopagus of the modern age” and that simply using the media to spread the Gospel of Christ was not sufficient but instead the Church should necessarily “…integrate that message into the ‘new culture’ created by modern communications.” (Pontifical Council, nd) The benefits and advantages of the use of media are carrying news and information concerning such as ‘religious events, ideas, and personalities; they serve as vehicles for evangelization and catechesis” and moreover the media profers benefits including the “direct and immediate access to important religious and spiritual resources – great libraries and museums and places of worship, the teaching documents of the Magisterium, the writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church and the religious wisdom of the ages.” (Pontifical Council, nd)

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The capacity of such social communication media includes that of overcoming “distance and isolation, bringing people into contact with like-minded persons of goodwill who join in virtual communities of faith to encourage and support one another.” (Pontifical Council, nd) The Internet and the “two-way interactivity of the Internet” offers a venue of creative function in administration and governance of the Church and as well the Internet is reported to open up “channels for the expression of public opinion…consulting experts, preparing meetings, and practicing collaboration in and among particular churches and religious institutes on local, national, and international levels.” (Pontifical Council, nd)

Stated as an additional area of opportunity is the use of social communication media for education and continuing education which should be “…part of comprehensive programs of media education available to members of the Church and in fact, it is stated that the provision for pastoral planning for social communication should be made in forming seminarians, priests, religious and lay pastoral personnel as well as teachers, parents, and students.” (Pontifical Council, nd)

The work of Stackhouse, Dearborn, and Paeth (nd) ask the question of whether theology “… aims at understanding technology?” The inherent danger of technology is stated to be “not in its rapidly expanding powers or even its deliberate use for evil purposes, but in the fact that it moves blinding forward in a vacuum of critical reflection.” (Stackhouse, Dearborn, and Paeth, nd) It is necessary, according to Stackhouse, Dearborn, and Paeth that the church engage in a “theology of technology” as technology is “reliable, efficient, trustworthy and offers us such control as a Faustian bargain seems the only logical precondition.” (Stackhouse, Dearborn, and Paeth, nd)

The mission of the church is stated to as follows by the Pontifical Council to be of the nature that does not just exist “…in and to the world, but in and to all the forces which impinge upon it and which make it what it will be.” (Pontifical Council, nd) The Pontifical Council believes that the church should be proactive support for a public forum that enables the “…deliberation, criticism, cultural comprehension of technology in all of its manifestations, powers, impotence, promises, and dangers.” (Pontifical Council, nd) The church should as well “through proclamation, teaching and community formation…cultivate an ethic of the appropriate use of technology. Technology should improve health and human flourishing…” (Pontifical Council, nd)

The work of Quentin J. Schultz entitled “High-Tech Worship: Using Presentational Technologies Wisely” states that worship is reliant on human skills and techniques” and that the question for today’s “high-tech milieu is actually age-old: What kinds of liturgical (and technological) practices are most fitting for worship – when, where, how, for whom, by whom and why? And to answer such questions we must grasp the significance of both technology and worship.” (2004) Schultz states that in order to answer questions such as the one just previously stated it is necessary to “reach beyond our pragmatic biases to engage both tradition and other culture where the gospel is communicated vibrantly and the church is growing through the work of the Spirit.” (2004)

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Schultz states that ‘high-tech worship’ is of the nature that is reliant ”…extensively on computer-based presentational technologies, from still and animated slides created in programs like PowerPoint to video recordings and live video projection piped to screens in the sanctuary and in other locations, such as the nursery and the narthex.” (Schultz, 2004) Society in North America is stated by Schulz to have made a shift from “a print culture to an electronic culture…since World War II.” (2004) In the beginning, the practices of Christianity were visual in nature. Christianity is stated to allow Christians the freedom needed for integrating both “visual and aural symbols creatively into corporate worship.” (Schulz, 2004) From this view, presentational technology use in the creation of worship “is a welcome renewal of something that the church has embraced for two millennia.” (Schultz, 2004)

The task of the church in relation to the use of presentational technologies for worship is stated to be an enormous one and one that requires the reeducation of Christians concerning the vital nature of the visual “in life as well as in the life of faith.” (Schultz, nd) The truth is, however, that many churches are not “attuned to the importance of educating and worshipping with appropriate images…” resulting in the visual impoverishment of many of today’s sanctuaries described as “stark places and events with few appealing adornments and little visual expression of the grandeur of God.” (Schulz, nd) Schulz relates that there is presently confusion due to the transmission being equated with communication. Technological messaging is just as often utilized for providing relief from boredom rather than for effecting deeper communication. Schulz states that new communication technologies “do not always improve human communication, no matter how we label them.” (nd)

David Murrow (2005) writes in his work entitled “Why Men Hate Going to Church” that men “love technology. Men are more likely than women to get excited about gadgets or spend hours with their machines. Men always want the fastest computer, the biggest engine, the smallest cell phone, the most powerful firearm. However, many churches are wary of technology and adopt it at a glacial pace. Some churches still don’t have e-mail or a fax machine, and at least 18 percent of churches don’t even have a telephone answering machine.” (Murrow, 2005) Technology is reported to be viewed by many church members as a form of blasphemy. Murrow writes that the use of technology in the church has its importance and specifically in the validity of the information provided as PowerPoint presentations contain information that is more believable than coming out of the mouth of the presenter of that information.

Murrow writes quite bluntly, that churches that desire to reach men are churches that acknowledge the internet as a tool for reaching those men. The reason stated is that men are of the nature that desire access to information prior to making a commitment to attend church as it allows them to “check out a church from a safe distance.” (Murrow, 2005) Many church websites offer such as text, audio, and streaming video downloads as well as a place that visitors can connect with members, access such as “contact information, activity calendars and extensive information on ministry offerings.” (Murrow, 2005) Other churches are reported by Murrow to have “jumped headlong into the technology pool. One church in Dallas has installed a wireless computer interface in the sanctuary, so congregants can follow the sermon outline on their portable computers.” (Murrow, 2005)

The work of the Methodist Church entitled “Using Technology in Worship and Mission” states that God who desires to communicate with his creation is central to the Christian Gospel and in fact, it was the “incarnation of Christ [that perfectly] illustrates the lengths to which the God of love was willing to go to enable that. The Gospel writers present Jesus as an expert in communication who used signs, symbols, and words most effectively to deliver the message about God’s Kingdom. At Pentecost the power of the Holy Spirit enabled the Church to communicate by speaking in languages that people understood.” (The Methodist Church, nd)

It is important that the Church today follow the example of Jesus in communicating effectively the messages contained in the Gospel. Indeed Jesus utilized a very important communication tool known as the ‘parable’ in his communication with mankind while living on earth and it does not appear reasonable to assume that Jesus would shun the advantages of contemporary technological applications in communication had they been available to him.

The Methodist Church reports that during its 2001 conference that a report was adopted that provided confirmation of the strategy of the Methodist Church to “develop the use of IT in all parts of the Church in the furtherance of the Church’s mission.” (The Methodist Church, nd) Two goals were inclusive in the strategy set out by the Methodist Church including the following two stated goals:

  1. To provide efficient IT systems for all the servicing functions provided by the Connexional Team, Conference Office, and Methodist Publishing House; and
  2. To develop coherent IT links throughout the connexion. (Methodist Church, 2001)

Presently there is reported to be an “…integrated computer system” as well as a “…connexional integrated database is in operation, the stationing process for both presbyters and deacons is better supported, statistical information is more accessible, and duplication of information is being minimized.” (Methodist Church, 2001)

In a recent interview with Tom Ferguson, associate deputy of interfaith relations for the Episcopal Church, Kirk L. Kroeker reports that technology is assisting in defining changes globally as third-world countries are “coming online every day and technology transforming the way first-world countries communicate and interoperate.” (Kroeker, 2004) Ferguson is noted to have stated that religion “helped create what is now our mass-market information society. Early on, Christians moved from the scroll to the codex or book form. Books lasted longer, were easier to carry, and you could skip around a book the way you can’t in a scroll. Boom! Suddenly information is portable and easily referenced with page numbers.” (Kroeker, 2004)

Ferguson goes on to state that when the booking form is combined with “movable type…you have something that in the 16th century was as much of a revolution as the Internet has been. Books were no longer prohibitively expensive, no longer took a long time to produce, and no longer were in Latin, which most people didn’t understand.” (Kroeker, 2004) In fact, according to Ferguson: “If Martin Luther had not been able to have his tracts mass-produced and distributed, he’d have been another of countless people burned at the stake. No advances in information technology, no Reformation. Religion is not embracing the information revolution; it’s reaping what it sowed hundreds of years ago. Religion created the information revolution that has been ongoing.” (Kroeker, 2004)

Ferguson believes that technology is underutilized in today’s churches and states that a wide digital divide exists in religion today. Communications technology does however create imbalances in terms of access and as stated by Ferguson this “has the potential to lead to stratification in the churches along ethnic, regional and economic lines.” (Kroeker, 2004) Ferguson relates that technology has the potential to be perceived by practically every major faith tradition that threatens the very foundation of religion. The sector of religious institutions most likely to resist the use of technology is none other than seminaries reported as the most likely of all religious groups in accepting information technology developments. (Kroeker, 2004, paraphrased) There is reported to be a “darker side to technology – as evidenced by the dangers that technology sometimes exposes” and these dangers serve to form resistance in many against the use of technology in the church. In terms of the future, Ferguson relates that changes are likely to include the decentralization of church structure and what he terms to be a reimagining of “place and center.” (Kroeker, 2004)

The National Council of Churches USA states that the most effective method of communication is “telling stories…the same as it has been throughout human history.” (nd) The techniques of contemporary storytellers have been greatly improved by the accompanying “images and so amplified their presence through broadcast, cable, satellite, VCRs, video games, fiber optics, interactive television and CD-ROM…” (National Council of Churches USA, nd) It is related by the National Council of Churches that the church needs media education. Specifically, the church needs to:

  1. Recognize and understand the role of media in using metaphor and symbol to shape our understanding of who we are, individually and relationally;
  2. Learn how interactive communication can shape and influence the emerging social fabric of human life and society;
  3. Demonstrate responsible use of technology; and
  4. Use media as tools by which the church shares the good news. (National Council of Churches, nd)

According to the White Paper published by Blackbaud entitled “How Technology Can Help Your Church” technology may potentially improve the church operations in every area. Technology can make a great difference in several key areas identified as the following:

  1. Building relationships – relationships with church members can be strengthened using technology through interpersonal communication and engaging members and keeping members connected to the church;
  2. Better Decision-Making – Technology enables “single, up-to-date and real-time view of church finances and members resulting in the capacity for strategic planning (Blackbaud, nd);
  3. Financial Management – Technology enables “a high level of accountability” (Blackbaud, nd) as well as efficient budgeting and easy reporting features; and
  4. Operational Management – enables service delivery efficiency, volunteer optimization as well as improvement to internal processes.” (Blackbaud, nd, paraphrased)

Minimum provisions and benefits to the church from technology use is stated to be at the very least inclusive of the following:

  1. Single, holistic view of members
  2. Relationship management
  3. Accountability and stewardship
  4. Engaging members online
  5. Analysis reporting
  6. Direct mail
  7. Saving time (Blackbaud, nd)

According to Harvey (2006)in the work entitled “Technology and the Church Through the Centuries” websites and blogs on the Internet are viewed by the Church as opportunities presenting with the capacity to “…engage the culture with the message of Jesus Christ.” The computer is another factor affecting the Church as a community. Harvey relates the suggestion of Plude (1994) as encouragement is given to the Church to “…move beyond group media such as audio and video programs in order to develop interconnecting or interactive or link communication technologies.

E-mails, instant messaging, and the full range of resources available on the Internet all contribute to the potential for education, nurture, and fellowship within the Body of Christ.” (Harvey, 2006)

Harvey states that while it is generally assumed that the Church necessarily falls behind n the culture movement it has been documented in research that new technologies are being rapidly embraced by Protestant congregations. (Harvey, 2006) Research findings specifically shows the following results:

  1. Protestant churches with a web site 57%
  2. Protestant churches that use large-screen projection technology 62% (Harvey, 2006)

There is reported to be an expected increase in podcasting, broadband access, and “ubiquitous adoption of hand-held mobile computing devices by consumers to further change the ministry methods in today’s church. (Harvey, 2006) Harvey cites the statement of Avery Dulles (1971) as follows:

“The Church cannot wall itself up in a cultural ghetto at a time when humanity as a whole is passing into the electronic age” By all appearances the Church is moving forward to employ technology, especially electronic technology, in its life and work.” (Harvey, 2006)

It is reported in the work of George (2006) that in 1999 the Society of Archbishop Justus informed the Anglican Church of how the Internet could be used and in this tract, the primary advantages of the use of the Internet were stated. It is reported that online communication is “economically advantageous to the church” as it can be utilized to disperse information with less cost than other forms of communication. Furthermore, it is easier to reach the younger generation. George states that the Internet could be clearly seen “as a tool to be seized and used by the church in its mission”. (George, 2006)

Summary and Conclusion

This work in writing has conducted an extensive review of literature on the church and the use of technology and has found that technology has played a primary role in the development of the church historically and traditionally. This has included the printing press for dispersion of information throughout the church and its members and has followed through to the present use of the Internet for information dispersion to church members and the community. The Internet is presently used for many aspects of evangelism and is a mode of communicating with potential church members and is a method of communication that has an appeal to the younger generation.

The Internet has tools for communication including chat boards, blogs, and other forums that allow members to communicate with potential church members. As reported in this study the internet has been adopted by many churches with great reservation as the Internet and other technologies are viewed by many as a form of blasphemy when used in worship services. However, it has been acknowledged among many churches that failure to adopt the use of the Internet would only serve to negatively affect the church in terms of its role, services, and function in the community. As noted in the work of Lamb (nd) the use of technology in today’s churches includes such as global communication, live streaming of church services, and teaching about faith. Further uses of technology in the church include fundraising.

The Catholic Church has instructed its congregation that media is viewed by the Church as a gift from God as it can be used for socially communicating in the modern world. In fact, this work has shown that thirty years ago that Pope Paul VI noted that the church would be guilty of failing God if it failed to use the new methods offered by technology for reaching the world population with the gospel. The Catholic Church notes the benefits of using media for spreading the news about religious functions and the ideas of Christianity.

Social communication media shrinks the distance between the Church and those the Church needs to reach. Furthermore, the Internet has presented a new avenue of communication for functions of governance and administration of the church. The Church is able to conduct meetings and members are able to collaborate amongst one another through the use of the Internet. Education of Clergy and other Church administration should include education on the use of technology and technological applications for social communication. In fact, as noted in the work of Schultz (nd) the church has an enormous task in regards to using technology for worship, and presently many churches are not prepared for this task. The use of technology in the church particularly in its presentational form is very little understood and this has resulted in some misuse of technology in today’s worship services. It must be understood by today’s churches that if they desire to reach out to the community and world around them that the use of technology is of primary importance however, it must also be understood that all technological communication is not necessarily effective communication.

This work has shown that the Methodist Church supports the use of technology in both worship and mission. Jesus is reported in this study to be an expert communicator who used such signs. Jesus is noted in this study to have utilized tools for communicating his message to the masses therefore, the contemporary church should follow the example set out by Jesus and adopt technological communications that are effective in communicating the gospel to the world.

This work has reviewed an internet with Tom Ferguson, associate deputy of interfaith relations for the Episcopal Church, Kirk L. Kroeker reports that technology is assisting in defining changes globally as third world countries are even participating in Internet communications. Early Christians have been noted in this study to have advanced from the use of the codex to the use of books as they were easier to handle and lasted much longer than the codex form of written work. Religion is noted by Ferguson to be intricately woven with technology and in fact to have one of the biggest reasons that technology has advanced so rapidly in its use. Sadly, technology is not utilized as it should and needs to be in the church today and there is presently a digital divide in today’s religion. Seminaries have been found in this study to be the sector of religious institutions that have most firmly resisted the use of technology.

This study has found that as noted by the National Council of Churches USA that the use of such as interactive television, CD-ROM, VCRs, video games, fiber optics across broadcast, cable, and satellite has served to support and improve the communication of information by the Church to the world it intends to reach. The National Council of Churches holds that there is a need for today’s church to acknowledge the role of media in the area of metaphor and symbolic use and in learning to communicate interactively with the community in distributing the gospel to the world. Technology can be used for building relationships not only among members of the Church but with the community and promotes better decision-making due to the effective access and distribution of information among members of the Church. Technology enables better financial management of the affairs of the church and further serves to enable a higher level of accountability in church budgeting and reporting. Finally, technology services enable more efficiency in delivering the church services. Should today’s church fail to take advantage of the technology available to support its mission then the church will necessarily fail on that mission which is going forth into the world and making disciples of all men as instructed by Jesus to his disciplines in the New Testament, Gospel of John, Chapter 3, Verse 16.

References

Drucker, P. (2001). 21st Century Leadership Challenges. New York, NY: Harper Business.

Eisenstein, E.L. (1979). The Printing Press as an Agent of Change. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. (1983). The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Ferguson, T. (2005). “Technology and religion: An interview with the Episcopal Church’s Tom Ferguson.” Kroeker, K.L. on TechNews World, Web.

George, Susan (2006) Religion and Technology in the 21st Century, Faith in the E-World. Idea Group Inc.

Harvey, Carlton F. (2006) Technology and the Church Through the Centuries. 2006. Sciphre Institute. Web.

How Technology Can Help Your Church (nd) Blackbaud White Paper. Web.

Kroeker, Kirk L. (2004) Technology and Religion: An Interview with the Episcopal Church’s Tom Ferguson. Tech Buzz. Web.

Lamb, Paul (nd) From Oral to Digital: How Communication Technologies Are Transforming the Church. Slideshare. Web.

Murrow, David (2005) Why Men Hate Going to Church. Thomas Nelson, Inc. Web.

Schulz, Quentin J. (2004) High-Tech Worship?: Using Presentational Technologies Wisely. Baker Books. Web.

Stackhouse, M.L., Dearborn, T. and Paeth, S. (2000) The local church in a global era: reflections for a new century. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.

Technology and the Church (2011) The Methodist Church – Information & Communication Technology. Web.

Technology unites missionaries, families around the world (2011) Reporter. The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Web.

The Church and the Internet (nd) Pontifical council for Social Communication. Web.

Using Technology in Worship and Mission (2005) Methodist Church, Web.

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