Observations on Life, Faith, Media & Technology

God and Gadgets

What is the appropriate use of technology in the church?  When does it help and when does it hinder?  C.A. Phillips has written a thoughtful post about the danger of technology becoming a substitute for the real thing, especially in our spiritual life.  The post was inspired by a conversation about someone saying they didn’t need to come to church because they could listen to the church’s podcast.

Gadgets1 Since I’m no longer on the staff of a church and not constrained by the need for diplomacy, I can say it bluntly: That’s just plain stupid.  When I see a commercial for Red Lobster showing me every kind of delicious shrimp imaginable, I don’t stand up, pat my belly and say, “Wow, that was great.  I’m stuffed.”

There’s two reasons we need to come together in worship – to be fed and to lift each other up.  A technology substitute for worship – whether it be a TV or radio broadcast, live stream, or podcast – can accomplish the feeding part, but at best it can only give you some semblance of encouragement and uplift.  You miss out on being an encouragement to others.  Being a blessing to others is a vital part of your spiritual growth.  In his famous prayer, St. Francis of Assisi wisely stated that “it is in giving that we receive.”  You need personal interaction with others!

My friend Kurt Kaiser is best known for writing the song “Pass It On” in the 1970s.  He says the inspiration for that song came at a campfire.  He saw a brightly glowing ember roll away from the fire.  Almost immediately the bright glow began to dim and in just a matter of moments it was cold.  That ember needed the fire to keep glowing. In the same way, you and I need the corporate setting to realize we are a part of something bigger than ourselves.

Hebrews 10:25 says “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” (NLT)  You’ll notice that verse doesn’t say anything about the “feeding” aspect of gathering together, only the encouragement part.

Let’s be honest – when someone tells you they don’t need to come to church because they can watch it at home, that is nothing more than a cop out.  If I don’t want to come to church, one lame excuse is as good as the next one.  If it’s not “I can just listen to the podcast” it would be “I can worship God just as well on the lake or the golf course.”

So should we limit the availability of technology because someone will use it as an excuse to not come to church?  Absolutely not!  Why penalize the hundreds of people who will be touched, encouraged and inspired by your broadcast or podcast just because of one disingenuous person who uses it as an excuse to not come to church?  For every one who uses it as an inappropriate substitute there will be scores of folks who cannot come to church due to illness or being out of town who will use it appropriately to stay connected.

I make my living with technology, and specifically with technology that assists churches and ministries in distributing their message to a wider audience.  We help churches around the world stream their services live or on demand and to distribute podcasts and downloadble MP3s.  I can point you to case study after case study that proves conclusively when a church uses these strategies, local attendance goes up, not down.  That’s because most people when they see the yummy seafood on TV want to go to Red Lobster. They aren’t satisfied with just the electronic image, they want to taste and experience the real thing.

For the past few weeks I have attended the video venue at my church.  We’re on the same campus, just fifty yards or so from the main auditorium.  The worship is live but when the time comes for the message, we watch Mike on a high-def screen.  It was interesting to watch the people interact with “video Mike.”  They responded just as if they were in the “live” service, nodding their heads, verbally responding when appropriate, even standing in response to the invitation to say, “please pray for me.” This is a prime example of where technology not only doesn’t get in the way, it literally expands our territory.

Wise ministries look for ways to use technology to make them more effective at both the feeding and the encouraging components of our mission.  You can’t fail to take advantage of these opportunities just because someone will use it as an excuse to not gather with the body.  That is nothing new – it was happening back in the first century since the writer of Hebrews included the line “as some people do.” 

C.A. put it well in his post: “If your idea of church is listening to a sermon each week, then I guess it doesn’t change much in your life.”

The bottom line is this: Your goal is to communicate with honesty and integrity.  There’s no reason not to use any and all technology you can to help you do that more effectively and to a wider audience.  But when you attempt to use technology to make it appear that you are something or someone that you are not, as a leader or as a church, that is wrong and eventually you will be exposed as a fraud.  Even in things technological, be sure your sins will eventually find you out.

Read C.A.’s post “Technology as a Substitute?” here.

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