Technology and the Church

I am very interested in the use of electronic media and technology in the church. Yesterday I came across this short bog post that sparked a few thoughts.

Click Here for the full post.

Mark Batterson is the Sr. Pastor at National Community Church in Washington DC. They are a large multi-site church that meets in movie theaters along metro stops around DC. The only permanent meeting space they have is a coffee shop called "Ebenezer's" on Capitol Hill. Last year I spoke to one of their pastors who shared that their primary evangelism efforts are done via internet. He called it "e-vangelism". They are very intentionally going into the "virtual" world where people spend ridiculous amounts of time and trying to connect with them through the internet. They webcast their service as part of that outreach.

I don't believe that watching a webcast of a worship service is anywhere near the same experience as physically gathering in worship, but I also think that we might learn something from those folks who are using this powerful medium of the internet to plant the seeds of relationships. In the blog post Batterson says,

"For what it's worth, 54% of our attenders visited theaterchurch.com before coming to a service. This is old news but a healthy reminder: your website is the front door to your church! It's your first impression. Especially with our demographic–about 66% of NCCers are single twenty-somethings."

Those stats are particularly striking to me considering the results of the recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Our natural tendency as human beings, I think, is to look at technology and immediately (and sometimes only) consider what it is going to make obsolete because it often threatens our comfort zone. Email is going to make snail mail obsolete…electronic books are going to make "real" books obsolete… chat rooms are going to make face-to-face conversations obsolete…PowerPoint is going to make hymnals obsolete…etc. There are certainly cases where this is true. The new medium is simply more effective or more efficient than the old and the old becomes obsolete. Cassette certainly made 8-track tapes and Vinyl (although some would argue vinyl has never adequately been replaced) obsolete and then CDs have done the same to cassettes. The question of what a particular technology or medium will obsolesce, however, is only one question to ask of our media and technology. Marshall McLuhan (google him if you don't know who he is) identified four things to consider when evaluating the use of any technology:

  1. Determine what the technology enhances.
  2. Find out what, if anything, the technology makes obsolete.
  3. Figure out what the technology retrieves.
  4. Determine what the technology reverts into when pushed to the limit.

I think all of these are important to consider when we think of using technology in the church or in any frame of life. Looking again at the internet, you would be hard pressed to find any church leader that would say the preferred way to be the church is on the internet. Even LifeChurch.TV who has an "internet campus" ultimately views the internet as a means to make connections with people that will hopefully lead to face-to-face meetups. Going back to the question of "what does this technology obsolesce?" If this is the only thing we consider in our use of technology, then we may miss the possibility of what that same technology might enhance or retrieve that was lost with the use of any prior technology.

This is turning into a book. Sorry. If you want to read a book on the subject, I highly recommend The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Faith, the Gospel, and Church by Shane Hipps.

One thought on “Technology and the Church

  1. You raise some very interesting questions here, and they are issues we have also tried to address at Internet Evangelism Day.
    There are two different models of evangelism here. In the local church website context, the primary purpose of the site should be to draw people in to relationships with the face-to-face real local church. In other words, the church site should be a shop window to the fellowship. Sadly, most church sites are written primarily for the members, and are not geared for outsiders at all. We have developed a church site self-assessment tool to help churches develop sites to relate to outsiders.
    There are also huge opportunities for reaching people distant from you, through outreach sites, social networking, chat rooms, and many other ways. The key is almost always to build relationships – as indeed with any type of evangelism.
    Blessings
    Tony

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