When I was in my early 20s, I went to a church in Northridge that had – for the first time I’d ever seen – a projector showing song lyrics during the worship service. I had been involved in tech for quite a while and had been involved in my local church for even longer. Never had it occurred to me that they could go together. It was an epiphany moment.
An un-named number of years later, churches everywhere are dealing with how to integrate technology into worship. Projectors and computers are making their way into worship spaces. Cameras record images and sometimes even offer image magnification on those same projectors. Announcements scroll before the worship, and maybe there’s even a quick video clip before the sermon. And yet the question is – is this enough? Even if the worship gathering is a well-crafted blend of flashy tech and spiritual worship, is it enough?
I say nay-nay.
In a conversation with George Strawn – CIO of the National Science Foundation and dedicated trustee here at CST – we talked about practical uses for technology in a church setting. And what we talked about went far beyond projection in worship. Here are a few more opportunities for faith communities to take advantage of technology:
- Website. Ok, maybe this sounds overly-simple. Or does it? How often do you research online? It’s disturbing how many churches do not have a website. And how hard is it really? Your domain name is around $10-15 per year and hosting is somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 a year. The challenge comes in web design. My suggestion is that churches don’t get that one member of the congregation who thinks that maybe they can do it ’cause they built a page for their cousin’s friend’s sister’s father-in-law’s business. If there’s not a professional web designer in the congregation – and face it, not a lot of churches have those – consider a CMS (that’s a Content Management System). This means that non-technical folks can update your web page without breaking it! Know going in that it isn’t easy to set up. Be willing to have someone skilled do it for you – even if you have to pay for it. It’s worth it!!
- Blog. Every leader in every faith community should blog. It’s cheap (and by cheap, I mean free), it’s easy, and it’s a way for people who are looking for a church (or other faith family) to connect with the leadership and community. And don’t forget to link to it from your website!
- Podcast. Ok, podcasts are technically a little more advanced. With that said, there are ways for the technically-challenged to get this done too. The keys are that you’ll need a way to record your service, to digitize it, and to make it available to the online community. And, it’s important in this to remember copyright!
I get that these are only 3 things. Can 3 things really make a difference? I’m not sure they will in-and-of themselves. What they can do is to help a church shift its paradigm. Ultimately, the use of technology for a faith community is not to replace traditional ways of reaching the community, but to add to the conversation – to add to what is already happening.
Think about it this way. When McDonald’s started selling coffee, did they stop making their Big Mac? Nope. They did a new thing. They did it in addition to what they were already doing. And they did it well – it was good coffee.
This dovetails nicely into the book I’ve been reading. Jeff Jarvis offers in What Would Google Do? five things that any organization can learn from Google (yes, he says any organization… so couldn’t that mean the church??):
- Create. I think the 3 tips above give a good start for this one, and the resulting paradigm shift – if it’s allowed to happen – will bring about more creativity. Embrace it!
- Listen. Most people will tell you what they think of your sermon, even if it’s falling asleep in the middle of it. The same is true online. The blog sites out there offer the opportunity for people to comment. Read these and pay attention! Take them to heart and be willing to respond.
- Link. Just like I suggested linking your blog to your website, link other important sites: your denomination’s website, your neighboring churches, your community or city website, the local food-bank or shelter, and especially those organizations that have a relationship with your church. When you provide a link to another site, ask them to link to you!
- Join. This is where Social Networking comes in. If you don’t already know about Facebook and Twitter, find out. Now. Don’t wait. Sign up and do everything you can to connect with others. And see my previous blog on this.
- Innovate. This is where you’re open to the paradigm change. When we try new things, we often become open to even more new things. We become creative. Nurture this!
Theology is not something to be relegated to the academic institutions of yesterday. Theology is practical – and more – is is alive. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking – and look in new places using new tools! I promise. It’s there.