More 'High-Tech' Churches Emerging in America

( [email protected] ) Mar 24, 2006 04:00 PM EST

WASHINGTON ¨C With more and more churches powering up technology for worship, ministry, fellowship, discipleship, and even evangelism and prayer in recent years, it seems America¡¯s faith communities have embraced modern technology with open arms.

¡°With many churches going high-tech, some say the marriage of spirituality and technology is a match made in heaven,¡± noted anchor and reporter Eun Yang from News4 in Washington, D.C.

Studies of Protestant churches by the Phoenix-based Ellison Research firm and the Barna Group of Ventura, Calif., have revealed how congregations are increasingly ¡°plugged in¡± when it comes to media-savvy ministry.

According the research groups, between 47 percent and 57 percent of Protestant churches have their own Web sites; more than six out of ten Protestant churches use large-screen projection systems to highlight their weekly announcements, song lyrics and sermon presentations; sixty-one percent of congregations incorporate video clips into their worship services; and one-fifth of churches e-mail their newsletter to church members, though only 4 percent offer an online member directory.

"Technology's a wonderful thing,¡± commented the Rev. Robert Kang of the Church In Bethesda to News4. ¡°It helps us to communicate better. It helps us in all different facets of life. And why not use technology to help people experience spirituality in different ways as well?"

¡°Expediency has always been at the core of technological innovations,¡± noted Rebecca Barnes, editor of Church Central, "and those impacting churches and Christians are no different."

Some churches, such as Northland Community Church in Longwood, Fla., have caught on to the Church-Tech boom, which has seen the rise of the ¡°satellite church,¡± where parishioners have become comfortable substituting a live sermon with a virtual one. This past Sunday, Northland parishioners watched a sermon given by senior pastor Joel C. Hunter via a live video feed from the main church to its church location in a nearby high school auditorium in Longwood.

According to Atlanta-based Streaming Faith, the largest provider of Internet broadcast services to faith-based organizations worldwide, more than 2 million people each month access its streaming video and audio broadcasts of programs and worship services from many of the nation's largest and most influential churches and ministries. Its clients include Bishop G.E. Patterson, leader of the Memphis-based Church of God in Christ, and Trinity Broadcasting Network, the California-based Christian network that operates Trinity Music City USA in Hendersonville where visitors attend concerts, seminars and other TBN-sponsored events.

Many churches, however, have yet to begun utilizing state-of-the-art projection systems and satellite broadcasting to present their messages, though most places of worship now have Web sites. And an even smaller, tech-savvy percentage is getting into the world of pod casting as well, offering sermons, songs and prayers to download, according to News4 reporter Shannon Bream.

This past weekend, the ¡°Techvangelism '06¡± conference in Menlo Park, Calif., raised awareness in the Christian and church community about a growing industry that some Christians have yet to grab onto.

Touching on a series of popular technological tools, conference co-chairman Angela Hey pointed to the absence of Christian application in various tools, using cell phones and web logs as examples.

"Christians need to put good content on cell phones," Hey said. And although print newspapers are an essential medium for news information, Hey said individuals, particularly ¡°bloggers,¡± are coming out with "the best news" nowadays.

"There's a new opportunity for Christians to write their story and communicate with people," she said. "That's a major industry that's going on right now and the church needs to be made aware of it."

Scott Lindsey, ministry relations director for Logos Bible Software and one of the conference speakers, commented on the same problem that was seen 15 years ago when his company was founded by its president, Bob Pritchett.

"Bob Pritchett saw the whole world changing in regards to technology, but sadly, the church wasn't doing anything with it," said Lindsey, whose Bible software company is now the world's largest. Over the last 15 years, Logos has converted theological books into e-books.

At the Techvangelism conference, Lindsey addressed church leaders and lay people on how to stay current with emerging technology.

"What I bring to the table is cutting edge tools for studying the Bible," he commented, "and how the church can use technology for a much thorough, deeper Bible study."

This year's Techvangelism conference was held ahead of Internet Evangelism Day, which falls on May 7. Initiated by an umbrella group of evangelical Christian organizations, including the Billy Graham Center, Campus Crusade for Christ, Mission America and others, the day is encouraged as an international effort among churches, Bible colleges and Christian organizations to communicate the outreach potential of the Web.

Lillian Kwon in New York contributed to this report.