From digital camera captures to powerpoint presentations, technology has been rapidly changing the face of worship in the current day church. And according to worship leaders across denominations, these advancements have transformed the worship experience into a dynamic presentation of the gospel that draws not only committed members but newcomers to the church as well.
"We try to gear what happens on the big screen to show people how to become participators in worship as opposed to spectators of worship," said Brian Steckman, lighting director at Phoenix First Assembly in Arizona.
According to Siobhan Klos, production director at Pheonix First, multimedia affects help first time visitors get accustomed to the worship.
"When people are unchurched and don't know the words to a song, if they see words on a screen they're more likely to sing along," Klos said. "If they don't know the words, they won't join in. It creates an atmosphere to help worship."
Mark Hermann, media and technologies director at Capital Christian Center in Sacramento agreed, saying that the new technologies help the church relate to the congregants.
"The goal of any church today is to be relevant to the community and the people who are walking in the doors," said Herman. "We are so attuned to walking in and watching TV. While some might classify [our use of technology] as entertainment, we call it being relevant to the people we are trying to reach."
The latest in church ‘entertainment,’ according to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Lifeway Resources, is direct video streaming during service and worship.
"Video technology is probably the hot button right now. More and more churches are getting interested in using video as a communications tool," said Jerry Horn, marketing manager for All Pro Sound. "The pricing on video has really made it affordable and within reach of even smaller congregations looking to have a better or more effective way to communicate in their services."
"Worship leaders use video to help set the mood of worship and to direct congregational singing, oftentimes replacing the traditional printed bulletins and hymnals with onscreen versions of the lyrics," said Horn. "Pastors use video to emphasize key points in their sermons, thus helping the congregation to better understand the message being presented."
However, media expert Quentin Schultze warned that in some cases, this inflow of technology may in fact distract worship rather than enhance it.
"We have to put them in the context of worship, rather than allow them to distort worship," says Schultze, who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. "Technological distortion of worship is transforming it into either entertainment or teaching as is found in a university or business setting."
Schultze, the author of "High-Tech Worship? Using Presentation Technologies Wisely," noted that the fastest growing churches are in Africa and Latin America, where technology is not readily available in the sanctuary.
"In the United States we are the most tech-optimistic people in the world," Schultze says. "We see tech as the solution for problems in education, politics, medicine and now religion."
Greg Slape, director of communications technologies at James River Assembly in Ozark, Missouri, agreed with Schultze, saying that there must be a balanced use of technology during the worship.
"It should be used to make the experience easier," says Slape. "If that's a case of putting the Scripture on the screen so somebody could actually take notes, then fine. All we're doing is making it possible to take notes more accurately."
Despite such warnings, however, churches have rapidly integrated the new developments into their weekly gatherings and retreats. All in all, the results seem positive.
"Ten years ago, there was a sense in which the people in the pews considered themselves to be the audience," said Brian Fuller of the Full Circle Media in Raleigh, North Carolina. "The congregation was preached at or to. They were occasionally enlisted in singing, but they were not performing. Now, even in a church of 300 people, a media-savvy service involves a lot more people."
Fuller also noted that technology shortens the generational gap within the current day church.
“14-year-olds who know how to make PowerPoint presentations are connecting with 80-year-olds who have visual materials that can be used for those slides. That's a kind of intergenerational collaboration of worship we haven't seen for a long time. I'm wholly excited,” said Fuller.
Sharon Lister, a member of James River Assembly for 12 years, has severe nerve deafness and reads lips. Lister said she is grateful that technology has aided her in understanding preaching and worship, no matter what the cons may be.
"Music, especially fast-tempo music, is hard to follow, so I appreciate the words on the screen," Lister said. "Also, when the choir or soloist sings, I can enjoy the music along with the words."