Technology: A Blessing or a Curse for the Church?

Live vs. Hologram

Maybe both.  When I was a young pastor, it was a big deal when I had a microphone attached to the pulpit.  Technological progress was made, when I could clip a small microphone on my tie or lapel.  We even began recording sermons on cassette tapes.  I know I’m showing my age.  At least I do not recall anybody having sermons on 8 track tapes.  My how times have changed.

Fast forward to today.  Everybody, it seems, has what once was called a “boy-band” head microphone.  You know, the kind that allowed guys entertain teenage girls more by their dance moves than the quality of their voices.  Cassettes are long gone.  CD’s and DVD’s exist, but even those are passe when it comes to iTunes, mp3’s, and livestreaming options on-line.

As churches became larger, video screens were installed to facilitate a good view of the preacher.  As multi-site churches have taken off, video presentations in satellite locations are becoming more frequent.  Now, as this CNN article reports, some preachers now appear as holograms on the platform.  If a 2 dimensional image on a screen is good, then a 3D image hovering over the platform is better.

What should we make of this?  My friend, Todd Littleton, has what he admits is a “snarky” piece on this phenomenon.  Todd raises some interesting concerns about this.  His article is well worth the read.  I am not sure I have a definitive answer on this issue, but I do have some observations.  These observations come from somebody who has a regular diet of on-line preaching.  I have also attended one multi-site church in which I watched and listened to the sermon on a big screen.  I have also attended a multi-site church in which each service had a “live” preacher.

1.  Technological glitches may occur.

I am not familiar with any live events that have the beamed in preacher appear contorted, distorted or invisible, but it certainly may happen at some point.  I was watching the SBC live from Orlando this year.  At precisely 5pm (less than 10 minutes before the main vote of the convention), the internet feed went dead.  Those of us who were watching live and interacting via Twitter, were left to reading tweets from those actually in attendance.  It was not so traumatic for us, but would surely be a distraction with this happening to the preacher in a worship service.

2.  How much do I miss if I stay home and watch the preacher on my computer screen rather than attend and watch him on a big screen?

I know the arguments.  I will miss the fellowship with the people.  But how much real fellowship occurs in a large group setting?  What I will miss is the standing, sitting, standing routine.  Don’t get me wrong.  I would rather be there, but I couldn’t really be convincing if somebody raised this question.

3.  Will I think differently of the preacher if he is not even in church at the time?

I know of one pastor who pre-recorded sermons while in another country and played them months later.  I am even familiar with one preacher who was at the baseball field watching his son play ball while his pre-recorded sermon was played to the congregation.  I’m all for family time, but I could stay home with my family and watch a service in less time than it takes to get dressed, drive and do all of the other stuff involved with going to church.

4.  Relationship is a part of preaching.

I’m not saying that the preacher has to personally be acquainted with everybody who hears him preach, but there is something about having a physical connection.  When I preached, I loved “connecting” with my hearers.  I knew people were praying for me while I preached.  You might be wasting that prayer if the sermon is already in the can.

5.  Are we not to be an incarnational people?

The incarnation is a big part of our theology.  God could have used any manner of medium to communicate to his created people.  Yet, the Son of God took upon flesh to walk among the people.  People could see him, hear him and touch him.  When Jesus ascended, the church became that “in flesh” element.  They scattered taking the message to the nations.

6.  What is the logical extension of this philosophy of ministry?

Do we really need seminaries to prepare pastors?  Let’s just select 1 super-duper lead pastor for the worldwide evangelical movement and let him preach one sermon a week that is satellite fed to church facilities and homes around the globe.  I know this is ridiculous, but is it not the same idea carried to the nth degree?

7.  In the CNN article, Thomas Long of Emory University, asked whether preachers would like it if the congregation appeared via hi-def technology. Good question.

8.  Long also asked if church people would accept the same technology for funeral services or hospital visits.

Think of the time saved if the pastor had one generic funeral sermon that was played for all funerals.

***Warning – The next comment will be “snarky.”***

7.  If the comment attributed to Ed Young in the CNN article is true, then it is an absurd defense.

Young, the Texas pastor, also invoked the New Testament to support his method of preaching.

Young said Biblical church leaders like the Apostle Paul wrote letters that were then distributed to churches across the Roman Empire. The church leaders weren’t physically present when those letters — some of which were later included in the New Testament — were read aloud, but that didn’t make the message any less profound, he said.

“All we’re doing is putting high definition, cool technology behind something that’s as old as the New Testament,” said Young.

First, Paul was an apostle.  That is a big difference.

Second, Paul’s letters were God-breathed and actual Scripture.

Third, Paul appointed elders (pastors) in every city in which he planted churches.  They were the regular preachers.

So, Young’s New Testament justification is actually a case for incarnational (in the flesh) preachers and pastors.

What do you think?  I am not saying that this is necessarily wrong, but we need better defenses than the ones I have heard so far.  Perhaps you have a better defense or another question about this.  Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

6 thoughts on “Technology: A Blessing or a Curse for the Church?

  1. Technology can be a good thing, but the way the use of the technology in church has evolved causes me great concern. Recently, due to a move, I was looking for a new church. Some friends invited us to what I call the “fad” church in the area that boasts 4000 plus members, three sanctuaries, and satelite campuses. One pastor would preach and simulcast to the other sanctuaries and locations. I was not impressed. My friends claimed to love the teaching, but when I began to inquire about personal relationships they developed in thier 3 years at the church, they could not name one importante friendship that developed. This saddened me deeply. I heard from another source that young mothers take their kids their “for the teaching” and then after awhile, move on due to the lack of friendships. From a third source, I heard that he was invited to a men’s bible study, where the Bible was never opened, and the topic of the day was “how to pleasure your wife” where they went into very explicit detail. This guy was single, searching for spiritual meaning, and was really put off by this.

    While teaching is important, is it what church is all about? What is the pastor’s role? Is it to be a dynamic personality and a great speaker and communicator, or is it more? If it is no more than that, then I guess simulcasting to as many people as possible to give them an encouraging message every week is ok. But it is not what church should be about. Church sould be about loving God, and loving our neighbor. I read a news story a few years ago about another pastor that had two locations. The journalist followed him through his Sunday. On Sunday morning, he had a “security team” surround him so no one could get to him due to his tight time schedule. He prayed, delivered his sermon, was promptly escorted to his SUV, driven at 80 miles per hour to the second location, and where he delivered a sermon there. This was a prominant SBC pastor. The article greatly sadenned me for the people of his church…the people he was called to love and minister to had limited to no access to him unless they made an appointment. Is this equiping people for ministry? I think not. It is teaching them that a good sermon is more important than loving God and loving our neighbors. This news story reminded me of the parable of the Good Samaritan. If that pastor had a seen a church member fall and cut their head open, would he have stopped hand helped them, getting blood on his freshly pressed suit and tie, or would he have had a member of his secuirty detail do it? I’m not sure, and I’m not judging, but I’m just pointing out a question.

    Pastoring is about meeting the needs of the people in the church. It is much more than good teaching or preaching. It involves getting your hands dirty. it means sitting down and crying with those who hurt, feeding those who are hungry, rejoicing with those who are happy.

    If a church is too big to see the pastor without a screen or simulcast, has the church become too big and should divide and start a new church? I don’t know the answer to that, but I am deeply concerned with the mega church movement that depersonalizes the Christian faith.


  2. Nick, first of all, welcome. Great to read your comments. I appreciate your comment. I’m not quite sure of the best remedy, but I don’t think this is it. My former church folks probably don’t remember my sermons, but I have talked with several of them about walking together in tough times.

    I think your examples are ones that have been played out in other churches. Somebody sharp needs to come up with some better answers.

  3. Frank,

    Thanks for the link love. I think you have added some important thoughts to the whole matter. For what it is worth, I always preferred hearing you preach in person rather than on radio or big screen. And, far more fun to push you around underneath the goal than your holographic self.


  4. Todd,
    Push me around under the goal??? I would of had of been a hologram for you to do that. You were too busy running around with all of that energy. My best defense was to grab your shirt and hold you in place.

  5. I think technology can be beneficial in some cases, I also think it is appropriate in some churches and not others. My church does not use a lot of technology for services. I have been to other churches where they have large video walls and high tech systems like Spyders and such that you see used on TV. I think that this is okay, but again it depends on the church. Church video screens can actually improve a service, it allows more people to see the pastor especially those who are in the back and more so if it is a large church. I’ve also been to a funeral at a church where they had large screens and there was a slide show of pictures that was very moving, had it not been for the large screens I wouldn’t have been able to see the slide show from where I was seated. I do not like the idea of a video image pastor I think that if your church has multiple locations than there should be multiple pastors that rotate from church to church and so on, not filling in a video image of themselves. So yes technology can be good and it can be bad, but in my opinion it all depends on the church.

  6. Marie, welcome. It’s good to have a new commenter. You have added some nice thoughts to the discussion. I think you’ve nailed the key issue – live or semi-live preachers.

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