Technology. It is an ever-changing and constant presence in our lives.
I remember the first time that I saw a projection screen in the sanctuary. It was “Youth Sunday” and the high school youth were excitedly flipping through a stack of transparencies and teaching their favorite camp songs to the congregation. As excited as they were, and the other youth, I will always remember the grumbles about how the screen and projector “ruined the worship space” and were a distraction. “Keep camp at the beach” one person said at the close of worship as they lamented the use of this technology. This was just the start of a constant debate in almost every church that continues even today.
Over the years, many churches have reformed their worship services to include the use of the latest technology. First, it was projected song lyrics to accompany the praise band. Then, the bulletin would be placed into a PowerPoint and projected. It wasn’t long before sanctuaries were remodeled and budgets included built in screens and hidden projectors, complete with a matching A/V booth. Today, many pastors can connect their tablet to the network and control the elaborate presentation from the pulpit!
I have seen these new and varied resources used in both wonderful and not-so-advanced ways as I travel around to different churches. I have longed for the physical hymnal that has been replaced by the colorful and void of music PowerPoint. I have understood sermons in a new way as I reflect with others on the pictures that the pastor projects.
This past Sunday, I saw a wonderful balance in the way that technology was used in worship at Topsail Presbyterian Church. Monitors are placed, not only at the front and back of the sanctuary, but also on the pulpit so that the pastor can look down and know what is being projected as they lead worship. Hymns are displayed with words and music, but the hymn number is made available for those who wish to use the hymnals in the pew rack. Images included in the PowerPoint add to the beauty of worship and each person is able to follow-along with the scripture reading without feeling as if it will take to too long to look it up. The use of a security camera even allows for the sermons to be recorded and shared with ease and at little expense! The use of technology never eliminated the physical bulletin and hymnal, however it did help each person to be able to look up and see who they were worshiping with rather than always having to look down and even invites others outside of the worship hour to join from home.
There is a change in worship when we see who we are with. Papers and books can be just as much of a distraction as a screen at the front of the worship space if we have to spend time flipping and finding, rather than looking up and around. More often than not, I personally find that I find a comfortable bubble- my hymnal, Bible, and myself- during worship. If our heads are up, we see who is front of us, we can see who is beside us. Faces are placed with prayers and smiles encourage us into our challenges.
The struggle of how to use technology in worship, if at all, continues in many churches. Topsail Presbyterian is a wonderful example of technology done right, complete with the ability to keep experimenting and changing the way the monitors are used. The monitors do not add distraction or take away from the worship time and space, but instead bring the congregation together in thanksgiving and praise, looking up at God’s creation rather than down at a piece of paper.
How does your congregation use technology in worship?
If you do not use technology, what are your reasons?
Rev. Jordan B. Davis