Jan. 10, 2004
In his new book "High-Tech Worship?" -- published by Baker Books in Grand Rapids -- Calvin College professor Quentin Schultze tells the story of a worship service in which the pastor was welcoming worshipers "in the name of" when the Microsoft Windows logo came up on the screen behind him.
"Worse yet," he says, "the computer program than blasted the Windows boot-up sound over the house speakers. Instead of hearing the name of Jesus Christ, worshipers heard the Microsoft musical boot."
He uses the example to symbolize the fact that technology and God sometimes compete for attention in worship. The same technologies that can enhance worship can detract from it -- and not always so obviously.
"Technology," he says, "has become a critical part of many church worship settings in North America. Interestingly the church is growing the fastest in places like Africa and Latin America, where technology is rarely if ever incorporated into worship. But in North America, particularly in the U.S., we are the most tech-optimistic people in the world. We see tech as the solution for problems in education, in politics, in medicine and now in religion."
But in his quintessential Quentin Schultze way he is no tech luddite, seeking to remove all technology from worship experiences. Rather he urges churches to neither reject technology in worship, nor revere it.
Churches, he says, need to figure out what their strengths are and then consider how technology might enhance those strengths. So, he says, a church whose hallmark is strong singing and harmony would not want to sing from an overhead screen featuring solely lyrics. But a church with a strong history of art in the sanctuary -- banners, paintings, sculpture -- might want to look at how projected art could add to the worship experience.
"Technology," says Schultze, "in worship needs to be fitting -- fitting to the experience of worshiping God, but also fitting to the tradition of the church, its denomination, and its local mission. There is no one-size-fits-all approach."
The church in the 21st century has a glorious opportunity before it says Schultze, and not just with new technologies.
"The unfolding of God's creation gives us the opportunity to adapt worship practices from church history as well as from existing human culture anywhere in the world. We can use voice and microphone, press and projector, body and vestment, candle and spotlight."
For "High-Tech Worship?" (subtitled Using Presentation Technologies Wisely) Schultze worked with the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship on the campus of Calvin College. His former student and now seminarian Steve Koster surveyed all churches in Kent and Ottawa counties in West Michigan to determine how many are using new technologies and what sorts of advantages and drawbacks they have experienced.
When asked what motivated churches to adopt visual media technologies, 84 percent of the respondents said "to gain contemporary relevance" and 77 percent said "to gain youth relevance." Schultze doesn't think the reasons are necessarily bad, but he does worry that many churches are putting too much hope in the power of technology alone to revive worship, attract youth, and evangelize.
He notes that that an in-depth study of seven technology intensive churches across the country -- including CentrePointe in SE Grand Rapids -- found that the real benefits are much more subtle yet very important. Using technology tends to get more members involved in planning and conducting worship. It also leads even more contemporary churches to consider older forms of visual communication in worship, from liturgical dance to greater attention to decoration of the sanctuary.
On January 29 Schultze and others will lead a daylong workshop on using new technologies wisely in worship. Presenters will address topics such as designing PowerPoint slides, tuning technology to worship style, using presentations as sanctuary art, and fitting technology to architecture. Participants will receive a copy of Schultze's new book and a DVD of "best technology practices" with examples from Protestant and Roman Catholic churches around the country.
Sponsored by Calvin's annual Symposium on Worship, the workshop also will review the results of the survey of West Michigan churches. For more information see the Institute website at www.calvin.edu/worship
The DVD, the book and the workshop, says Schultze, are all meant to help churches use technology appropriately as well as effectively.
"A lot of churches," he says, "are really struggling with this issue."