The world today has become virtual. Life and movement (and sometimes it feels like breath itself) happen digitally. People no longer push their friends into swimming pools due to the risk of destroying a phone. Many won’t hang out with a new acquaintance until they’ve had the chance to scope him or her out on the social media. And others have all but given up on phone calls in lieu of texts and email. But what does this “cyber-fication” of life mean for the church? How can it apply to worship? Does it affect people’s relationship with God?
It’s important to look at this issue from a few different angles. There is no black and white answer on whether or not technology is good or bad. It is quite nuanced and still very new. Technology also means so much more than just web and social connectivity. There is constant technological development in the realms of sound, lighting, instrumentation, transportation, communication and more.
To fully address the ups and downs of how technology affects liturgy, we must look at it from three different angles: technology “for” the church, technology “in” the church, and technology “as” the church.
1: Technology For The Church
Right now, the church has the opportunity to be more equipped, empowered and trained than ever before in the history of man. The information age has made the transfer of knowledge as seamless as a handshake.
The Apostle Paul wrote long scripts by hand, sent them across hundreds of miles of water or desert, all just to hope that they reached the hands of church elders. But now pastors can simply speak from the comfort of their offices and instantaneously stream the message online to thousands of homes. There’s no risk of it getting lost and no possibility that the message will come too late to be helpful. Information gets exactly where it needs to be in a moment’s notice. This transfer of knowledge is incredible!
Furthermore, leaders and pastors are taking entire online courses like WorshipU (shameless plug) or online seminary to become experts in theology, worship, leadership and business.
Technology has made it possible for everyone to have a stunning wealth of knowledge in whatever area they’re passionate in.
Technology for the church also goes beyond teaching and educational platforms and is now assisting in the daily lives of churches and their staff to make things simpler and more efficient. There are a host of apps and programs that make it easy to prepare notes, share sermons with the congregation, schedule appointments with the team, or do a Bible study together. In fact, the entire Bible is now available in every translation within a single app. It’s amazing!
The use of modern technology for the church is absolutely necessary in order to stay relevant. However, we do not mean relevant in the sense of changing value systems to appeal to society. Relevance is about communicating and demonstrating the values you carry in a way that will actually be received and understood by the masses at large. These are the days where people are sending and receiving information through apps, email, web, and various technology, which means these are the mediums by which churches must be communicating as well.
2: Technology In The Church
This is the category that seems to be the most debated, particularly within the context of worship. How much technology is acceptable? How much is too much? At what point does it stop enhancing worship and start becoming a distraction?
If one reviews the church’s stance on technology in worship over the past few decades, we see a recurring pattern. When a technology is brand new, it is often seen as scary and unacceptable in the church. But as the younger generations come into the church, things begin to change. These generations do not view the advancements as distracting or out of place. They are an aspect of their everyday lives outside of the church and are therefore viewed as normal. As these younger generations step into leadership, the technologies follow them.
Right now, the new and “questionable” technologies that the church seems to be debating are the use of things like lights, fog machines and video during worship. Many claim that these devices create overly sensational experiences, causing believers to confuse the Presence of God with an emotional response to sensory stimuli. There is fear that the sound system will be too overwhelming for people to hear God. There is also the concern that people will become drawn to an attraction rather than a relationship with Him.
Unfortunately, the underlying belief in this type of argument is that God is too small to overcome environmental distractions. This also presupposes that God doesn’t use external stimuli to reveal Himself. However, both of these stances opposing technology in the church are small-minded and, honestly, don’t line up with scripture. Romans 1:20 tells us that God reveals His nature through created things. Psalm 19:1 says that the skies and heavens declare God’s glory and Revelation 4 explains that God’s throne is surrounded by a spectacular array of lights like that of a rainbow and emeralds. It is safe to say that most people would agree that seeing a rainbow around the throne of God would very much appeal to the senses.
God is the creator of all. He shows Himself through creation and He uses the creations of man and nature to display His glory. No height, no depth, no amount of lights, and no volume of sound can separate us from the love of God.
He will not be restrained by those devices and He will ever be able to use them for His glory.
3: Technology As The Church
The expansion of online community has created a false sense of connection. This is where the church is starting to experience some challenges and difficulties. Many people are staying at home and making video streaming their primary “church attendance.” But this creates a breakdown to the entire point of gathering.
Bill Johnson, senior pastor at Bethel Church in Redding, says “Pleasing worship to God happens in the context of people loving people.” This is why in Matthew 5:4, we are commanded to go and make things right with our brother before we bring our worship to the altar. Worship is not strictly a vertical expression. It is meant to be enjoyed in the midst of friends, family and healthy relationship.
What better place to find prayer and encouragement than in an atmosphere of love and unity.
Not only that, but worship is maximized in the presence of others. The writer of Hebrews encourages the Body to never stop meeting together. When we worship corporately, we are inspired and encouraged by one another’s hearts. We are reminded of God’s goodness through the testimonies of our friends. We can have our faith inspired by the people around us, which takes everyone into a deeper encounter of worship.
While streaming sermons and worship sets online can bring enrichment to our personal walks with the Lord, it can never take the place of the strength and unity found when we gather together for where two or more are gathered, so God is there with them.
In closing, if there are questions about technology, measure it first against the word of God. Does this specific technology go against what He has called us to? If not, is it something can be used to either bring Him glory or bring people together? Finding the right tools to direct people to God and connect people to each other is always beneficial. It might seem strange or foreign at first, but that doesn’t make it wrong. Digital and cyber technology is just another avenue that God will use to communicate how much He loves His bride.