Refusing to use technology in church?

Religion / Web/Tech

I’ve been an advocate of the church’s embrace of technology for a very long time. I’m sure I’ve become sort of bore about it. But I’m not sure I’ll go as far as this statement from a leader of the PCUSA:

“Cynthia Holder-Rich called herself “tech-curious” rather than “tech-saavy” and noted that “the tech scene keeps up its inexorable process of change, and being a decade or half a decade behind means that we in the church are generally out of the game.”

Landon Whitsitt, Vice Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), responded to Cynthia’s post.  He argues passionately about the role of technology.  He says:  ‘If we are not using technology as a part of our ministry . . .  we are saying we do not care about being an incarnational presence in this world.  By refusing to engage in the ways that those we would reach engage . . . we’re saying we don’t care about them.’ “

More here.

Christian’s have always used technology as part of our worship. There’s a reason that most churches before the age of microphones were long rectangular spaces (awesome acoustics). We were the people who popularized the codex over the scroll, and gave the printing press it’s first reason to exist. Churches are probably the biggest professional users of presentation software in any industry.

But there’s a question of using appropriate technology isn’t there? And sustainable tech as well. As I write this, oil is shooting up over $100/barrel on the reports of the rhetoric coming out of Tripoli. What will happen to the cost of paper bulletins with the full service printed out? What’s going to happen to the cost of keeping a big technology friendly glass box worship space heated?

I can be pretty easily convinced that we might go back to prayer books in the pews, and Victorian-style worship spaces with limited seating, small windows and high ceilings if oil continues to increase.

It’s not technology that going to make Church viable (if we insist on thinking that the Church depends on us to make viable). It’s going to be effective proclamation with the appropriate tools. So the question for us in the next decade is going to be; “What are the appropriate technologies?”

My first guess? Mobile tech – small, energy efficient portable communications and reference devices. (Which is part of the reason we’re one of the first congregations I know to have a decent mobile template for our parish website – take a look at on your phone sometime.)

What do you think?

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. I suspect the day will come when everyone will follow the service on their IPad or Motorola Xoom or some pew based system. The medium is more the message now than it was in the 60’s, time to reread McCluhan.

  2. Two parishes in Atlanta provided opportunity for mobile device users to scan barcode outside doors and download service bulletin for the service last Sunday.

  3. Paul Martin says

    My concern is for the parishes which lack the resources to be leaders in this area. Not every parish has a resident team of geeks. I guess the geeks among us have a responsibility to reach out and help. This stuff is still harder than it should be.
    Speaking of which, do you have any pointers for making a web site accessible to mobile devices?

  4. @Penelope – neat idea. We’ve just put up a barcode at some of our entrances here in Phoenix that takes Android and iPhone users directly to our Google “About” page.
    @Paul – adding the mobile template was pretty easy. We use Joomla for the Cathedral’s site. We just grabbed a free mobile template and some javascript browser detection code and we were good to go. Took about an hour to make it work. People who use Drupal or are with some of the other big CMS providers have managed to do the same. In the case of the Diocese here, it was just a matter of us showing them how to do it, and they were up and running before the end of the week.
    I think the bigger question is working out what the appropriate usage cases will be for the mobile users. I’m thinking they’re most interested in directions, service times and contact info. I don’t have a mobile template for this blog for instance. I publish the full RSS feed, and there are more than adequate RSS readers for people who want mobile access.

  5. Paul Martin says

    OK, I’ve read the piece. The author is over the top, probably trying to stir up some interest. I don’t think anyone is going to see that much symbolism in a parish which is a bit behind the curve.
    There is, however, a minimum a parish must provide to be taken seriously in 2011. A web presence, for example, along with a handful of email addresses. The web site should probably be updated at least six times a year. That is what it would take to add and remove special service information for Christmas, Ash Wednesday and Holy Week. (I wonder what fraction of TEC would meet that standard.)

  6. Matt Marino says

    Another easy way to do the mobile website is by using a WordPress template for your site. We just switched to that. It has a plug in that converts the site to “mobile friendly”. Took 5 seconds to push the “activate plugin” button.

  7. Mary Caulfield says

    It’s easy if you know how. Bear in mind that not everyone has a mobile device yet. We are a parish in an urban area, with an equal number of tech-savvy folks and a corresponding number of unemployed or underemployed people for whom these devices are a luxury. Our parish has email updates and is starting its own social network, but there are parishioners who are active volunteers, vestry members, etc. who just can’t afford broadband access at home. They go to the library or friends’ houses for their Internet time.
    There’s also a question of what the worship space will look and feel like with the addition of new technology. I think that is a question that liturgists and techno-folks should get together on.
    Slideshows work better in some spaces than others, and the ambience becomes a room full of people facing front, focused on a screen that dominates everything else. Handheld devices might mean a worshiping body composed of individuals focused on individual screens (mobile devices, unlike books, can’t be shared – and think back to the experience of sharing a book with a friend, a child, a stranger). When someone walks into church, what role does technology play in saying, “Christ welcomes you.”
    Mobile devices and laptops are still out of the economic reach of many of the people we say we serve. What about that whole “preferential option for the poor” – or is that too last century?

  8. Mary – to your last point – my experience here in Phoenix working among people living in poverty is that they are much more likely to access the internet through their phones (including homeless folks). They may not have the latest and greatest but they have mobile phones and they use them.
    If we want to contact people in that community we tend to rely on text and twitter. Email doesn’t work, because they don’t have computers or phones capable of accessing it.

  9. kevin says

    i think technology has both the negative and positive side of it when it comes to worshiping and even in daily life. someone please help me in coming up with a sub research or main points on this matter

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