Sunday mornings at church can be pretty hectic for my family, especially on weekends when my wife is singing in the praise band. After visiting with members of our Sunday School class for a few minutes, I rush down to the children’s wing to retrieve my oldest son, stop to top off my coffee and then hurry us along to the service in the Family Life Center. Upon entering, an usher will hand me a trifold bulletin that contains multiple inserts, such as a worship program, an envelope for benevolence gifts and a small card for registering our attendance.
Needless to say, I typically end up dropping half of those inserts on the floor as I attempt to settle us into seats while hanging our jackets on the backs of the chairs. I usually try to register our attendance so that our church leaders can track participation numbers in each service, but that’s only if I remember to grab one of those miniature-golf style pencils when entering the room. It happens the same way nearly every Sunday. Wash, rinse, repeat.
So it was refreshing and surprising a few weeks ago when I noticed a new item in our bulletin that allowed congregation members to register their attendance using smartphones. I was able to pull out my phone, scan a “QR Code” printed in the bulletin, and then was sent to a mobile-optimized website where I could sign in my family, submit prayers concerns and request additional information about church offerings, if needed.
It wasn’t that long ago that the appearance of my smartphone during church would draw a stern, disapproving look from my wife and judgment from those around me that use of such technology during church was borderline sacrilegious. But those kinds of ideals are quickly fading as more families embrace the benefits and conveniences of carrying a computer in ours pockets or purses.
Church leaders would be wise to adopt a similar stance and leverage the use of such technological tools to engage their congregations. We’ve reached a point where smart devices such as iPhones have saturated society. Even my seven-year-old plays with one of my old phones as a toy and can use it better than many adults. While it reasonably can be argued that we have become addicted to the constant distraction of technology in our lives, technology also provide opportunities that did not exist 10-15 years ago.
A friend of mine, for example, had to stay home one Sunday recently because one of her daughters was sick. She sent her husband and other daughter to church but then found a way to participate at home. You see our church has initiated live streaming of our modern worship service using YouTube.
My friend was able to pull up the YouTube app on her tablet and then watch the worship service from the comfort of her couch. Was it the same experience as being there in-person? Of course not, but it presented an opportunity for her to participate when in the not-too-distant past it would not have been possible. And providing the means for church members to watch the worship service from home or another remote location sure beats the alternative of them binge-watching their latest favorite show on Netflix. Consider it to be a more visual, engrossing alternative to the church radio broadcasts of past generations.
The private industry has been embracing these types of opportunities for many years to engage their clients. For example, many banks now offer ways for their customers to deposit checks by simply taking a photo with their phones. It’s easy to dismiss technology as secular tools that have no place in worship services. But the real question churches have to ask is, “What purpose and service are we here to provide?”
As a former newspaper reporter and a present communications director, I’ve watched as the print news industry struggled with this question. Newspapers for many years thought their purpose was to produce a printed product on a regular basis containing news stories and advertising that would entice readers to buy that product. But as subscription rates continue to fall, many newspapers have discovered their true purpose, which is to provide relevant, timely and useful information to those who live in the communities that they serve, regardless of the medium in which that information is delivered. Hello, Internet and social media.
When considering whether to promote the use of communication technologies in worship services, churches need to likewise refocus on their true purpose. The purpose of churches should be to bring the word of God to their congregations and communities.
Jesus is big about ministering to and meeting people where they are. Churches need to do the same by embracing the opportunities presented by modern technology tools. And church leaders may want to move quickly before our sanctuaries are toppled by Angry Birds.