One summer during my early teens our church vacation Bible school organizers recruited me to modernize our VBS program using a computer, projector and other technology. For a 13-year-old who had never used PowerPoint before, I was excited.
My task was to create lyric slides for the songs selected by the music team. I played with word art, animations, slide transitions and other fancy features that I wouldn’t dream of using now because of how distracting it can be during worship.
I relished the time and freedom to learn and explore technology in a relatively low-risk environment. That early experience became a lifelong fascination with audio and video technology, a space that has so much potential for connecting us in many ways. I used every subsequent opportunity to engage with these technologies to learn and refine a skill set that has proven to be tremendously valuable.
Connection is the benefit
Technology, neither good or evil on its own, takes on the intentions and desires of the user. It can divide people or bring them together. It’s in that ability to connect that we see the real benefit to technology. Because we can connect with people in the furthest corners of the world, it has never been easier to live out the command in Matthew 28:19 to “go and make disciples of all nations.”
I consider technology to be any tool used to interact with the world around us. Often, technology is something that has an accelerated curve of advancement and for which the lifespan of cutting edge to obsolescence is surprisingly quick.
The ways in which we struggled to remain connected to each other during a global pandemic shone light on our engrained need for connection and the importance of community.
I never limit this definition to computers or electronics because there are forms of technology so commonplace yet more complicated than most of us realize. For example, many of us learned paper folding techniques to craft airplanes or various shapes utilizing origami. Those same paper-folding practices, when refined and expanded, recently allowed the James Webb Space Telescope’s solar shield to be efficiently packaged and then unfurled to protect the delicate instruments from being destroyed by the sun.
This broad definition is helpful as we consider ways that technology can be used in our churches as well as in our efforts to tell people about Jesus.
Churches using technology
In the spring of 2020, COVID-19 thrust us all into a situation that left us feeling isolated and disconnected. We quickly learned and utilized forms of communication technology that had until then been limited to the workplace. We became familiar with virtual meeting tools like Zoom that helped us to see and talk to loved ones in ways that kept us healthy.
Our churches utilized similar tools to be able to either pre-record or live stream some semblance of a worship service even though none of it felt quite right. Pastors and worship leaders learned to preach and sing to empty sanctuaries or sitting at their desks staring into a camera even as that very act felt so hollow. The ways in which we struggled to remain connected to each other during a global pandemic shone light on our engrained need for connection and the importance of community. Zoom Bible studies and worship gatherings were fine but left us unsatisfied.
Because connectedness is at the very core of our being, we can ask three questions when it comes to churches engaging with technology: How does technology connect us to our community, to the global church and to God? Technology that doesn’t do these things is not inherently bad, but these questions help frame ways for churches to engage with technology in a healthy manner.
1. Does this technology connect us to our community? For better or worse, today a church’s online presence is probably the first experience potential visitors will have with our churches and could be a deciding factor in their decision to visit. While social media seems like an impersonal way of making a first impression, these online engagements can be windows into the life and activity of our churches.
We need to make sure that the things that make our churches unique and beautiful representations of Jesus’s love are clear and evident in these digital spaces. If all we have online is a digital announcement board, we’re missing a tremendous opportunity to draw people into our worship spaces.
Vibrant images and video effectively show the ways that we are engaging with our communities. Instead of telling people about the food distribution or the after-school tutoring club, give a glimpse into those interactions. Platforms like Instagram, Facebook and TikTok are where people are spending significant amounts of time, so maybe we should also be using these places to better connect people to the heart of who we are.
We need to give pertinent details on where and when our services happen, but we also need to make sure the information is current, relevant and allows people to see what it looks like to engage with people the way that Jesus would.
2. How can technology connect us to the global church? Several years ago, as part of my seminary studies, I traveled to DR Congo and saw and heard energetic and vibrant Mennonite Brethren brothers and sisters singing praises to the same God that I worship in Fresno. It was an amazing and perspective-altering experience. Today, with the prevalence and accessibility of technologies like Zoom, it is an experience that doesn’t take a trip to the other side of the world to experience!
As we move into the future, what are the various ways to become more connected to the global church through the technology we have at our disposal? At Butler Church, we’ve been hearing live reports via Zoom from our missionaries serving in Thailand during our Sunday morning services for the last few years. There’s something special about a two-way conversation that allows for a greater feeling of connection. Hearing about the struggles and joys of that day allows for immediate intercession through prayer hasn’t always been available. With every new connection the tools and infrastructure we use are stronger and more reliable.
What started as a stuttering, challenging interaction has progressed to something that feels no different then connecting to family in another state. Everyone on both ends of these calls walks away feeling more connected and encouraged because we were able to hear from and converse with one another in real time.
3. How can this technology connect us to God? Holding a Bible in our hands and flipping through those delicate pages is special. Having the pastor ask us to turn to a passage and hearing the rustle of pages as the congregation frantically works to get there sits in a special place in my memory. Despite the fondness of these memories, I am excited by the sheer power available to us in the forms of smartphones, tablets and similar devices.
We have at our fingertips nearly limitless translations of Scripture for efficient cross-referencing as well as commentaries, concordances and other written resources that allow us to connect with God in ways that were impossible in previous generations.
Many churches are also live streaming their services and so we have video archives from hundreds of teachers and preachers from every walk of life. These voices can help stretch us to engage with views and life experiences that can be utterly foreign to us but a beautiful part of God’s work in our world.
Technology will continue to evolve and advance at a pace that is probably faster than most of us like. Still, when we view these tools through the lens of fostering connectedness, technology can serve us in healthy and meaningful ways.
iGods: How Technology Shapes Our Spiritual and Social Lives by Craig Detweiler; Brazos Press, 2013.
From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology by John Dyer; Kregel Publications, 2011.
Chris Bennett is the IT manager at the AIMS Center on the Fresno Pacific University campus and worship leader at Butler MB Church in Fresno, Calif. He is married to Stephanie (15 years) and they have two daughters. Bennett enjoys computer gaming, cooking and early morning runs through town which have become a source of deep spiritual formation.