While new technologies may make it more convenient to use electronic media in worship, congregational practice or tradition may not welcome them into the sanctuary. A pastor or worship committee in touch with a congregation and knowledgeable about the realities of parish ministry knows that bringing such technology into the worship setting is a change that will concern some people.
As long as this change fits the core values of a congregation and flows out of a congregation’s historical sense of purpose and mission, the change will be less jarring. The changes that people perceive to be peripheral to the mission and purpose of their church are the changes they will most resist. Technology that is seen as just another expensive furnishing in a church, or as a source of theological friction, is technology that is disconnected from the heart and soul of a church. Unless multimedia technologies are linked to the core values of a congregation and church’s sense of mission and purpose, they will be seen as an undesired change.
In the book Good to Great, management consultant Jim Collins and his team interviewed hundreds of executives to try to uncover the characteristics that commonly appear in thriving, long-standing companies and organizations.1 They were surprised to find that 80 percent of the executives they interviewed did not mention technology as one of the top factors in their companies’ transformation from good to great. This led Collins to conclude, “We find that technology is an accelerator of greatness already in place.”2 Using multimedia technologies in worship, by itself, will not bring greatness to your church, but it can accelerate the greatness you already have going in worship, education, mission, and community building.
Adding a screen, projector, computer, and visuals to worship is a change for a congregation that can be experienced as being part of the central mission and purpose of a church: to effectively communicate the Word of God. When carefully related to the mission of the church, the creative energies of a committed group of laity, and the best preaching and pastoral sensitivities of a worship leader, worship technologies can be servants of the Holy Spirit’s work of transforming lives. This is why so many churches have easily added screens to their sanctuaries, because it is clear to the congregation that the technology contributes to the communication of the Word. They understand that visuals, like words, can feed and nourish souls.
Adding multimedia audiovisuals can also assist in the transformation of souls. Walter Brueggemann believes “the purpose of preaching and worship is transformation.” He defines this transformation as “the slow, steady process of inviting each other into a counterstory about God, world, neighbor, and self.” This transformation is accomplished through liturgy and proclamation that recognize “people in fact change by the offer of new models, images, and pictures of how the pieces of life fit together—models, images, and pictures that characteristically have the particularity of narrative to carry them.”3 The narrative of worship is the story of faith as found in Scripture and interpreted by tradition and the gathered community today. Each time we gather to worship, we are asked to experience the narrative once again by means of everything worship leaders use to communicate the story that day. Media technologies offer yet another tool to “tell the old, old story.”
Those wary about technology in worship seem to be most concerned that God, not the technology, be served in our worship and that any technology be used in worship with a sense of responsibility and humility. These concerns come out of the Protestant word of prophetic judgment and critique. The worshiping community and its leadership must continually evaluate all uses of multimedia in worship. Regular discussion about the role and function of worship in our lives will highlight how multimedia technology can be a creative tool for viewing God’s story through the lens of our own story and for reflecting on our story by the light of God’s story.
Delighting the Heart and Mind
The church communicates to God, about God, with God, and for God by its worship, education, discipleship, and mission. Through the sharing of the Gospel in story, song, word, and picture, hearts are opened, minds are changed, and lives are joined together in a blessed harmony.
A verse of the hymn “For the Beauty of the Earth” lyrically proclaims that what we see and what we hear can remind us that we live in the world as people created with sensory equipment. When our sensory experience takes us deep into our hearts and minds, we praise God for the delightful experience of a “mystic harmony.”
For the joy of ear and eye,
For the heart and mind’s delight,
For the mystic harmony
Linking sense with sound and sight,
Lord of all to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.4
There is joy in ear and eye, delight in heart and mind, and from this audio and visual harmony, God can lead us to new life in the world.
1. Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don’t (New York: HarperBusiness, 2001).
2. Jim Collins, “How Great Companies Tame Technology,” Newsweek, April 29, 2002, 51.
3. Walter Brueggemann, Texts Under Negotiation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 24.
4. From “For the Beauty of the Earth” by Folliott S. Pierpoint as found in The Pilgrim Hymnal (New York: The Pilgrim Press, 1931, renewed 1986), no. 366.
Excerpted from Silver Screen, Sacred Story: Using Multimedia in Worship, copyright © 2002 by the Alban Institute. All rights reserved. For permission to reproduce, go toour permissions form.
Silver Screen, Sacred Story: Using Multimedia in Worship by Michael Bausch
Michael Bausch’s book grows out of several years of conversation, personal experimentation, and experience with multimedia worship in one modest-sized, small-town church, while also drawing on the experiences and work of other churches learning to use electronic media in worship. Bausch balances concern for practical issues, such as finances and architecture, with attention to theological integrity and the challenges of sustaining media-enhanced worship. He skillfully shows how the artistic resources of the world around us can enhance our awareness of God’s presence in worship.
Designing Worship Together: Models and Strategies for Worship Planning by Norma deWaal Malefyt and Howard Vanderwell
This book draws on more than two decades of collaborative worship planning by pastor Howard Vanderwell and musician Norma deWaal Malefyt of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, offering thoughtful, field-tested processes and tools for planning, implementing, and evaluating life-enriching weekly worship. While many books are available about the theology of worship, worship styles, and issues of music, there are few resources on the value of careful worship planning. This invaluable r
esource features more than a dozen field-tested tools and a selected bibliography for worship planners to use as they continue to develop their ministries.