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Technology and the megachurch – or any church

I was struck by something when I was reading a 2009 post about a megachurch. For purposes of this post, I will ignore the theology of the megachurch in question – after all, Greg Laurie’s theology is very diferent from Joel Osteen’s theology – but I will note something that was said about the PRESENTATION. While reading this description, note that the author, Ben Myers, was actually present within the church itself.

Every moment of the service, from start to finish, was broadcast on to huge screens around the auditorium. When the pastor spoke, he would address one of the many cameras. When the worship-leader spoke to the congregation, he would speak into the camera. Even the heartfelt altar call at the end of the service was addressed to the camera.

But at one point Myers’ eyes strayed from the screens.

…towards the end of the church service I glanced down from the vast screen, and for a moment I glimpsed the flesh-and-blood pastor speaking passionately into the camera. It was strange to see the man standing there like this: a miniature version – touchingly flimsy and remote and insubstantial – of the real preacher whom I’d been watching on the screen. I felt embarrassed to have seen him like this – like the embarrassment of visitors at a hospital, who don’t know where to look – so I quickly averted my eyes, and returned my gaze to the big reassuring smile on the screen high above.

But this is not limited to the megachurch. Many years ago, I remember attending a church. I’ve forgotten the circumstances, and I don’t think that it was a megachurch, but I remember being struck by a thought – this looks just like a TV show.

Again I don’t want to get into a theological discussion here, but many churches of many different theological persuasions have incorporated not only certain technologies, but certain practices that are related to the use of those technologies. My own church, which is certainly not a megachurch in any sense and which does not include a video feed of the services, is one of several gazillion churches that makes heavy use of the greatest theological tool of the 21st century, Microsoft PowerPoint.

But the biggest technological change in church history is probably not PowerPoint, or the television camera, or online bank deductions for church offerings. The biggest technological change in church history (with the exception of the printing press) is voice amplification. Back in the 1700s, George Whitefield had to yell to be heard. Today’s pastor can speak in a much softer voice, yet potentially still be heard by thousands.

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