Today’s technological generation thrives on fast paced lifestyles, MTV music videos and the rapid accessing of information by logging on to the Internet. It seems like everybody is wired – from 56.6K modems to ISDN lines to T-1 lines running into businesses, homes and churches. So the question is, how do churches stay connected to the people? Young people are growing up in a culture that expects; even demands, a spectacle or event to keep their attention.
Concerts with smoke and laser light shows that amaze the senses have become the norm. Event movies with special effects that stimulate the imagination are released almost weekly at the local theaters. If churches want to attract a younger audience to spread the word of God, it is imperative they work on upgrading their services. Churches who work with technology benefit the younger generation, and enhance the worship experience for people who have come to know services that have been performed in the same manner for years.
Bob Shank, pastor of the United Methodist Church of Paoli in Paoli, PA, is working to improve the interactiveness of his worship services. He wishes to reach a younger audience and stay in touch with the times. Shank stated, ‘Change is always hard, but I strongly believe we must seize the opportunity of technology to improve our communication. At the same time we must not lose touch with the established ways of our church.
We are working on finding a happy medium in technology improvements.’ Utilizing the power of technology in your church is simply a matter of bridging the generation gap. The great thing is, there are a multitude of ways of “enhancing” your church that will excite all your members. One idea is to use the power of the World Wide Web.
The Internet is an amazing portal where you can keep your church connected throughout the week. For example, why not create an emailing list of all the members of your church who have an email account and send a weekly online bulletin with announcements concerning the church? This is also a great way of keeping in touch with members who missed a service or are homebound due to illness or handicap.
Members can also send electronic cards to others on holidays, birthdays or just to say hi! You can also easily ask visitors if you can add them to your email list to keep them abreast of your church events. This is a simple way of building a good relationship with people who may become future members of your congregation.
Go online! Build a web site for your church. There are numerous web design companies out there that can assist you in building your web site and various ISPs (Internet Service Providers) which will host your website on their server for a fee. These fees range from approximately $9.95 – $24.95+/month for basic service plus an initial setup fee. Some of the basic services you will receive include: web storage space for your web site on the ISP’s server (the amount of space you are allotted varies by ISP, approximately 300MB – 600MB), email and/or telephone technical support, a local dial up number for Internet access, personal email accounts (the amount of accounts are determined by what plan you select from the ISP) and various other features. There are numerous ISPs out there with an unlimited amount of options.
As with any service, it pays to do your research and determine what ISP will provide you with the necessary features and support for the best price. Some ISPs will even include software with their packages such as Microsoft Frontpage 2000 which is a web design application. This software enables people without HTML programming skills to easily design their own web site because the application will automatically write the code for them.
Another option is to host your web site internally at your church. But you must be forewarned that you will need to have a high grasp of technology in order to set up the web server and work with the various software and hardware components. In the long run it will most likely be more expensive to buy the hardware, software, provide the maintenance, etc.
You still need to have web access through an ISP to place your web site on the Internet, but you will have easier access to your site to make changes and improvements. For churches that simply want to launch a web site and quickly create an Internet presence, the best bet would be to let an ISP host your site and get online now! A web site is a great way of sharing your church, and it’s a great tool for attracting new members. Perhaps you have spoken to some friends who wanted to learn more about your church.
If they are apprehensive at first to come to a service, then the next best thing may be to tell them to log on to your website and learn more about your church through devotionals, pictures and FAQs. It is very convenient for people to type a web address into their browser and be instantly transported to your online church. Be sure to make your web site a reflection of your services – if they like your web site, chances are they’ll like your church. Rev. Shank’s church is currently upgrading their web site and also using email to stay in touch with the faithful. ‘We are striving to stay current with the culture and technology. I take the opinion that Jesus used the tools at hand to communicate with the people and that we should take advantage of the modern methods of communications to enhance our services and ministry.
As a church we are improving our A/V and sound reinforcement systems in order to better relate to our service participants,’ stated Shank. Another positive use of the Internet for churches is that they can design sections of their web sites that can focus interactively on community related issues.
For example, you can implement a forum on your web site for discussions about various topics ranging from how to deal with the pain and loss of a loved one to how to find a church counselor who can answer your questions on faith. The webmaster or a selected member of the church can regulate the forums. Visitors to the site can make posts on the various topics which allow for a great outlet to discuss various views and seek answers to topics that directly affect your community and church.
There is software available that can be integrated onto your web site to provide the functionality for interactive discussions. A good place to research forum software is at www.thinkofit.com
This site provides a comprehensive listing of software for web conferencing and forums. Thinkofit also provides consulting and installation services for the various software packages. A few additional ways to spice up your web site include using audio and video files. A good way to apply this technology is by going to the web site www.realaudio.com and reviewing the various products.
The RealProducer G2 Authoring Kit is available for downloading free and includes options such as streaming multimedia, RealAudio and RealVideo and many others. By utilizing these features, you can make your web site interactive and this in turn will pique the interest of visitors to your site. The technology is there to use, so take advantage of these modern marvels and make your site great.
Now that we have reviewed a few ways to utilize technology outside of your actual place of worship, it is crucial to focus on the various methods of increasing the enjoyment and spirituality of your church services. The first step is to assess your current audio/video equipment and setup that you utilize during your services. It’s a good idea to have a discussion with the church at a council meeting to let the members voice their opinions about the quality of the service in terms of their ability to hear it, what additional audio/video features they could add to the service to enhance the enjoyment of the members, etc.
Once you get a sense of what areas you need to improve upon, the next step is to make it happen. Of course, you also need to consider your budget and what exact equipment you need.
Once again the Internet is the place to turn to for researching church sound issues. Web sites such as http://www.connectsound.com and www.churchsoundcheck.com provide online repositories of sound products information. Visitors to the sites can read various articles on issues ranging from mixing monitors to utilizing enhancers and exciters to improve the sound of church services.
Visitors can also research product specifications and purchase sound products or let the website’s configurator application easily develop a solution for an entire audio/video reinforcement solution for your church.
The power of technology can easily aid churches in their quests for attracting visitors and evoking the gospel to generations of people young and old. By using your creativity, knowing the personalities of the faithful, and understanding the culture of those they are trying to reach, churches can easily modify their services and outreach programs, while creating an audio and visual experience that will strike a chord in their members. The Internet is a unique and expansive medium to spread God’s love and hope across the world. Let technology help your church. You’ll be glad you did.
Joshua L. Sankey is the Director of Communications for ConnectSound, Inc. (www.connectsound.com) in Newtown Square, PA. He can be reached at 888-454-6863 or at firstname.lastname@example.org