Reflection #27 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number 27 in a series of random reflections I have been amassing over the past couple of years since retiring from steady, local-church, “weekend warrior” worship ministry.  These ruminations are in no particular order, and they vary in significance.  I welcome discussion on any of them.

Reflection #27: More and more churches are using video technology to great effect to aid their efforts in corporate worship.

downloadOK.  This one is something of a no-brainer.  Most churches are hip to the concept.  Indeed, an observation I’ve made in this season of life where I’m visiting numerous churches frequently is this: Few are the churches, even small churches, without some kind of presentational technology that allows them to project congregational song lyrics, pull up stuff from the Internet, and play videos.  But just to encourage those remaining churches that haven’t made this step yet and–probably more importantly–to remind those that did long ago why video technology is important, here are some random reasons why the contemporary American Church should be using video technology regularly, if judiciously.

Evangelizing the next generation.  There’s a reason the young adolescents of this current generation, whom social theorists dub “Gen Z,” are also called “screeners.”  Space doesn’t permit academic rationale for what is obvious to any casual observer of culture–screens are important to this generation.  Utilizing the “language” of video will only help younger folks tune in to that being communicated in worship.

Sharing testimonies.  I’m a firm believer that churches miss out when they don’t allow members of the congregation to testify in the midst of their worship services.  But doing it live is dangerous.  Who knows what might come out of someone’s mouth in the heat or nervousness of the moment?  Recording the testimonies and playing them back after they have been sufficiently edited (for length, clarity, or propriety) can save everyone from potential embarrassment while still allowing folks who otherwise would never have a voice in contemporary worship to share.

Storytelling.  Videos today function in contemporary worship the way live drama did in the heyday of seeker-sensitivity.  When Willow Creek started using dramatic sketches in their services to set up the sermons, it gave rise to a greater appreciation among church leaders of the power of narrative.  Nowadays, hardly any churches use live drama, and why would they, when telling a story is as or more easily done via video?  A well-produced narrative video–which can be shot over and over until scenes are captured just right; which can be layered with a controlled soundtrack; which can employ animation along the way, if desired–can set the stage for the message in powerful ways.

Forming servants.  It goes without saying that most of your best technicians (for video as well as for just about every other area of technology we have now and, especially, for that which will descend upon us in the future) are going to be younger people–who sometimes need coaxing to take part in the kind of church life that many of us assumed was part of the deal when we became members of a church back in the day.  Using younger people to help you with your video technology allows them to make significant contributions in ways that most others can’t.

One caveat for worship leaders:  Using video for any of the reasons above is commendable.  Using video just for the sake of using video isn’t–and smacks of us-too activity done solely to make sure folks know we’re hip and relevant.  (Sort of like the fad Chicagoland suburban megachurches seemed to embrace for a while where every church had to have an assistant pastor or someone pretty important on staff who came from England, Australia, or Ireland and delighted congregations with those delicious accents and brogues.)  As worship leaders, our job is to connect the dots for our congregations, to help them appreciate what we are doing when we gather together for worship, so when you use video, put the experience in some semblance of context whenever you can and help your parishioners appreciate why you’re making use of the technology now and again.

The Lord be with you as you use of technology for His Kingdom’s glory!

Coming next week (Lord willing): An Easter gift from the Judson University Choir.

About Warren Anderson

Emmaus Road Worshipers is written by Dr. Warren Anderson, Director of the Demoss Center for Worship in the Performing Arts at Judson University (Elgin, Ill.), where he also directs the Judson University Choir. A Judson alumnus, he has served his alma mater in a number of capacities over the past 30+ years, especially the chapel ministry, which he led for 22 years. From 1982-2016, Dr. Anderson served six different churches--American Baptist (X2), Converge, Evangelical Free Church of America, Roman Catholic, and United Methodist--as a "weekend warrior" worship musician/pastor. He is a former member of the editorial board of Worship Leader magazine. The views expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of Judson University.
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