Church Production Technology: Fading Away?

Last week I posted a link to an intriguing article written by Rachel Held Evans. Though she is in her 30’s, is progressive and likes Mumford and Sons, she is more interested in being part of an “uncool” church than a super-hip one. Her thoughts on churches being “too hip” challenged me and got me thinking—again—about the role of technology in the church.

Now while it’s true that I’m the Technology Director of a church, I’ve been spending a great deal of time thinking about how we sometimes over-use technology—and I’m speaking of live production technology; audio, lighting, video, presentation. I wonder if sometimes we use technology as a crutch, or if it even becomes a distraction to our audience. To put this discussion in its proper perspective, I think it best we take a trip down memory lane to look at the progression of technology in the church.

To begin, we shall go all the way back to the end of the nineteenth-century. Back then, when it got dark at night, even in the city, it was dark. In populated areas, going outside at night could be dangerous because it the baddies would come out at night. Thus, most people stayed indoors after the sun went down.

At some point, somebody figured out that if you put natural gas in a network pipes distributed around the city, you could set up street lamps, creating a measure of safety that would extend the shopping and social life downtown. Every night, the lamplighter would come along at dusk and light the street lamps (this was before automated piezo-electric igniters). This was a new technology that intrigued people, and everyday citizens would come out of their homes just to watch the lamplighter light the street lamps that banished the darkness from their fair city.

Observing this phenomenon, some hip, young pastor (who surely wore skinny jeans, had a tattoo and used hair product) saw a light go on in his own mind. “If people come out to see this bloke light street lamps, I bet they would come to church at night if we had lights there, too!” And thus, the first Lighting Director was established at the local church—as was the Sunday evening service. 

It’s not that popular any longer, but up until the end of the 1990s, many churches had Sunday evening services. By then, they had no idea why they were doing it, other than the fact that they had “always” done it. But the roots of the Sunday evening service lie in a new technology (at the time) which proved to be a valuable outreach tool.

Imagine the church bulletin (printed on recycled paper using the Papyrus typeface): “Think street lights are cool? Invite your unbelieving friends to see our fully lighted Sunday evening services! It will blow their minds!” And certainly for a time, it was a great outreach toll. Then it became a tradition, and then it went away.

More recently, sometimes in the 1980s or early 1990s, another young, hip pastor (no doubt with long hair and parachute pants) realized a lot of people enjoyed going to rock concerts. And perhaps while attending a U2 concert and marveling at the RoboScans, he had the brilliant idea. “Dude…if we put these lights and a big PA in our church, we could get more young people to come. It would be awesome!” And thus, the modern church movement was born.

Now, obviously, I’m over-simplifying this for the purposes of illustration. But it’s always important to keep things in perspective. And while the “rock show” style of worship service has been very effective (and I believe will continue to be for some time), the times they are a changing. I see this in our own church, and in the younger people who are there. I hear about it from others in their 20s and 30s who attend other churches. And it’s pointed out in the above mentioned article. 

What does it mean for production technology in the local church? Well, it means a lot. It means change, and change is not all bad. It does mean that we need to prepare for and stay ahead of it, however. And those are some thoughts I’ll unpack in the next post. 

Your assignment: Go read Rachel’s article and start thinking about this some more.

Today's post is brought to you by the Roland R-1000. The R-1000 is a multi-channel recorder/player ideal for the V-Mixing System or any MADI equipped console or environment. Ideal for virtual sound checks, multi-channel recording, and playback.