The Tech Effect
Technology is changing the way we preach. Is this a good thing?

Twenty-five years ago, the film Tron was a revolution - the first movie to use digital animation extensively. But critics almost universally panned the movie. One said, "Tron is loaded with visual delights but falls way short of the mark in story and viewer involvement."

How can preachers avoid that same trap? With our increasing ability to produce "visual delights," can we forget what matters most? How can we use technology to help, not hinder, the proclamation of God's Word? At the most recent National Pastors Convention, we brought together three pastors to discuss these questions. Below is an excerpt from the conversation. You can find the full interview on Leadership's website.

How important is it to use 21st-century technology when communicating the gospel in the 21st century?

Shane Hipps: It's important only if we understand their innate bias, because media are not neutral tools. The media are messages in themselves, and every single medium you use carries a different message embedded in it.

I occasionally use visual media and technology as a crutch to help keep what I'm saying interesting. But when an 80-year-old woman who lived through the Great Depression stood up in my congregation and told a story, she didn't use any technology, and everyone was on the edge of their seats listening to her suffering and what she lived through.

As the medium, she was infinitely more powerful than any technology I could bring.

John Palmieri: I agree, to a point. Trying to more media-savvy than the world around us - that is a battle we will lose. And if I'm just trying to be "relevant," I'll probably miss the mark every time.

But it is our responsibility to be resourceful and creative. If some technology is effective for communication, like a movie clip, great - use it. But if there's a story from a person within the community, a testimony, use that instead.

We use imagery. We use technology, but only to the extent that it enhances the message. If used too often, it can become more of a distraction.

What does it mean to be incarnational as we communicate God's Word? Can incarnation happen with technology?

Jarrett Stevens: Most weeks we do video interviews. That's incarnational. Bringing someone out for a live interview is much more raw and dynamic, but you have way less control. For example, we had a woman who'd recently been saved interviewed on video. She was telling her story and whenever she messed up, she dropped the f-bomb. Thankfully we could edit the video. If that had been live in the worship service, it might have been a great moment, but I doubt we could have fully recovered from it.

August 14, 2007

Displaying 1–5 of 5 comments

Mark Goodyear

August 20, 2007  11:27am

Ditto about Tron, Sara. I loved that movie. Still do. Vanessa, you talked about Christians who no longer attend church, but who are blogging etc. Do you see social media (like Out of Ur) as a potential replacement for church? Or a tool for helping people plug into church again?

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August 17, 2007  10:46pm

I'm from the old school I have two sons both grown. Both are as comfortable with technology as I was with television and radio growing up. The difference is, this technology is invasive. I'm not against it. I believe Christians are called to the Internet to engage heaven first, not the culture. If God is not interested in what we are doing, what is the point. But the church meeting is not the place for technology, its where we dine together on Christ. I would rather not see technology invade that spiritual outpost. On the other hand I would like to see more Christians span the Internet whether its to blog about cookie recipes or eschatology. We need a powerful Christian presence on the Internet and to have more access to Christians with the understanding of Technology ON the Internet. There are millions of Christians who no longer attend a church or do not have access to one. But they have computers and cell phones. They're blogging and have websites, feed readers etc.

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August 15, 2007  11:32am

First, the critics were wrong about Tron. It is an icon, even to this day. It communicated a complex idea visually and inspired me, a young child, to try to hack into my computer back in the DOS days. Didn't work, but man, was it cool to try. It was new. The images still are with me and so many parodies have been made from bits of that movie. It sticks with you, even a half-century later and I can't remember the sermon topic three days later from my own church. Visuals stick with us moreso than just a long lecture, as Mark mentioned. A good visual, a good demonstration, a good perspective, anything that can grab the attention instead of trying to cram key points together and the same dusty anecdote about the boy and his father and the drawbridge demonstrating sacrifice. What is the meaning of your message? Why are you here? Why are they here? One of the best examples I've heard was about fame. Everyone wants to be remembered, to be popular. Can you name your parents? Grandparents? Great-grandparents? Attention spans get shorter and shorter. If we can't even remember a few generations back in our own families, how are we going to remember back a few days, listening to something we've known about our whole lives? How can we make this new again? Seek new inspirations.

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Carl Holmes

August 15, 2007  10:12am

Our life, our relationships, our walk with Christ is our way to reach people. A younger generation many times will find visuals appealing, so be it. If it causes them to bite off on the gospel, to be engaged in the quest for personal holiness and passion, so be it. As with almost anything in life, moderation is the key. Using media, using testimonies, using humor and so on are great ways to reach people, but only certain sub sets of people. All of these things used together create a great church. Excluding one for some reason will lower your ministry to those it is geared towards.

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Mark Goodyear

August 15, 2007  8:31am

I think it's interesting that Leadership asked about "communicating the gospel in the 21st century." Then the pastors talked about sermons. I agree wholeheartedly that sermons and technology don't mix really well. To me sermons are essentially lecture style education, like I received at Texas A&M years ago. They work well for communicating ideas to a large crowd. But sermons are not the primary way of communicating the gospel–even for pastors! And they are certainly not God's only educational tool for engaging an individual's heart and mind. God's Word works through all Christians, in all professions, and through all media to communicate his gospel.

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