Technology that Redeems Downtime
Does your favorite technology device, platform, or default activity help you become more like Christ and renew you for work in God’s world?
If this has happened to you recently during worship, you’re not alone. You are reading the passage that’s being preached on. Suddenly you realize that the pastor, or perhaps your parent, is glaring at you.
So you hold up your mobile device, screen forward, and smile. Because you’re not playing Angry Birds or Where’s My Water? You’re not tweeting or checking email. Instead, you’re applying the sermon to your life, thanks to the Bible app on your screen.
But chances are you sometimes value your favorite communication tool more than you communicate something of value. Do you love to go on Facebook…watch YouTube…read scandal updates…text or Skype someone? You can redirect that habit so that your technology style supports a lifestyle of worship.
God calls us to gather as one family of God, and technology makes it easier than ever to prepare for worship.
Mavis Moon is the Church & Web guide on CRCNA (Christian Reformed Church in North America) The Network, an online conversation about doing ministry. She recently asked for examples of using technology as a devotional tool. People who check email several times a day said they had signed up to receive a daily devotional by email. As one man explained, “A book can be neglected on a busy morning, but with that quick devotional and link to the Bible passage right there on my iPhone, I actually do it every day!” Another is chronologically reading the YouVersion Bible app on his iPod Touch. “I like the way it tracks my progress and keeps me faithful,” he posted.
Someone else confided that when she needs a little break at work, she goes to SacredSpace.ie, a site run by Irish Jesuits. It uses scripture and gentle suggestions to guide daily prayer.
Pastors help congregations prepare for public worship. When Ivanrest Christian Reformed Church in Grandville, Michigan, did a sermon series on Proverbs, Pastor Tony Meyer emailed a daily Proverbs-based devotional to whoever signed up. Many families used them for dinner devotions. David Braneky, pastor of Lansdowne Baptist Church in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, emails his congregation weekly to introduce the sermon topic and passage, and to ask sermon-related questions.
At Everlasting Mercy Fellowship in Racine, Wisconsin, Pastor Roberto Torres tweets his sermon outlines and posts them on Facebook. This both conserves paper and helps worshipers follow the sermon while he preaches, or review it later.
Christ calls worshipers to gather around the Word. Sometimes Facebook or mobile devices help Christians answer that call.
A widely syndicated Association Press story described how Christians who’ve fled the Middle East often join the nearest Catholic church wherever they resettle, but most long to worship in their native language. The AP story described what’s believed to be the first Catholic mass in Arabic in New Mexico. Lebanese immigrant George Saade used Facebook to organize the service.
Around the world, some Catholics use iBreviary rather than a printed missal to read and recite prayers and responses during Sunday mass. An Italian priest came up with the iBreviary concept. It was the first iPhone app approved by the Vatican Council for Social Communications and is available in English, French, Italian, Latin, and Spanish.
Christians from many traditions now use mobile devices during worship to look up scripture verses, compare translations, see Bible maps, or search phrases. In fact, the BibleGateway.com blog reported that its mobile site usage peaks between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. (EST) on Sundays, when many people are in church.
Celebrate at the Table
Through communion and fellowship, the Holy Spirit unites us with the Trinity and each other. Technology can broaden that intimacy beyond a single sanctuary.
The Tampa Bay Church in Tampa, Florida, has less than 300 members but supports a sister church in La Paz, Bolivia. Celebrating a joint communion service via Skype was special for worshipers who may never meet in person. The congregations sang to each other. The Bolivian pastors led everyone in communion. The American pastors preached on Isaiah’s response to God, “Here am I, send me!”
There’s more than one way to plan joint worship. Inmates often make court appearances via video link. That same technology helped Elmhurst Christian Reformed Church in Illinois share worship one Sunday with a congregation inside the Louisiana State Penitentiary.
Faith Presbyterian Church in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, goes low tech in regular joint services with its sister parish in Kenya. People plan the service by email or cellphone. They do the service over the phone line, through the church sound system.
Sent out to serve
The blessing of gathering around God’s Word and Table strengthens us to pass on what we’ve received through prayers, meals, and advocacy.
If you’ve ever been part of a church phone tree, you may recall missing out on prayer requests, usually because the person before you didn’t have an answering machine so didn’t get the message—or simply forgot to phone you. That’s why many congregations now share prayer requests by email, Google Groups, special Facebook pages, or password-protected sections of the church website.
As you add prayer options, though, don’t abandon those without computers, cautions Mike VanLaan, church administrator for Friendship Christian Reformed Church in Byron Center, Michigan. “For some of our members, an unpublished phone line with a recording still works best,” he says.
Bringing food to people after a surgery, birth, or death has gotten easier, thanks to TakeThemAMeal.com. Use this free site to schedule meals, check food allergies and preferences, and find out which meals others are bringing.
To share Christ’s peace with more people, reconsider how you spend your online time. Instead of playing BeJeweled Blitz or Texas Hold’Em, check out WeTopia. Replace your PEOPLE Celebrity News Tracker with IJM Mobile—and help International Justice Mission stop human trafficking. Feed your soul (and hungry people) by switching from following ladygaga on Twitter to bread4theworld or worldvisioncan.
Use Skype to Connect with Missionaries
“I’ll never forget the gasps in the congregation when Pastor John concluded a mission emphasis sermon about reaching out to missionaries with, ‘Mitch? Are you there?’ And the response out of the sound system was ‘We’re here, and we can hear you clearly. Can you hear us?’” says Pam Rock, worship director at Christian Reformed Church of St. Joseph in St. Joseph, Michigan.
Like many congregations, the CRC in “St. Joe” connects with missionaries on Skype, software that provides free voice and video calls over the internet.
Rock says that conversation with missionaries Mitch and Tara Wimbush in Tanzania was the first time the congregation used Skype during worship. “We began with Skype during outreach team meetings and for mission trip fundraisers. We started a Saturday auction with a Skype call to Steve and Sandra Brauning in the Dominican Republic. Steve explained what the mission team would do in the DR and what supplies he’d purchase with the money raised. We ended with a time of live prayer with them that set the tone for the auction,” she says.
Rock says the church now Skypes live with missionary families several times a year. Their favorite calls are when the congregation’s children sing to missionaries with small families. Worshipers see missionaries on screens normally used for song lyrics; they hear missionaries through the church sound system. The church uses a camcorder so missionaries see close-ups of children singing and wide angle shots of the congregation.
Due to time zone differences and uneven connections, Skypeing during worship isn’t always best. Missionaries Jeff and Melissa Bos have noticed that calls from their Bangladesh home work better to Michigan and Washington (state), than to Alaska or Toronto. Morning calls work better than night ones. “We hear far more from supporters and churches now that most have switched from snail mail to email,” Melissa says.
David Oosterhouse edits Skype conversations so they’re short enough to play during monthly Faith Promise offerings. He posts videos on YouTube and links to them from the church website. Knowing their edited conversations will be shown in worship makes the Braunings feel more connected to the St. Joe congregation. “We’re able to communicate so much more clearly, fully, and directly through Skype than by sending a letter. Several people from church write us on email and Facebook after the call,” Steve says.
San Jose Christian Reformed Church in California has used several missionary calls during worship. “We place the Skype visit wherever it fits best in the liturgy flow. We’ve done it after the initial praise time and have also had it right before the message,” Mavis Moon says.
San Jose CRC perches a laptop with webcam on the sound booth wall, so they can point the webcam toward the front. “This means our missionaries see the pastor up front and the back of the congregation’s heads. We have the congregation turn around to greet missionaries,” Moon adds.
- Whether you listen to it on your iPod, read it on your Kindle, or enjoy it the old fashioned way, don’t miss The Thinking Life: How to Thrive in the Age of Distraction by P. M. Forni. This slim, wise book promotes habits of using time purposefully rather than using technology trivially.
- For thoughtful practical discussion on using technology, check out Church & Web, moderated by Mavis Moon on CRCNA The Network. You’ll find tips on doing good with technology and using Google Groups to share prayer requests.
- Following the links in “Digital Bible Explosion,” a fascinating piece in New Yorker, is worth your time.
- Watch joint worship between a Louisiana prison congregation and metro Chicago church. View Skype conversations with missionaries supported by Christian Reformed Church of St. Joseph.
- Invite a group to look at recent Facebook statistics. Discuss how your church can use it to gather worshipers, study God’s Word, celebrate being God’s children, and serve others.
- If you like casual games, then check out WeTopia, a free game where you have fun while doing good in the real world to raise money for children’s charities.
- Browse related stories on church websites and how interactive online worship can build community.
Start A Discussion
Feel free to print and distribute these stories for your staff, media, or outreach ministry meetings. These questions will help your church explore how to use technology to grow together rather than kill time:
- What technology do you turn to when you are waiting, bored, or have free time? How could you shift the way you use your computer, netbook, or smartphone so that you focus on preparing for worship or serving others?
- What benefits do you see with using digital Bible apps or missals during worship? What concerns you about this option?
- St. Patrick Catholic Community in Scottsdale, Arizona, has a digital custodian who manages its Facebook and other online content. Who in your church would make a good digital custodian? What should be the digital custodian’s main purpose?