Although video projectors, presentation software and multimedia have been staples inside houses of worship since the mid-1990s, they remain lightning rods for traditionalists, and the growth of digital-video applications and "video ministries" has only fueled the debate over technology's role in the church. Critics of mega-churches claim, for instance, that they're often more interested in building membership numbers with brazen marketing tactics and flashy technology than serving the personal worship needs of the congregation.
Media-friendly churches counter by saying that to attract and communicate with today's 18- to 45-year-old attendees, they need to speak in their language, which means presenting religious messages and insights in more engaging, contemporary ways. Finding modern-day parallels for Biblical teachings, then wrapping them in visually alluring packages, keeps the church relevant for that audience, the thinking goes — which spurs greater commitment to the church's mission.
Tim Eason, president of ChurchMedia.net, an online resource center for church media ministries, argues that if Jesus were alive today, he'd likely be toting a laptop and an ultraportable projector across the land to spread his message. But Eason is quick to add that the smartest churches — like the most accomplished corporate presenters — use technology to support or dramatize core messages, not overwhelm or cheapen them. "People who attend church aren't looking for gimmicks, they're looking for the truth. But today's presentation and digital technologies do offer more compelling ways of communicating the truth, and more churches could be taking advantage of them," he says.
Nonetheless, many churches continue to respect the wishes of traditionalists by offering two-track weekend services — a "contemporary" service featuring upbeat vocals or guitar-and-drum instrumentals, projection technology, video clips and the like, and a traditional, unplugged service featuring hymnals and organ music and generally tailored to senior members of a congregation. The traditional service might be held early on Sunday, followed by a contemporary service later in the morning. • D.Z.