Last Sunday I paid a visit to a local church here in Memphis. I was invited by a pastor who proved to be an invaluable resource for a project I worked on for which part of the focus was the role of small, grassroots churches in community health outcomes. I conducted participant observation at the church, interviewed various members and staff, and recruited participants for subsequent stages of research.
The two-and-a-half hour service was quite enjoyable, first and foremost because the pastor is an excellent preacher who kept my attention with his speaking and story-telling abilities. Naturally I was paying attention to the context and social interactions around me. One thing that really struck me was how various forms of technology had been integrated to enhance the church-going experience.
I haven’t attended a religious service in years, so this may not be new or very interesting to those who do. When I was a kid, my mom made me go to church, and I don’t recall anything technological or modern about it. Here, however, the entire service was projected live on a giant screen above the altar (along with an excellent sound system.) DVD copies of the service were available for purchase immediately afterward at the “Media Booth”. Multiple videographers captured the scene and biblical verses and images were superimposed onto the screen above.
Most interesting to me were several people looking at a Bible app on their phones. When it was time, they would navigate to the section the pastor was referencing. There were no physical Bibles to be seen, and only a few people brought their own. At the end of the service, the pastor announced that members could now pay their tithes/offerings online. The pastor has 5,000 friends on Facebook, which he showed me on his iPhone when I saw him at the farmer’s market the day before the service. He uses Facebook regularly to keep in touch with members and discuss theological/philosophical questions.
There are obvious conveniences afforded by using different technologies in this space. Religious institutions can more easily communicate with people, drive donations, and increase engagement. I can also see it helping with young people’s perceptions of religious organizations as modern or up-to-date. I look forward to seeing what’s new when I attend my next religious service in around 10 years from now.