(Photo: Tony Morgan)
Holographic preachers are stirring another technology-gone-too-far debate among Christians.
While the dust over beaming preachers on a video screen on multi-site campuses has somewhat settled, the new 3D tool is raising more questions and concerns among some believers.
"Since so many of us in the west are convinced that entertaining pew fodder is critical to advancing 'the gospel' and that only a very few have the necessary gifts to preachertain – this will become the 'perfect' solution," Bill Kinnon, author of A Networked Conspiracy, Social Networks, The Church & the Power of Collective Intelligence, wrote in a recent blog post.
What has Kinnon and many other Christians talking is the holographic technology that music artist Madonna famously used at the Grammy Awards in 2006 and that one company wants to promote in churches.
Tony Morgan, pastor of ministries at West Ridge Church near Atlanta, introduced the technology as a possible church tool on his blog this week. He had visited with the company Clark (formerly Clark ProMedia) at their offices in Alpharetta, Ga., where they demonstrated the 3D tool. As he stood on the stage of the company's new theater, an image of another person was projected next to him. From the audience's perspective, it appears as if the other figure was actually present.
The technology itself isn't new to Morgan but it was the first time he saw it in person.
Houston Clark, whose company has been involved in "high-end video venue type production environments," is looking to get holograms in churches. He met with Ainsley Henn of Musion Systems based in the U.K. – the company responsible for the Gorillaz hologram in the Madonna show.
In an interview with ChurchMediaDesign.tv, Clark said the technology creates an "as if you're there experience" and "begins to extend the realism of virtual teaching venues."
"This just gives you a completely limitless palette for creating environments that don't look as if you're viewing them but look as if you're part of them because it's in three dimensions," he added.
Currently, there are some 3,000 multi-sites in the country. Some churches that have adopted the one church in multiple locations approach have turned their other campuses into video venues. In other words, the pastor preaches at one location and is beamed to screens in other locations.
Video venues stirred debate among pastors, some of whom felt it was making a celebrity out of the preacher.
Bob Hyatt, lead pastor of Evergreen Community and a church planter, argued earlier that video venues focus "entirely too much on the preaching gifts of one person."
Now with holograms slated to replace 2D video images of preachers at multi-sites, the technology is reviving the debate.
"Wow!!! Who needs fellowship anymore? Soon I will be able to sit at home in my pj’s and have my Pastor in my living room. Who needs a Pastor? We can have one hologram preacher for the whole world and then we wouldn’t need to pay for one. What is the church coming to?" one commenter named Schuyler Hedrick wrote in response to Morgan's blog.
Missiologist Ed Stetzer, meanwhile, sees the use of holograms in the church as a "natural evolution" of the technology.
"[P]eople watched their pastor live on a big screen at a megachurch, then they watched their pastor on video from another place, now the video goes from 2D to 3D," he commented to The Christian Post. "It is not a shift of philosophy but of technology. If you are already OK watching via video, this is just a new tool, not a new approach."
Adding his own two cents to the debate he sparked on his own blog, Morgan said he supports churches using technology to reach today's culture.
"Technology is not a sin," he said in an e-mail to The Christian Post. "Technology can be used to sin. Technology can also be redeemed to engage today's culture and present the gospel. As missionaries in today's world, frankly, I think the church needs to embrace technology if we are going to speak the language of today's culture.
"We can run from it. We can yell at it. Or, we can leverage it where it's appropriate to present the gospel and help people take their next steps toward Christ."
Having friends and neighbors who still don't know Christ and his unconditional love, Morgan said he's willing to face criticism for his espousal of new technology.
"If I'm criticized for my passion to present the gospel and help as many people as possible experience a life-changing journey in Christ, I'm willing to face that criticism to live out my conviction," he said.
According to Morgan, pricing on the holographic technology is "coming down quickly to the point that I won’t be surprised if we see this technology implemented in churches within the next 12 months."
"Not unlike other forms of video distribution, advancements in technology are making it easier for ministries to consider this form of communication as an option," he noted.