High-Tech Churches Worry Traditional Worshippers

It's no secret that churches have stepped up their technology use as more projection screens adorn the front of churches and more preachers maintain a prominent presence on the Internet.

But not all are fans of high-tech churches.

"I feel like it's too much and it takes over the worship," said the Rev. Dorothy LaPenta, pastor of the 150-member Hope Presbyterian Church in Mitchellville, according to The Washington Post. "People will just be sitting there, their eyes fixated on the screen. They're waiting to be given something instead of participating."

It's typical for worshippers who flock especially to megachurches to sing praises in tune with a full contemporary band and a high-tech sound system complete with stage lights and lyrics on jumbo screens. Pastors take the stage with camouflaged headset microphones and flash Scripture passages on the screens largely to the convenience of those who forgot their Bibles or who don't have one. At more innovative churches, a short video clip introduces the sermon.

Church leaders who implement the technology say it's all about reaching more people. And to reach people in today's culture, churches need to be at the forefront of cutting edge ideas.

"I don't think that God would want us to try to evangelize like Jesus did 2,000 years ago," said the Rev. Grainger Browning Jr., pastor of the 10,000-member Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington, according to the Post.

Well over half of Protestant churches use a large-screen projection system in their communication, according to a 2005 Barna study. Just five years earlier, only 39 percent were using that technology. And double the proportion of Protestant churches (61 percent) were integrating video content into their worship services in 2005 compared to 2000. Also, with the advent of big screens, fewer churches are providing Bibles in their pews – dropping from 86 percent in 2000 to 80 percent in 2005.

Last year, churches spent $8.1 billion on audio and projection equipment, according to TFCinfo, an audiovisual market research firm, as reported by the Post.

Too much technology, however, may take away from the message and the focus of worship, some caution.

"One of the problems is that with video technology, you don't watch the pastor, you watch the screen, where he appears like a movie star 20 times bigger than reality," James B. Twitchell, author of the book "Shopping for God: How Christianity Went From In Your Heart to In Your Face," told The Washington Post.

And an even newer technological advance that a small but growing number of churches are picking up is the "Internet campus.", for example, has 12 campuses scattered across the nation – one of which is an Internet campus. Launched in April, the interactive virtual campus can be found in the popular 3-D online world Second Life.

LifeChurch also opened three other physical campuses within this past year and has witnessed its total attendance jump by some 2,000 since early this year. All campuses are made possible through video and satellite technology with senior pastor Craig Groeschel's messages video fed each week.

The multi-site church now claims nearly 20,000 people every weekend.

Despite their growth, churches such as LifeChurch have had their share of critics over the incorporation of satellite technology into worship services.

Some church leaders wonder if the trend is creating churches as the Bible defines churches or if it is "wal-marting" churches.

"It is a substandard substitute, when you compare it to what God intended," said Michael Hall Sr., pastor of the 125-member New Beginnings Community Ministry Center in Bowie, according to the Post. "How can we break bread? We're not going to have dinner over the computer."

With a passion to bring the unchurched to Jesus, Groeschel, however, says, "We have to care more about reaching people than about obeying man's stupid rules because that's what they are.

"In order to reach those that no one else is reaching, we will have to do things that no one else is doing," he has said.

But the innovative pastor cautions, "We must become less impressed with our latest program, less impressed with our latest website, and less impressed with our own what we call creative idea and become more focused on becoming less and making Jesus more in everything that we do."

The 12,000-member McLean Bible Church, one of the largest churches in the Washington, D.C.-area, plans to launch an Internet campus this year complete with chat rooms and online small groups. The megachurch has also embraced the multi-site approach in order to reach all of "secular Washington."

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