Technology helps worshipers tune in, tithe, sing
WINCHESTER, Va. (AP) — No need for hymnals in the church pews? Using a mobile phone to put an offering in the collection plate?
At many places of worship, technology plays an important role.
At Winchester Church of God in Frederick County, for instance, the words to hymns are projected onto a large screen at the front of the sanctuary so the congregation can sing along. For the pastors and others facing the congregation, there is a smaller screen at the back of church that they can use.
When it comes to contemporary worship, this is nothing new, says Jeremy Miller, Winchester Church of God’s executive pastor.
“We don’t use them,” the 38-year-old said, shaking his head, and haven’t for years.
With so many old hymns and new worship songs, it’s impossible to contain all that music in one book, so projection screens have replaced hymnals in many churches.
And the Bible? There’s an app for that.
Though Bibles are tucked into the backs of pews at Winchester Church of God, when worshipers are asked to turn to a particular passage, they’re more likely to “turn on” the Bible app on their cellphone than open a traditional Bible and flip through the pages, Miller said.
Collection plates have also gone digital.
A traditional offering plate is still passed around on Sunday mornings at Winchester Church of God to collect money and checks, but a lot of people don’t carry cash these days, so tithes can be made using a mobile device, Miller said.
Even registering for church activities is done online, he said. For those who don’t use smartphones or computers, paper sign-up sheets are available, too.
Just outside the sanctuary at Winchester Church of God, five computer kiosks are stationed for parents to sign in their children. The kiosks produce stickers with matching codes — one for the parents, one for the child. To make sure children go home with the right adults, they’re asked to show their sticker.
Perhaps the biggest impact technology is having on contemporary worship is the ability to livestream sermons and other church programs, Miller said.
Livestreaming enables real-time video and audio to be broadcast over the internet.
About 1,500 people attend Sunday services at Winchester Church of God’s main location on North Frederick Pike and a smaller campus in Front Royal.
But “a lot of people just can’t make it to church,” Miller said. Maybe they’re sick, traveling or caring for a loved one. Whatever the reason, they can still watch and listen to services through livestreaming.
“They’re so grateful for the livestream,” he said. “There’s a growing crowd that’s tuning in.”
Videos of the services are even archived on the church’s website, so people can literally binge watch sermons the same way some people binge watch Netflix shows.
To make the livestream possible, Winchester Church of God’s sanctuary is outfitted with four cameras and an impressive set up of engineering boards and a media booth in the back of the sanctuary. The equipment controls lights, audio and video in the sanctuary and also for the livestream so everything looks and sounds good.
“It’s a big part of contemporary services,” Derek Boyce, Winchester Church of God’s administrative assistant for music ministry, said about the audio-visual component.
He said the church has an “amazing system” and that it tries “to stay as current as possible” with its technology. “It’s a standard of excellence.”
Dozens of church members are trained to use the equipment and sign up months in advance to volunteer to operate it during Sunday services.
“It’s kind of like learning to drive,” Boyce said about mastering the complex-looking set up. “We have an excellent team.”
Even the church’s orchestra uses computer tablets instead of sheet music.
Miller said it’s hard to predict where technology will take modern worship, but he can envision people gathering in homes for Sunday services via livestream.
“That’s probably already happening,” he conceded, adding that, “One of the primary ways people do church these days is to subscribe to a bunch of livestream church services from around the world. There’s a lot of them out there.”
In the near future, Winchester Church of God wants to add a chat function so people watching one of its livestream services can interact with someone from the church.
“They can answer questions about what’s going on and be there for prayer and encouragement,” Miller said.
But he doesn’t think technology will be able to replace the interaction that occurs when people gather for worship.
“The community element is so important,” he said
Information from: The Winchester Star, http://www.winchesterstar.com