The Church is a living organism. This means that, like every living thing, she is subject to change as time passes. One of the easiest areas of change to track is the Church’s adaptation to technological advances. Over the past two thousand years each technological shift has presented new opportunities that the Body of Christ has tried to capitalize on. The printing press, for example, was immediately used to make copies of the Bible widely available. Currently the Church finds itself in the middle of the Information Age. This provides many new technological advances that each bring their own opportunities for use.
One of the biggest technological advances in recent history has been that of video. Because of recent advances, video has increased in quality while also becoming more affordable. This has allowed many local church bodies across the country to incorporate video technology in their worship services. In fact, if a person attends a church of some size, it is almost a given that they will use video in a wide variety of ways. George Temple, CEO of Sermonspice.com writes: “Whatever part of the service they are used, videos can enhance our experience with God, help drive home the message we are trying to communicate, and add impact and effectiveness to the church experience.” It would seem that this technology is a gift given to the Church to be used in any way possible. However, we cannot simply accept any technology just because it is available to us.
Video, like any medium, has its own downside to it. There are arguments against its use in church. When trying to determine whether or not to use a technology in the church, we must take a balanced look at it. When we examine video, we do find that it does possess an element of danger. In an article on Sermomedia.co.uk, the staff members of Sermon Media describe the emotional impact that a video can have: “What touches an individual? It may be the music, the words on the screen, or the story itself, videos can help drive home the message we are trying to communicate, and add impact and power to the message.” It is true that video does have potential to impact people. However, the danger lies in trying to manipulate the emotions of an audience to try to generate a specific response. This can be done unknowingly, and is a real danger that many churches may not think through. This is just one example of the dangers of this medium.
Many churches have simply failed to apply thought toward the issue. It can be easy in today’s information age to assume that technology will solve all problems. However, this is surely not a biblical idea. We must filter the way that we use video through Scripture. If a local church carefully develops a biblical theology of worship, then it is possible for that church to use video correctly in a corporate worship setting.
The Status Quo
Currently, video enjoys a widespread use across America. It has become accepted as a normal part of any church worship service. Whether it is image magnification, video backgrounds behind song lyrics, or video sermon bumpers, more and more churches are finding creative ways to use video technology. Before we can determine what a proper use of this medium should be, we must analyze the status quo.
In today’s American Church the use of video has almost become a status symbol. Churches that have a wide variety of video use are considered relevant or cutting edge. It has gotten to the point that a church may look to use the technology available simply because it’s available. Consider this blog written by Chris McGowan which is targeted towards pastors who are considering using video in their churches. McGowan writes: “Good quality video production represents Christ and the church well. It says, ‘We are a quality, class-act organization.’” Churches are becoming so concerned with being culturally relevant that they are not thinking through the way that video should be used.
However, the use of video has also opened up possibilities for churches that were not available just a few years ago. The technology that makes Image Magnification (IMAG) possible is probably the best example of this. For a detailed explanation of this technology, read this article. This application of video allows everyone in a large congregation to be able to see their pastor clearly as he preaches. Thus, the sermon is enhanced for everyone as they can pick up on non-verbal cues. So it is clear that video is not always used improperly in churches today. It does fulfill needs that no other tool could.
It cannot be said that any church always uses video properly or improperly. However, in a context in which consumerism is king, it stands to reason that the majority of churches who use video struggle on some level with this issue. It would also be a safe guess to say that few churches have truly thought theologically about their use of technology, or about how a medium affects a message. Thus, in order to look to develop guidelines for a proper use of video in a local church, we must take both of these in consideration.
The Medium’s Message
Marshall McLuhan is credited with the phrase “The medium is the message.” He was essentially saying that a specific medium will have a direct effect upon a message. One must think very carefully before selecting a medium with which to communicate a message. Most people, to say nothing of most churches, have very little understanding of this concept. In today’s internet age, we simply post a video onto the web or make a status update on our social network of choice without thinking twice. However, if we wish to be effective communicators, then we must analyze the means by which we communicate.
In seeking to understand the way that video technology affects a message, we must first understand that it naturally lends itself towards entertainment. This issue with video is the same issue that we find in the closely related technology of television. Neil Postman was able to articulate a clear analysis of the medium of television in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death. Because there is much more material in this book that we don’t have time to discuss, take a look at this article for a further review. Postman writes: “Our television set keeps us in constant communion with the world, but it does so with a face whose smiling countenance is unalterable. The problem is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining, which is another issue altogether” (87). Postman postulated that any subject matter, no matter how serious, will simply be reduced to entertainment when channeled through the medium of television.
While video, strictly speaking, is not exactly the same as television, it is very closely related. Because of this tie the same problems exist in its epistemological nature as a medium. Any message that a church may wish to communicate through video has a danger of simply feeding the desires for entertainment or consumerism of a congregation. This could make meaningful, informative communication very difficult. A local church must take this into consideration before they begin placing images up on a screen.
Of course, there is a positive side to this medium. Again, speaking of television, Postman notes that it “is largely aimed at emotional gratification” (86). An image-based medium such as video can be very effective in gaining an emotional response from an audience. In particular situations where there may be a need to stir a congregation to action, it may be appropriate to use video to provide an emotional support for a message. Of course, we must guard against falling into emotional manipulation. For a much larger discussion regarding the danger of emotional manipulation, read this article. However, there is potential for video to be used as an appropriate emotional support.
After analyzing the epistemological nature of video, we must then move to think theologically through the issue at hand. Even though the authors of Scripture could not have possibly conceived of the concept of creating literal motion pictures, our discussion of video in church would not be able to move forward without some theological thought. If we are to determine what a proper use of video would be in a corporate worship setting, then we must develop a biblical theology of worship. By understanding what Scripture has to say about worship, we can then determine how a medium like video fits into that theological framework.
While video is obviously absent from the pages of Scripture, art in general is shown to have a part to play in worship. The temple is a perfect example of this. In his book Art and the Bible, Francis Schaeffer paints a picture of God’s design of the temple: “The temple was to be filled with art work. “And he [Solomon] garnished [covered] the house with precious stones for beauty” (2 Chron. 3:6). Notice this carefully: The temple was covered with precious stones for beauty. There was no pragmatic reason for the precious stones…God simply wanted beauty in the temple” (26). God placed art in the very center of worship intentionally. Schaeffer also notes other biblical passages that exemplify art in worship including Ex. 28:33, 1 Kings 6:29, 1 Chron. 23:5, and Ps. 149:3. There is a biblical basis for using art in a corporate worship context. However, just because art can be a part of worship does not mean that it can be used carelessly. Thus, we need to go deeper in understanding how art should be used in worship.
Worship by the Book, edited by D.A. Carson, is a phenomenal work that develops a well-rounded theology of worship. R. Kent Hughes, one of the authors, discusses how another form of art, music, should be used in a corporate worship setting. Hughes writes that “music must be given proper perspective as a medium of gathered worship. Music has validity in Christian worship only as it participates in, and contributes to, a service of the Word from beginning to end” (166). We can draw a parallel here with regard to video in the church. We might rephrase Hughes and say that video has validity in worship only as it contributes to a service of the Word. In other words, the use of video has to have intentionality. It cannot be used as an end to itself, and it cannot be seen simply as a status symbol. Video in a worship setting must be seen first and foremost as a means to support the worship service that is taking place.
Before we finish thinking through this issue theologically, we must think about the manner in which we use video. In Colossians 3:23-24 the apostle Paul writes “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…You are serving the Lord Christ” (ESV). There is a charge here to do work excellently. This also can be applied to worship. A church should have a degree of excellence in its worship. This would certainly extend to video use in worship. Churches should pursue a level of excellence in the video that they incorporate into a worship service. This extends across the board from creativity to technique. Someone may be content to show a video at their church that was shot on their iPhone. However, this certainly cannot be considered giving God your best. The issue of excellence is far too broad to be covered in a work like this. Check out this link for a well-articulated argument for church excellence.
After dissecting the issue and doing some theological work we can now look to understand how to use video properly. While each individual church will have different needs or desires in how they use technology, there are still some overarching things to be taken into consideration when looking to implement video in any corporate worship setting. We will now try to identify three of these.
The first aspect to consider when looking to use video in a church is its purpose. What will be the main purpose of using any sort of video technology in a church service? This essentially comes down to addressing the focus of the worship service. As we have already established, the purpose of video technology has to be that of support. It is not to be used simply because it is available, and it is not to distract or detract from the rest of the worship service. It can be very easy to want to include some complex camera moves or an emotionally charged video in a service simply because it is available or it looks good. However, these have a tendency to become an end in themselves. Thus, there must be some consideration of purpose or focus whenever a decision is being made regarding how video is used.
Secondly, there must be a consideration of the needs of the congregation. Different congregations are going to have different needs that video may or may not be able to fill. Consider this real-life example: A church of moderate size located in a retirement community in southern Florida recently made the decision to use IMAG technology in their church services. This decision was not made without much careful research and thought. After the transition had been made, the pastor heard several people comment on how helpful the video feed on the overhead screens was. One older person even commented: “This is the first time I have ever seen my pastor’s face while he was preaching.” This is an instance when video was used properly in order to fill a legitimate need in a church. Before making a decision like this, there must be some careful audience analysis done by the leaders in a church.
Finally, after considering purpose and audience, a church looking to use video must consider its own potential for excellence. This does not mean that churches without a big budget should never attempt to use any video technology in their services. The church that uses video properly will understand the resources it has, both technically and monetarily, and then look to use those resources in a way which promotes excellence. This may look different for each church. Some churches may be able to do well in incorporating a much more widespread use of video than others. It is only through carefully considering every aspect of this issue, including the potential for excellence, that a church can come to a discerning decision regarding how it will use video.
Before we draw our discussion to a close, it would be good to see some of these thought processes exemplified. It can be very easy to talk about all of these things in great detail without ever seeing exactly how this may look in a given situation. Thus, this last section will be dedicated to providing concrete examples of a discerning use of video in church services. We will look at a couple of specific video applications and how they should and should not be used.
As previously mentioned, one application of video that is common in churches today is IMAG technology. Many churches today are using IMAG during their musical worship time to add aesthetic appeal to their services. The sweeping camera moves and close-ups of the vocalists are some great examples of video excellence. However, they tend to fail the test of consideration of purpose. Far too often, the camerawork becomes either a distraction to the congregation or it runs the danger of becoming emotional manipulation. For the people in the congregation the focus of a musical worship time should be upon the lyrics of the song that, in turn, point to the Lord. Because this use of video does not fit well with its purpose, many churches would do well to simply project the lyrics of songs on screens without using any live video feed as a background.
Recently, it has become popular for churches to stream video feed of sermons to other church campus extensions. These satellite churches have generated much debate, and there is far more to the issue than can ever be covered here. Check out this link for further detailed discussion of satellite churches. As far as our brief analysis is concerned, it seems that this application of video fails to consider the nature of the medium as well as the needs of a congregation. Video naturally promotes entertainment and consumerism, and this is only heightened in a situation in which the preacher is not physically present. Also, if a pastor has little or no real contact with a congregation, then it is almost impossible for him to be able to meet the specific needs of that congregation in a sermon being channeled through video. There is a lot of debate around this issue, and there is a lot more to be said about each side of the argument. However, if video as a medium is considered as well as the needs of a congregation, then it still remains to be seen how a video feed can replace a live pastor.
Church leaders have a responsibility to carefully consider how certain decisions will affect their churches. This is no less true in the realm of technology. We cannot ever view technology of any kind as a savior. In today’s society Christians say that they trust Christ, and yet they turn around and flock to the newest technologies as if all their problems will be solved electronically. We cannot allow this mindset to infiltrate the Church. We cannot blindly assume that the newest video technologies are automatically going to give our churches success; whatever that looks like. There is a danger in failing to think critically about how to use a medium. Video is not a status symbol that automatically gives a stamp of approval to a church. It can be used to add creativity to a worship service without becoming a distraction. Through both a biblical foundation and a consideration of purpose, audience, and potential for excellence, a church can make a discerning decision to use video technology to glorify God in worship.
It is difficult to go into detailed exemplification in an article such as this. So I have gone through an analysis of how my home church could implement video into their services. You can view the analysis at this link.
Carson, D.A., ed. Worship by the Book. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.
Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death. New York: Penguin Books, 2005.
Schaeffer, Francis. Art and the Bible. Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2006.
Temple, George. “Why Jesus Used Stories & Why You Should Too.” Crosswalk. 5 August 2005. Web. 7 December 2011 <http://www.crosswalk.com/church/pastors-or-leadership/why-jesus-used-stories-and-why-you-should-too-1344330.html?p=2 >.
English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001
“Why Use Videos?” Sermon Media. 2007. 10 Apr. 2009 <http://www.sermonmedia.co.uk/why.htm>.