The Trouble With Technology

Last week I received an article from a colleague entitled The Coming Tidal Wave of Pastoral Departures by Laura Stephens-Reed. The article can be found here and I commend it to your reading:

There is much to learn in the article, but one paragraph in particular stood out:

“Prior to the pandemic, a significant number of my clergy coachees and colleagues were working under unrealistic expectations, whether those came from their congregations or from their own internal “shoulds.” And then, mid-Lent, they had to change the ways they did nearly everything – and fast. They became not just preachers but tech experts with all that entails: recording, editing, sound mixing, lighting, inviting people to and teaching them how to participate in and managing online meetings, exploring the most accessible social media platforms, and monitoring cyber security.”

This is why it caught my eye. As churches reopen, everyone seems to be getting the safety protocols right, but almost every single example I have heard of has had some form of technology glitch or failure as part of their reopening. All these seem to boil down to just a very few causes:

  • Only one person (often the minister) knows how to do it.
  • The minister is expected to lead worship, preach AND take care of the technology.
  • The minister is now expected to conduct ‘in person’ and virtual worship.
  • The equipment is new and we don’t know how to use it.

Setting aside the issue of new equipment, I am concerned about the burden technology is placing on our ministers.

When the pandemic started, most ministers moved to online worship relatively seamlessly. It made sense. They were the ones producing content, others couldn’t come close and often they were among the most tech savvy in the congregation. While this scenario has worked up until now, the move toward re-starting ‘in person’ worship while also continuing with virtual worship makes this model no longer viable.

Over the last few weeks, I have heard stories of ministers having to prop their own cell phones on the pulpit to record the services as they conduct them. I have heard of all the microphones not working because the one person who knew which button to push wasn’t there. I have heard of those who are spending their entire week putting together their virtual worship service, only to have to then conduct the ‘in person’ worship on Sunday. Most of all I have heard stories of exasperation at those who do not understand how long it takes to produce good quality video and audio materials.

Tori and I have a tenant who is a part-time videographer. We asked him how much it would cost for him to produce a one hour workshop for us. His answer (for family!) was $500. I know another editor and asked him the same question, his answer was $60.00 per hour with the expectation that it would take about 12 hours worth of work. While we wouldn’t expect to produce everything to the standard these individuals are capable of, the point is that compiling and editing takes time.  You cannot just hit ‘record’ on your cell phone and expect that a usable product will emerge at the other end.

As we return to in person worship while simultaneously continuing with virtual worship I would like to make two suggestions for your congregation.

  1. Train more people. Technologically many of our churches are in a whole new world. We can no longer rely on one, or even two or three people to be able to run the equipment in the church. This ministry must be spread out.
  2. Ask whether compiling and editing is the best use of your minister’s time. It is a lot of time and a lot of work! As we return to ‘in person’ worship the minister should not be expected to conduct worship and run the technology necessary to record it. As we continue with virtual worship we need to help our ministers determine the very best use of their time and give them space to do it.

Years ago when Power Point was a new product and people were only beginning to discover its uses for worship, I had a colleague who used Power Point in worship every Sunday. I was very impressed by this until he told me it took him 30 hours a week to create his presentations! To my mind this was not the best use of his time. We are in a parallel situation today. As we all learn new skills and new ways of being the church, so must we understand that these new challenges must be responded to in ways that are sustainable, helpful and good for our ministers and for the whole church. 

Subscribe today to receive all our new blog posts directly to your email inbox!