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Church in Your Pajamas

Category - Religion
by Bob Wolfe on September 29th, 2015

I suspect some people reading the headline above may be a little taken aback by the mental image of a worship experience while wearing their pajamas. If that’s the case, let’s mute that image a bit, but has “Church in your pajamas” become a new reality?

As I cited in a recent blog, changing technology is providing access for a whole audience of people who want to experience “church” in a different way. Here are some stats, courtesy of the Barna Group:

  • 70% of millennials (currently, those 18-29 year of age) read Scripture on a screen
  • 56% of Christian millennials research a church, temple or synagogue website prior to engaging with a community
  • 54% of Christian millennials watch online videos about faith or spirituality
  • 59% of Christian millennials access spiritual content online

Source: Barna Group, 2013

Add to this the huge upswing in “networked” churches, the use of digital streaming for the conveyance of weekend services and other events, the lowered cost of high-quality, easy-to-use technology, and an emerging generation fully facile with iPods, smartphones, tablets, and a host of other digital technology. Who needs to sit in a pew? Who need to open the hymnal or (dare I say it?) a PAPER Bible?

Well, sitting here in a technology company that serves thousands of churches, I’m not about to act like some throw-back purist reacting to all this software and hardware – did you know that Youversion, the popular free Bible, is available in 780 languages and nearly 1,100 versions?! – but I have come to wonder about how church leaders and their congregants see technology impacting faith and formation.

I had the opportunity to attend Lakewood Church in Houston, and saw Joel Osteen and others from the fourth row in the enormous, nearly-17,000 seat church. I have to admit, partly because of my background in media and partly because my own worship experience has been considerably different than the Lakewood environment, I found myself split between actively participating in the service and studying the “event,” as it were, as a professional. The music was first-rate. The entire service and everything before and after the service was meticulously choreographed. Experiencing the message and the healing and the prayers was very moving. But you know? As immersed as I was right there in that fourth-row seat, I found myself watching the screen…or screens. There are several, and one in particular, is just enormous. Makes sense in a former arena-turned-church.

But as is the case with so much TV, it’s there to be “consumed.” There’s something about the larger-than-life images and the surround-sound and the perfect choreography that – in my humble opinion – moves that service closer toward “entertainment” rather than worship. While I saw the sprit moving countless individuals nearby and far-off in other sections, I felt myself drawing in…watching the worship as a kind of spectacle. Is that good? Bad? I don’t know. I was one person in that 17,000 seats. Certainly, many others found a deeper experience via the technology, right?

I mean, certainly, Lakewood Church – and Joel Osteen, specifically – has brought faith and inspirations to millions around the world. That is a powerful thing. But has the technology…the “show,” if you will…enhanced church as an individually-consumed activity at the expense of true “community”? Or…to circle back to the original headline and to look at those situations where technology is being used – by some – in place of the communal experience (i.e. digital streaming of services) …has the technology come to actually disengage or distance the worshipper? Is church better in your pajamas? What do you think?