How wired do you want to be?

For the last few months I have been wrestling with an idea that may or may not be ready for prime time.  I may be going out on a bit of a limb here, but I would like to talk about using technology as part of the liturgical service.  What I mean by this is the idea of using smartphones/iPads/Kindles for following along in the service.  It would seem to be the next logical progression in church digital communications.

One of the many complaints that I hear about the Episcopal Church’s worship practices on Sunday morning is that there are so many books to juggle.  Now for us “cradle Episcopalians”, being able to navigate around a prayer book, hymnal and lectionary insert is  part of the right of passage and joy (if I may be so bold) of being Episcopalian.  But the reality is that cradle Episcopalians are a distinct minority.  Many people are coming to the church later in life and many times from either another faith tradition or no tradition at all.  So when a visitor with no background in the church suddenly has to wend their way through bulletin inserts, prayer books, hymnals (sometimes more than one) and anything else….well, the experience could be overwhelming and not in a necessarily good way.

There have been various ways that this issue has been dealt with.  Booklets have been created every Sunday with the BCP service copied out.  Projection screens with Powerpoint presentations have been used.  How-to sheets with page numbers and color coding.  Some work, some don’t.  Unfortunately, unless you recycle a lot of it ends up in a landfill.

I would like to propose that maybe we look into using smartphones as a medium for the service information.  One could create a PDF file with all of the information laid out in the appropriate order.  A person could then either download the file from a website, or cooler yet, use the smartphone to scan a QR barcode linked to the PDF file.  You wouldn’t need to change the barcode that would be scanned since you would be able to create a new PDF every week and associate it with the code.  You would certainly be more eco-friendly since no paper would be needed for printing.

I found an article on this that I think has some merit, at least as a jumping off point for discussion.  Personally, I do not think that being a liturgical church means we can’t use the technology.  At the very least, fewer bulletins and inserts would be needed.  The stigma of using smartphones in meetings as diversions and being disengaged is going away.  Personally, I think it is worth considering.

9 thoughts on “How wired do you want to be?

  1. Makes sense to me but make sure you have a strategy in place for dealing with resistance to this idea, not all of which will be either helpful or civil. While culture change takes time, I derive comfort from St. Paul’s reminder, albeit in another context, that we can be changed in a moment, the twinkling of an eye.

  2. I love technology, but it seems that most our our congregations are just now moving into the 20th century with printed service materials. The few attempts I’ve experienced around the country with using technology in worship have been feeble at best. It’s also a generational thing, as many of our church goers are the generation who are just now learning how to use a cell phone. I’d like to see some serious work with our congregations to utilize technology from current web sites and electronic giving to multisensory worship.

  3. As an iPad owner and a Eucharistic Minister, I am so close to bringing my unit up to the lectern to read from. One practical use, I can have an enlarged print version to read from as my middle-age eyes cannnot read the regular lectionary even with reading glasses. I also use the app iBCP and find it wonderful for my morning meditations.

    On the other hand, I understand the point of view of the elderly but in my former post as Parish Admin, I created all-inclusive bulletins using Rite Stuff and Rite Song and all church goers including the seniors and non-cradle Episcopalians loved using these large print bulletins. The pew books are becoming obsolete one way or another.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. As Meredith Gould said in an earlier comment, the culture change will take time, but change however it comes will be inevitable.

  4. This is a very interesting and very important issue.

    Smartphone use in worship has both good and bad potential. The potential good is that people use their smartphones/ipads for just about everything. They are a great way of conveying data, and this should be harnessed to our advantage.

    The potential bad is that they can contribute to the atomization of society, and worship is a communal– which is to say participatory– ritual. As people become atomized, they participate less. Staring at a smartphone in a room full of other people staring at their smartphones isn’t communal, it’s parallel play.

    A smartphone is essentially a hand-help video feed. We would do well to consider what is being activated in our psyches as we shift from (left brain dominant) alphabetical communication, which has been the norm of “Western Civilization” for the past few thousand years, back towards (right brain dominant) pictorial communication, particularly in the context of religion.

    My two cents worth: whatever we do, let us beware the absence of context inherent in any matrix.

    I recommend that decision-makers read “The Alphabet Versus The Goddess” by Leonard Shlain and “Psychology and Western Religion” by Carl Jung for insight into the implications of incorporating technology into ancient ritual.

    Yes, change is inevitable. But if it is not undertaken consciously we risk unforeseen and unintended consequences.

    1. You make some good points. There does need to be a balance in this. Doing it because the technology is available isn’t the right reason. I remember a time where everyone was reading the service out of the prayer book, which while it is participatory, still compartmentalizes the individual to some extent. How does a book differ from a smart device?

  5. Good question. I think a book differs from a smart device in that a book is “fixed.” While people may be compartmentalized when they look at a book during worship, they are at least literally on the same page. A smart device, by contrast, isn’t fixed: it’s a dynamic portal to anything online anywhere.

    Having said that, I think the church is way behind on using modern technology to connect with those of working age.

    The barcode idea is very good idea from a technical and environmental standpoint. However, the danger of inviting congregants to use their devices for one purpose is the near certainty that congregants will then use them for other purposes during the service: texting, emailing, blogging, facebooking, IMing, youtubing, etc.

    One way to use smart phones to promote church growth and outreach would be to encourage congregants to “check in” on their social networking sites before they turn off their devices. Maybe a dignified sign at the entrance suggesting that people “Check in, then check out. Please turn off electronic devices during the service.”

    Technology only moves one way, and that is forward, so I agree that it will find its way into worship one way or another. Perhaps offline electronic readers in pews would be a middle ground for those who find books an anachronism. It would be an initial expense for the church, but think of the saved costs in paper and postage, not to mention conserved natural resources. As these things become cheaper that may very well become a cost-effective no brainer way to go.

    1. I like the concept of “Fixed” vs. “Dynamic”. Again, good points on your part. In some ways, smart phone distractions are no different than daydreaming, it’s just that everyone else can see it! I have tried to come up with some ideas on how to minimize the distractions. The Kindle may be the best solution as it is not a multi-tasking device. Possibly an iPad could be programmed to only do the service program on powerup (church’s iPad, not anyone bringing one in, of course).

      You’re right, the distraction factor is huge. I know when I took some classes earlier this year, everyone had laptops and were taking notes on them. At least they APPEARED to be doing that. Some were surfing, some checking email, some tweeting. As an instructor or if you were presenting a project, you never know what is going on in those computers. You just trust that they are listening to what you have to say and are being responsible. We may have to have the same attitude with smart phones.

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