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The Changing Face of Sunday Morning

Thanks to the wonders of technology, many Sunday morning church services have undergone a serious makeover. But does video preaching—and in some cases, video worship—inevitably help or hinder the effort to spread the Good News? Now, several well-known pastors weigh in.

Not all that long ago, there was a fairly precise strategy to finding the perfect seat at church. Of course, nobody wanted to sit in the dreaded front row. Those seats were reserved for the latecomers; after all, they were the ones who deserved the inevitable fate of accidentally—and potentially awkwardly—making eye contact with the pastor while he preached.

And if you sat in the back, well, it wasn’t easy to see what was going on because the pastor was practically pint-sized from so far away, so the middle seats were usually the way to go. But then again, everybody had that same idea, so you basically took whatever seats you could find.

These days, whether you stroll in 15 minutes late or arrive 15 minutes early, it really doesn’t matter where you sit because there’s usually a good-sized projection screen (just like the one at the ballpark or your favorite concert venue) that ensures that everyone has a great view. And really, that’s only the beginning of most churches’ Sunday morning makeover.

In an effort to make services more accessible to everyone, even those who stay home and “tune in” online, extraordinary new measures have been taken. The church’s pastor and worship leaders don’t even have to be in the same room now that pre-recorded sermons and worship have emerged as a popular way of delivering the message.

Pastor Tim Stevens of Granger Community Church in Granger, Indiana, realized long ago that the majority of the folks in the sanctuary’s 1,700 seats were watching the video screen instead of the speaker. “Our entire culture is video-centric,” Stevens says. “Now, you would never go to a large sporting event or concert and not expect there to be large screens supplementing whatever is happening live. I celebrate the technology that has become increasingly more available and attainable in the past few years. It’s giving the Church a pathway for more creativity and the ability to reach more [people] than ever.”

Worship from the Live Feed

In addition to utilizing video technology for the preaching portion of services, a live feed is also used for worship at Granger Community.

“Corporate worship is communal—not individual,” Stevens says. “I love the close-up shots of the band and vocalists during worship. It helps me worship when I can see, close-up, the sincerity in the eyes of the singer, the lines of experience and suffering on the face of the drummer. I am also ushered into the presence of God when I see musicians present their God-given artistic ability with excellence.”

While Stevens finds that worship works well this way, North Coast Church Senior Pastor Larry Osborne believes that preaching, not worship, works better on the big screen. “If music and worship worked well on a screen, then you’d see concerts on television all the time. It just doesn’t sound the same,” says Osborne. “Music is something you want to be in the room for, that’s why our worship is always live.”

Reinventing Church Planting

That minor quibble aside, Osborne has been amazed how technology has made it possible to have one church in three different locations.

“I remember exactly when we intentionally used video, and not in an ‘overflow room,’ and that was in September of 1998,” Osborne recalls. “It was actually preferred by the people because they wanted an ‘overflow room’ that was a reward instead of a punishment. And as soon as I walked out of that service, I realized that using video just wasn’t for the young and hip. It was going to unlock something. I came home and told my wife, ‘I think we’ve just changed the way megachurch is done.’”

For Osborne, video has allowed him to do church planting without the substantial costs of buying a new building. “My wife and I both realized that you can’t keep building bigger and bigger buildings forever. But you could take video and turn that into a preferred venue based on ambiance and style instead of asking people to drive farther and farther to the newer, bigger building.”

And for Bobby Gruenewald, Pastor and Innovation Leader at LifeChurch.tv, it has been an effective way of “extending the reach of gifted communicators beyond their physical or geographical limitations.”

“It allows a pastor to teach in more places—and for more services—than they’d normally be able to. By doing so, it actually frees up local leadership to focus on developing relationships at the campus and within the community,” Gruenewald says. “Instead of writing sermons each week, they get to spend more time pouring into the people around them.”

Of course, if technology isn’t implemented properly, it can also be a stumbling block. “Yes, it can definitely present some challenges because people might not engage with the message as much if the pastor isn’t intentional about teaching to a video audience,” Gruenewald adds. “And if a church has developed a culture where people expect to have personal contact with the teaching pastor, it will require a significant adjustment.”

But in Gruenewald’s experience, the pros far outweigh the cons. “Some people say that video teaching prevents younger leaders from having the opportunity to develop and hone their speaking skills, but we’ve experienced just the opposite,” he continues. “We’ve been using a team-teaching approach during some of our messages where our Senior Pastor, Craig Groeschel teaches part of the message, and the campus pastors and network pastors teach a portion. On those weekends, nearly 150 pastors are teaching together, which is very cool.”

The Power of Social Networking

While it can seem like just a time-waster to some, social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have become invaluable resources for pastors, too. “When it comes to technology, I think it should be used to solve a problem or advance a mission, not to be cool and hip,” says Osborne. “We’ve never said we want to be technologically advanced, but it has been helpful in getting the word out.”

“Above all, it’s important to remember that all of these things are just tools. None of them are the all-inclusive silver bullet to reach the world for Jesus,” Stevens adds. “But it is another effective way to communicate. We use Facebook, Twitter, YouVersion, texting, e-newsletters, YouTube, Vimeo, you name it. Each one reaches a slightly different audience, and they help break all geographic boundaries on the impact of your church. We are just a local church in small-town Indiana, yet we get feedback from all over the world. And that’s encouraging.”