Thursday, April 01, 2010

My Holograph Preaches Better Than Your Holograph

I am a big fan of technology.  As Kip sang in his wedding song on Napoleon Dynamite, “Yes I love technology but not as much as you, you see…” I love blogging, podcasting, RSS feeds, Twitter, Facebook and so on.  And as one who is just a few months into planting a church I am finding how the internet can do a whole lot to connect folks and get the message out for very little money.  For instance, our church has been going through a faith experiment (inspired by the folks at Not the Religious Type) through this season of Lent which is called 40 Days of Faith.  Because of technology, each day I am able to post a new reflective reading from scripture that a lot of people in the church follow along with on our website.  On top of that I am able to podcast the messages from our weekly services within hours of the service so folks who can’t make it can still stay connected with the content.  This has been very helpful for the folks of our small congregation not to mention a handful of others from around the country who are following along with us.  So yes I love technology. 

Many years ago media and communications guru Marshall McLuhan, made the insightful statement that “the message is the medium” (Shane Hipps explored this idea quite a bit in Flickering Pixels which I reviewed a couple of weeks back).  In other words the very medium that we use to communicate actually is a message in and of itself. 

For instance think of watching regular TV verses “On Demand” or programs you have recorded on DVR.  When we moved into our latest house in Abita Springs a couple of months ago we got cable hooked up and it came with an “On Demand” feature.  This feature means that you can watch a movie whenever you want without having to go the video store (I know we are probably showing up late for this feature but we think it is pretty cool).  But what is even cooler is that many of the channels like ABC, NBC, National Geographic and so on offer free programs “On Demand”.  What I find interesting is that there are shows I would watch if they just happened to be on while I was surfing through the channels yet when I have the option to watch them at my convenience I will pass on them.  What this shows me is that watching TV is mainly a passive thing.  We don’t want to have to make decisions or even commitments while watching TV which is in large part due to the format which encourages passivity.  This is why you can sometimes sit and surf through channels for hours on end without committing to any one program.  “On Demand” automatically engages your will a little bit more than regular TV and thus the medium is changed a bit in the process.  On Demand is a little (just a little) less passive than regular TV.  The internet and video games take participation several steps further.  But whatever the media used whether radio (where the content is chosen for you), or podcasts (where you choose what to listen to, or books (where your mind imagines the narrative) or movies (where your imagination doesn’t have to work), or social networks (where you interact albeit through text and pictures), or blogs etc. the medium is part of the message.  Technology is not nearly as neutral as we think it is because it communicates just as much as the message itself.

I read an article yesterday entitled Hologram Preachers Slated to Appear in Churches.  The title alone hooked me as I remembered the cool holograms from Sci-Fi movies such as Star Wars (“help me Obi Wan, you’re my only help!”)  I read the article which talked about how the next new thing in multi-site churches will be hologram preachers.  While I have thought of a lot of cool uses for holograms (video gaming, telecommunications, practical jokes on my kids) I never thought of preaching via hologram.  The article had a reel cringe factor for me and I am not exactly sure why.  I am certainly not down on technology but something about holographic preachers strikes me as not quite right (maybe I’m just becoming a grumpy old man who is stuck in my ways). 

I have been to a conference on Multi-site Churches and read a book and plenty of articles on the phenomenon (or revolution of multi-sites depending on who you read) and have even had many a spirited debate with friends on the strengths and weaknesses of multi-site campuses, so I am definitely familiar with the concept.  The typical multi-site approach is to show a video at the satellite campus from the main church service which allows a church to get into many communities and use smaller facilities instead of just trying to grow in one location.  In many video venues the video that is shown is shot from a front angle and is often projected on a screen that will make the speaker appear almost as a natural person (life size) in the room.  The philosophy behind this is to give the experience, or the vibe, of the main church service to those in attendance.  Some have even kicked it up a bit by using HD video feeds which are no doubt quite impressive (I have witnessed one in person and it was very cool).  So on this current trajectory wouldn't holograms be inevitable?  I just wonder though, if the medium truly is the message (or at least significantly effects the message), then what is the message that is shaping folks in attendance when there is a holographic preacher?  Is there any difference in hearing/watching a pastor/preacher in a room live, on a video screen or via hologram?  As far as the multi-site church debate goes I don't think anyone is even questioning the message of the medium.  The assumption at least is that technology is neutral and what we do with it determines its worth but perhaps we should ask how video screens, internet, and even holograms are a message in themselves and how that works with or fights against our call as kingdom people.  I would love to hear some ideas on this one. 


Pi Man said...

I kind of take the idea that “the medium is the message” a little less enthusiastically in the sense that I do believe for the most part that it (technology for example) is essentially benign. It’s the intent of the user that can spoil it for everyone. I feel the same about guns, too, but I digress. Ha! If, for example, the motive and intent of the holographic user is pure, then I don’t have any problem with it at all. I mean, when radio was in its infancy, radio preachers preached, and that was a new technology. Has it ever been abused for the wrong reasons? You betcha. But we can’t control the intent of the author of that technology. We can only pray that we can discern the true intent, embracing it if it is authentic, and rejecting it if it’s bogus. That said, let’s also remember that technology is a tool, and not all tools are applicable for every user. One could think the latest technology is cooler than sliced bread yet still determine for many reasons that it’s not an avenue he/she wants to personally pursue for him/herself.

Crispin Schroeder said...

I guess the point I am getting at is that the way we get information effects how we interact with or appropriate the information. Last fall we ran an Alpha Course in a local restaurant as the first organized event we did as a church. The course had around 20 people that showed up for 10 weeks. While the format included a talk each evening half of each night centered around a conversation at the tables. So there was monologue (the teaching) and then dialogue (at the tables). Then in January we got our weekend services up and running with worship and a weekly teaching (which we are still doing). But to be honest the weekend service almost seemed like a bit of a let down after Alpha because there wasn't the same kind of conversational element among the participants which really went a long way to connect folks in community and discipleship. I think a weekend service definitely has it's place but the medium does really effect the message.

I am wondering if the teaching aspect in the church has been so elevated that people have come to understand church as something you visit once a week instead of who you are during the week (community, discipleship, etc.) The early church had times of teaching (with no doubt the best teachers - Paul, Peter, James) but it didn't stop with teaching as if that was the only point of Christianity. It continued in homes with people gathering together for fellowship, communion - doing life together.

I just wonder if it truly is a matter of just having good motives or if the church might need to ask what particular technologies communicate about Christian life. I have no doubt that many who will use holographic preachers have sincere motives to reach the lost with the message of the gospel But will those people reached with that message be inclined to think that Christianity is simply about attending a service once a week or will they actually get an understanding that Christianity is not simply about the message but about how you live that message out in your daily life.

I guess as a pastor I am really wrestling with these questions in a new way as I am trying to help folks into a genuine experience of Christ in their everyday lives. Just some thoughts

Pi Man said...

That was very well explained, Bro. So thanks for that. I hope I did not come across as obtuse. What I'm saying is that, in the same way the internet is an awesome tool, it is not the end in and of itself. It is a very useful means to an end. One has to teach (their kids and even adults that are new to this gateway to the information super highway) that with the potential for good and knowledge comes the potential for bad and evil. In the final analysis, all you can do is teach, pray, and guide them/us to that effect. And that would be an analogous answer to your quote of "I have no doubt that many who will use holographic preachers have sincere motives to reach the lost with the message of the gospel But will those people reached with that message be inclined to think that Christianity is simply about attending a service once a week or will they actually get an understanding that Christianity is not simply about the message but about how you live that message out in your daily life." If you feel that this is something that God has laid on your heart, and it look good to me, btw, then the hard work is that you must teach those that will hear your message exactly that. And then encourage those that hear that repeated message to teach and share it with others. I think it's a great point and a valid concern. But it's not a one time stand, Bro. This will be one of those things that need to be repeated over and over in a variety of ways for it to stick. So again, thanks for getting that off your chest. As you have often said or implied, there is really no communion like that found in smaller communities. It's where "the rubber meets the road" and where the real "love" that comes from sharing and bearing one another's burdens takes place. And that my friend, will take some planning for sure. Peace. TA

Dillon Morse said...

Thank you for writing about this. I have been trying to form an opinion on what my friend called disembodied sermon delivery. I must admit my attitude towards most pre-recorded messages is negative. But I also realize that sometimes it is the only practical way to communicate. My question is should it be our first choice? Also what happens if God chooses to interrupt? Must we press pause?

Anonymous said...

How is this any different than sitting in your living room watching Charles Stanley,Joel Osteen,etc.,? I'm sure the fellowship gives it a much warmer reception, and the effect is probably very cool but really is no substitute for seeing the speaker in person;kinda like sermon kareoke in reverse,lol