Monday, August 25, 2008

Screens in Church: The New Stained Glass Windows?


Where are the stained glass windows of contemporary Western Christianity? To be sure, there are some, but overall have they been displaced by the new stained glass windows - screens? Film screens, LCDs, plasma displays, projectors, etc.

While some stained glass windows displaced murals and mosaics, the windows continued to offer still images in a different medium that were not only art, but useful instructional tools. Playing on the "God is light" motif (1 John 1:5), stained glass windows captured a vibrancy of color by harnessing natural sunlight, not manufactured moving images on screens.

Have we lost or greatly diminished not only a sense of art, but also added technology to churches without giving it much thought? Are the supposed benefits of video displays in churches really benefits or simply fascinations with integrating modern technology into worship? If a church has grown such that a video screen is needed in order for everyone to be able to see the preacher, then could it be that the church has gotten too big?

I don't purport to have final answers to these and related questions, but the rise of video displays in churches is something to consider, not just accept. If the devices are installed as a means of entertainment, I don't argue against entertainment per se, but question the influence on our sensibilities, already oversaturated in most instances by the rise of multimedia-driven culture.

As I've said before, the medium is not the message, rather the medium is what we make it. But are we making the medium of video into something useful for the church or something that is merely copying our entertainment-driven culture?

5 comments:

Ken said...

I've been thinking about this as well recently. Big screens don't bother me as long as the preaching is solid. It's just a tool like microphones and speakers. And as far as wondering when a church is too big, the early church added 3,000 people to their number in one day. I go to a pretty large church, and there's something about standing with several thousand people worshipping God, that really reminds me of the verses in Revelation where the vast multitudes are before the throne, and there are so many people, you can't even count them. However, there is also a time for small group Bible study, when you can really ask questions, and dig into the Bible, and be involved in other people's lives.

Robert Velarde said...

Thanks for the comments. Big screens do bother me, but as you note, they don't bother everyone. What's more important is what's on the screen and the message that is being communicated.

Yes, the early church added 3,000 people in one day, but they did not all go to the same mega-church building to worship every week. The early church, as you probably know, met in small gatherings in homes. But I get your point regarding times of large worship services, though personally I'd rather attend a smaller church.

My larger concerns regarding churches and technology have to do with using tech without necessarily giving its implications much thought. And there are always implications.

Karla said...

I enjoy and appreciate the artistic beauty of traditional church buildings. I was sure to choose such a building for my wedding. But we have to remember that the early church met in homes quite frequently. I think the church is the people and not the building. Whether we meet in a home, a traditional church structure, a coffee shop, a park, a gym, a cafeteria in a school, a movie theater, a store front, a warehouse, a stadium, or any other structure the church comes down to the people of God. The church is far more than the service as well. We all have preferences of style, but if we make it about the style we miss the point of meeting together. I think the important thing for each congregation is are they where God wants them and are they doing the work of the ministry God has called them to. If they are doing that the big screen or the ornate stain glass window are nothing more than outward objects or tools for our use or enjoyment.

I think some of these preferences are cultural and generational, and while we can have them and enjoy them, we can't make them the rule or the norm for the next generation or other cultures.

Robert Velarde said...

Thanks for the comments, Karla. I completely agree that the church consists of people, not buildings or technology. Style preferences, too, will vary from one Christian to another. These are, to some extent, matters of taste, not truth.

But when it comes to the implementation and use of multimedia technology in church, then the question is how is the tech being used and is it having a neutral, positive, or negative influence on the church (the people)?

If the influx of screens in churches is resulting in stifling intellectual thought by dazzling displays, then there's a problem. If people no longer feel a need to tote a physical Bible to church or if tech contributes to their neglect of the Word because the passages referenced are displayed on a screen, is that a problem? I think it can be.

In such cases, the tech is no longer neutral but can be detrimental regardless of generational or cultural differences.

Karla said...

"If the influx of screens in churches is resulting in stifling intellectual thought by dazzling displays, then there's a problem. If people no longer feel a need to tote a physical Bible to church or if tech contributes to their neglect of the Word because the passages referenced are displayed on a screen, is that a problem? I think it can be."

True. We must be careful to use technology as a tool in the right way. It cannot be a substitute for the substance of a sermon or the power of God.