If you've never heard of it, there's this new thing in churches called Environmental Projection. There's a new company dedicated to expanding worship spaces using- you guessed it- projectors. This is just the latest in a long line of technology-driven "improvements" in worship services.
My initial reaction to this was disbelief, then understanding, then skepticism. I totally understand why it works, and I think it's extremely cool. But deep down, I'm very cautious of things that we add to the worship service just to make it "more appealing." Now, before you think I'm a fool, I don't mean we should try to make the service unappealing. We're not Franciscan monks. This does bring up a very valid point of discussion, however, and I'd like to indulge in it. There are generally two lines of thought on this. One, we should use whatever means possible to reach the lost and bring people closer to God. This is hard to argue, and with newer technology, it's getting more and more prevalent. There are even Seminary degrees for Church Media Arts.
The flip side to this is that it is very easy for things like beautiful sanctuaries, large orchestras, feel-good preaching, and so forth to take the focus away from God and His message. If you can only worship in a sanctuary with 360° projectors, a full orchestra, and nice padded seats, then are you worshipping God, or something else? Are we including new technology to reach the lost, or are we simply catering to a specific crowd? Honestly, I don't really think churches are using technology to "Reach people" as much as they are using it to satiate their existing membership (or woo other churches' members).
*Disclaimer* I am, as my website proclaims, a born-again techno-geek Renaissance Man. I love technology and the possibilities it brings. I'm also a Bible-believing man, who recognizes God, and more specifically, God personified in the form of Jesus Christ. I like technology, but I also understand that it is simply a tool, a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. I do not believe in technology for its own sake! Everything should have a purpose, and apart from that, it is by definition unnecessary.
So where do I stand on this? Where should the Church stand on this? Well, I wish it were simple, but there's a few things to consider.
1. Is the message compromised? This can happen in any church, for any number of reasons. Is the church trying to attract more people with flashy production, or just trying to draw people more deeply into worship? It's very easy to make up for lackluster preaching by putting polish on the service's production, but these things don't honor God, and they don't last. If your numbers drastically increase because of something like this, then chances are they're there for the production, and you will have to keep "upping the ante" or risk losing them. It is critical to grow the church through discipleship, not smoke machines and projectors.
I only have one word of advice on this point: slick productions are not a replacement for fulfilling the Great Commission.
Matthew 28:19-20 - "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Is technology helping your church fulfill it's purpose? What is your church's purpose? Is the church being "seeker sensitive," and what does that mean to the existing congregation? How many of those people are simply hopping from another church, and who is hearing the gospel for the first time? Is it worth bringing in new people with light shows at the expense of your solid member core? How many people are actually getting saved because of it?
2. Is it really needed? Again, it's very easy to justify doing something because "all the big churches are doing it." This is about the worst possible reason! Let's assume your church is a Bible-believing body of members, and there is a desire to "make worship better" by things like better production and technology. Well, why? What's wrong with your worship services now, that you think better production values and technology will fix? In an article by ChurchProduction.com, two different pastors were asked if churches can be "too cool" and their responses were surprising. One said it depended on the church's vision. The other said there was no such thing as "too cool," only going into it too fast.
I disagree, and my thoughts on this are echoed by others. The "Corporate Church" has really just shifted its target audience, not gone back to Biblical principles. Growing the Church involves discipleship, emotional and spiritual growth, doctrinal teachings, evangelism, and genuine worship. Is your church interested in bringing people in, or sending people out? If your church isn't growing, then all the slick production values in the world won't get people saved. It will increase your attendance and offerings, though... a rather dangerous trade off.
3. Is there a better way to spend the money? Lastly, there's the issue of cost, and being a good steward of what God has entrusted the church with. It's not unusual for a large church to spend $10,000 on a projection system, $5,000 on personal mixing setups, and untold thousands on sound systems, stage setups, instrumentation, and software licensing. Is this really the best way we should be spending the church's money? Who is it satisfying? What need is it fulfilling? Is there something better the church could be using it for?
Let's say, for instance, your church decides to buy Bibles for closed-to-the-gospel countries. For the cost of a church's (honestly unnecessary) worship technology, the church could instead send 416 Bibles a month to closed countries... that's 5,000 Bibles a year in the hands of people who are begging for copies of God's word.
$30,000 could build entire ministries in other countries that desperately need them. Instead of a new sound system, the church could sponsor an orphanage. Or two. Instead of installing a Starbucks in the church, how about feeding an entire village for a year?
In the words of David Platt, "Will we choose comfort, or the cross?"
I don't think I can sum it up better than Platt, who is simply going off of what Jesus says in Luke chapter 9.
"We’ve taken steps deeper. We come to Jesus so we can get a comfortable place to worship, and we come to Jesus so we can get activities for our kids to do, and we come to Jesus so we can get a good life in Birmingham, Alabama. No, you come to Jesus and you get Him, He’s the end. It’s not a means to anywhere. He is everything. We don’t want comfortable places to worship, we don’t want activities for kids, we don’t want to promote ourselves, we want Christ. And this guy...Here’s Jesus to say, “I don’t have a roof over my head, you come to me, I’m all you’ve got.” Do we want that kind of Jesus? Do we want comfort or do we want a cross, that’s where Jesus is going, Luke 9:51 tells us."
And of course, the words of Jesus himself. I'm going to leave you with this to chew on.
“‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ’No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’ ’All these I have kept since I was a boy,’ he said. When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. Jesus looked at him and said, ’How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ Those who heard this asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus replied, ’What is impossible with men is possible with God.’ Peter said to him, ‘We have left all we had to follow you!’ ‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus said to them, ’no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life’” - Luke 18:18-30