August 14, 2007
The Tech Effect
Technology is changing the way we preach. Is this a good thing?
Twenty-five years ago, the film Tron was a revolution - the first movie to use digital animation extensively. But critics almost universally panned the movie. One said, "Tron is loaded with visual delights but falls way short of the mark in story and viewer involvement."
How can preachers avoid that same trap? With our increasing ability to produce "visual delights," can we forget what matters most? How can we use technology to help, not hinder, the proclamation of God's Word? At the most recent National Pastors Convention, we brought together three pastors to discuss these questions. Below is an excerpt from the conversation. You can find the full interview on Leadership's website.
How important is it to use 21st-century technology when communicating the gospel in the 21st century?
Shane Hipps: It's important only if we understand their innate bias, because media are not neutral tools. The media are messages in themselves, and every single medium you use carries a different message embedded in it.
I occasionally use visual media and technology as a crutch to help keep what I'm saying interesting. But when an 80-year-old woman who lived through the Great Depression stood up in my congregation and told a story, she didn't use any technology, and everyone was on the edge of their seats listening to her suffering and what she lived through.
As the medium, she was infinitely more powerful than any technology I could bring.
John Palmieri: I agree, to a point. Trying to more media-savvy than the world around us - that is a battle we will lose. And if I'm just trying to be "relevant," I'll probably miss the mark every time.
But it is our responsibility to be resourceful and creative. If some technology is effective for communication, like a movie clip, great - use it. But if there's a story from a person within the community, a testimony, use that instead.
We use imagery. We use technology, but only to the extent that it enhances the message. If used too often, it can become more of a distraction.
What does it mean to be incarnational as we communicate God's Word? Can incarnation happen with technology?
Jarrett Stevens: Most weeks we do video interviews. That's incarnational. Bringing someone out for a live interview is much more raw and dynamic, but you have way less control. For example, we had a woman who'd recently been saved interviewed on video. She was telling her story and whenever she messed up, she dropped the f-bomb. Thankfully we could edit the video. If that had been live in the worship service, it might have been a great moment, but I doubt we could have fully recovered from it.
Hipps: Do I believe certain technologies preclude incarnational ministry? Absolutely. God came embodied in Jesus. He didn't just project his likeness. Embodiment means human physical touch; presence. And there are certain technologies that disembody us, like video.
I'm not opposed to using video in church, I just think we should recognize that it may inadvertently send a message that is counter to the incarnation.
We hear a lot about shorter attention spans. How long are your sermons?
Stevens: If I preach more than 35 minutes, I've gone too long.
Hipps: About 15 minutes.
Palmieri: We rarely preach for under 40 minutes. For a long time, I thought attention spans were shortening. I don't think so anymore. People still engage in movies, books, and television shows and never break concentration. Instead I think attention spans are widening. We've learned to pay attention to multiple things at once.
Is that why visuals are so popular - people now expect multiple forms of communication to happen at once?
Hipps: Whether attentions spans are wider or shorter, one thing is clear: the way we think has changed. In the 1980s the average cut in a TV program was about seven seconds. There was seven seconds of uninterrupted footage followed by a camera cut. By the mid-1990s it had dropped to two seconds. Images now change rapidly. Whether you know it or not, that actually re-forms neural pathways in your brain. For my generation in particular, the way we engage things has been fundamentally altered.
How do you get people to do linear abstract thinking, which is what Scripture demands in many ways, when those people's minds are not wired for it? I've responded by dramatically shortening my sermons.
I try to ground people in the text, and I can only do it for about 15 minutes. After that, it's easy to lose people.
Stevens: A story or image is powerful, and it's going to do its own thing. It might take on a life of its own. So it must clearly fit the point I'm trying to communicate. If I use multiple images to illustrate multiple points, it's going to overwhelm people. So I try to have one idea and one image to illustrate it. Anything more is just going to get lost.
Read the entire article at Leadership's website.
Shane Hipps is pastor of Trinity Mennonite Church in Phoenix, Arizona. Prior to pastoral ministry, Shane had a career in advertising.
John Palmieri is a pastor of multi-cultural, multi-site, New Life Community Church in Chicago. Prior to pastoral ministry, he was involved in the food business.
Jarrett Stevens is director of the college and singles ministry, and teacher for 7|22 at North Point Church in Alpharetta, Georgia. Previously he served as a teaching pastor for Axis at Willow Creek Community Church.
Leadership will be hosting another conversation on preaching at the National Pastors Convention, February 26-29, 2008. See www.nationalpastorsconvention.com for more information.