The topic heading "Technology and Worship" can raise many questions, and the types of questions—and their answers—will depend on many factors: the size of your congregation, how tech savvy you already are, and the reason you're asking the question in the first place.
This last issue is often the least considered—why are you asking technology-related questions? Why are you considering getting involved with podcasting, or projecting images during your services, or making greater use of the internet? These technologies are being talked about so much these days, and frequently in such breathless tones, that it might seem as though they are the answer to a plateau in attendance or sagging spirits. And they may prove helpful, but only as the tools they are. If you know why you are using them, you will better understand how to use them.
Podcasting—the term used for broadcasting over the internet—allows you to share your worship service (or just parts of it, such as the sermon) with a wider audience. This could include people who are considering attending your church, young adult members who've gone off to college, adult members who've moved away, or anyone anywhere in the world who might be attracted to your message!
Projecting Images during the service can encourage people to get their heads out of the hymnal (if you project the words and/or music of the hymns), can help everyone to see the images in a story, and can appeal to the human appetite for visual stimulus. So much of what happens in a typical worship service addresses only the sense of hearing, yet we take in so much information through our sense of sight. The creative use of images can increase our feeling of connection to and participation in the service.
Are you considering getting started podcasting? Find out how at the Unitarian Universalist Association's (UUA's) New Media Resources page devoted to "How To Set Up A Podcast."
What kind of recorder do you want? A recent discussion on the email list of the Unitarian Universalist Musician's Network (UUMN) generated the following list of handheld digital recorders currently being used by music directors in our congregations. From the discussion, a favorite emerged—the Zoom H2 Portable 2-Track SD Recorder. It is considered to make professional quality recordings yet be relatively easy to use and moderately priced. The company's own website, and Amazon's customer reviews, can provide more information. (Other recorders mentioned were the Olympus ws-300m, the Olympus D-30, and the Neuros (packback version).)
Increasing numbers of congregations are beginning to project images during the course of a Sunday service. These may be the words and/or music for the hymns, the images from a storybook being read during the Story for All Ages, or a photo-montage to accompany a meditation or prayer. Some preachers are using short video clips in place of a reading, or even incorporating PowerPoint presentations into their sermons.
A recent informal survey of our largest congregations revealed everything from a "30K top-of-the-line core multimedia system... [including] a huge drop-down screen, a ceiling-mounted LCD projector, a camera [and] several monitors in the social hall," to, "a really snazzy system [with] a new kind of technology called FSP (or "film strip projector") [which] entails... a special perforated strip of linked images," and everything in between.
The basic requirements for projecting images are a laptop computer, a LCD projector, and a wall (or screen) onto which you can project the image. (For things to consider when looking to buy an LCD projector, try ChurchMultiMedia's page "How to Buy An LCD Projector.")
Where to find images? One free source of specifically religious imagery is Wikipedia Commons' Religion in Art collection of open source images. There is also a vast array of images on Flickr under creative commons license that you may use. (And if you're looking for clipart, WiseGorilla has a fairly extensive collection of world religions clip art.)
Care should be taken not to use too many images—a worship service is not an MTV video, after all. And thought should be given to what kinds of images are used—this can be one way to increase the multicultural awareness and exposure of a congregation, as long as there is sensitivity to issues of misappropriation.
The Office of Worship and Music Resources has created a survey to collect data on which of our congregations is currently recording their services on video and what they're doing with those recordings. (This survey has only four questions and will take less than three minutes to complete!) A more detailed survey, with more attention to technical information such as type of equipment used, has been developed by the growth consultant for the Ballou Channing District. Both are attempts to discover just what the practices in our congregations are, so that we can begin to create and share resources among us.
It's important to remember that the copyright issues become more complicated when you begin to use more media. The WorshipWeb has a page dedicated to Copyright Issues Related to Worship which provides considerably more information, but the short version is that you will need permission for any materials you send out of your worship space (via podcasts or video, for instance), and for many of the things you bring into your worship space (video clips and photos for your PowerPoint presentations, for example). It may take more time to think these issues through, but the extra dynamism these new media can add to your service may well be worth the effort.
For more information contact worshipweb @ uua.org.
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Last updated on Monday, April 11, 2011.
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