Technology’s reach into all corners of everyday life has even the most old-fashioned churchgoers demanding a better worship experience.
They expect improved sound, lighting and visual presentations, and as people “shop” for the right congregation, technology has become a key force in their decisions, says Brete Garrett, creative designer for Inspirational Media Associates in Phoenix.
Garrett oversaw the installation of the sound and lighting in the Center of Compassion at Love of Christ Lutheran Church in Mesa. Its senior pastor, the Rev. Don Thompson, says the technology, which cost $160,000, was essential to create the environment that makes for a premier worship center and a venue for such outside groups as a 160-voice choir from Ukraine that attracted 1,000 people.
The church holds two traditional Sunday services and a single 9 a.m. worship in the new worship center, featuring the sophisticated media, including two 9-by-12-foot screens that can display song lyrics, pictures and live action. That service regularly has 600 to 700 attending during the winter months.
“This time of the year, the winter visitors love to come” to the center, “and we have not compromised the (contemporary) service to fit the winter visitors,” Thompson said.
The pastor laughs about a winter resident or “associate member,” a Midwesterner who went to the contemporary service for the first time.
“He said to me, ‘Don, I really enjoyed that worship service,’ when his wife said, ‘What! You complain to the pastor back home when someone plays a guitar in worship,’ and he said, ‘Well, I just don’t want contemporary worship back home.’ ”
That couple is on hand every Sunday now, said Thompson, who believes much of their enthusiasm stems from the church’s friendly and compelling technology.
Even though the “message is geared to younger families,” the seniors are coming, too, he said.
All information is displayed on screens, including a list of church events. A newsletter may be picked up after worship, and a weekly e-mail newsletter is sent to those who use the Internet, or about two-thirds of the congregation.
With “the growing trend for visuals,” Thompson said, “there are fewer words, less written material. We are into a visual world — you can see it with young people . . . and some of the television programs in which visuals are constantly changing, especially with music.”
By Easter week, Thompson expects technology will allow a video camera to move about the campus and instantaneously transmit the activity, such as a Sunday school classroom project, to the worship service.
The church is equipped to download programming via satellite.
“We are seeing across the country that a lot more of the elderly — my parents’ age — are coming to contemporary services,” said Garrett, who estimates Inspirational Media, founded half a century ago by his father, has served about 2,000 congregations across the U.S. “It’s more accepted. We are getting away from what was simply a solo with a piano and a simple background.”
“The keyword is culture,” Garrett said. This generation of churchgoer expects surround sound and highdefinition movies. “I don’t want to call it ‘entertaining,’ but you have to captivate the audience. It’s visuals and sound stimulation that obviously draw people closer to God.”
People are looking for “the experiential” and enjoy more happening within a service, he said. That can include dramas and diverse musical events, employing sensory sound, contrasts in lighting and the immediacy that comes with large screens.
“Young people are looking for a faith that is active in worship, that is active in movement,” said Garrett.
While the 18,000-squarefoot Center of Compassion was completed in 2003, its planning started in 1999 with collaboration between architects and Garrett’s company to ensure integration of systems.
While his company has installed a full theatrical system, with acoustics, lighting and multimedia, costing almost $3 million in one church, it can provide lowcost enhancements for small, cash-strapped congregations.
“Every church has limited funds, it’s the name of the game,” Garrett said. “We really feel that it is part of our ministry” to be “the best stewards” of churches’ funds.
His company (www.inspmedia.com) encourages training of church’s technicians.
“Twenty-five years ago, we would get the dreaded Monday morning phone call that the microphones were squealing and the sound man is not doing his job,” Garrett said.
Love of Life has three technicians to handle services and other events.
“It is important that we get trained personnel,” he said. “We share some of the cultural philosophy as part of the training,” which includes that it is “not proper for them to bring in a cup of coffee and doughnuts — or (to) sleep — in the sound booth.”