Technology is fundamentally shifting how people connect and communicate with each other--and that is something churches are incredibly invested in. The question is, how do you design when you don't know where things are going? The answer: there are clues.
As a church designer, you probably don't buy the hype that more moving lights, bigger LED screens and giant speakers are the answer to where technology is going. And as it turns out, evidence suggests that the future isn’t about "big" at all.You are already experiencing the shift.
You probably grew up watching television. You pushed a button on a remote control—or if you are old enough, you were the remote control for your parents—and you watched whatever was on a channel at a given time.
How do you watch television now? Netflix, Hulu and Amazon have changed the way we consume media. Apple, Google and Android have put it in the palm of our hands.
Do you text, tweet, comment or review? Do you choose your products and restaurants based on others’ reviews?
Do you maintain relationships with friends and family who live far from you by connecting via chat and video online? Do you have relationships with some people online that you’ve never even met in person?
The way we engage has changed ... but design is in a lag mode.
This isn’t “next generation” or “millennials.” This is us. Right now. The way we engage has changed ... but design is in a lag mode. And if you are wondering why we are so in love with “bigger,” it helps to look at where we’ve come from.
We’ve come from a broadcast model. It’s known and it’s easy. Most of the leadership of large, established churches were raised on broadcast media. There are cultural aspects to broadcast that go largely unnoticed by those of us who were raised with it. For example, broadcast is linear. It happens in a sequential fashion—like a script.
The broadcast world is in love with scale. (Think ratings.) Big is better. Bigger screens. Bigger audiences. Big pays dividends to advertisers. The thing is that broadcast media travels one-way—from the screen outward. It’s a monologue. Nothing you do in your living room will affect the broadcast.
Notice the parallels to a Sunday morning?
There is a linear presentation (whether in ProPresenter or printed old school on a program). High attendance is desired (ratings). Most importantly, the congregation is passive. While they may sing during worship, nothing they do will change what is being presented.
The communication flow in church works the same way as it did when we grew up watching TV in our living rooms. The risk is investing deep into a model that doesn’t connect with where culture is and where it’s going. The digital model has broken the broadcast model.
The cultural difference is striking. We all react to the world now in a non-linear fashion. (What else is going on in your world while you are reading this?)
When is the last time you actually worked on something in a linear fashion all the way from start to finish without looking at a notification on your screen or skipping over to respond to a text or check a score on your phone? Perhaps more significantly--when was the last time you produced something linearly, without massive collaboration having others work in parallel to you?
This is the digital world.
In contrast to the linear broadcast model, digital media is non-linear. It hyperlinks. Speed matters ... (think bandwidth). You can access what you want anytime and anywhere. You have the power to customize, comment, hack and modify.
This shift from passive consumption of broadcast content to engagement with digital content is a massive one.
Rex Miller, in his book, "The Millennium Matrix," made the point 10 years ago that when the way we communicate changes, the way we think changes, and then culture changes. What if the pressure our congregations feel now isn’t about technology, but about how people now engage with technology? Where things are going….
Where technology is going isn’t about the tech itself. It is about what it invites people to do. It is about the level of engagement.
We can look at this in three levels: 1.0 is what we have now; 2.0 is what is new; and 3.0 is where things are going. This is what it looks like: Technology 1.0 - Presentation Technology
Presentation technology invites you to lean back. Think about sitting in a home media room kicked back in a recliner as a large screen HD television delivers your favorite entertainment. Surround sound makes you feel truly immersed. That passive repose is broadcast heaven.
There is nothing for you to do except enjoy.
Venues have had this type of technology for a long time. It’s the big screen. The audio system with amazing coverage. The standard audio, IMAG, moving lights and video screens we’ve become accustomed to in worship. My comfort zone.
And while this makes a worship service enjoyable and perhaps even effective on many levels, it doesn’t necessarily create engagement—especially as the digital world changes what we expect to be able to do with technology.
The strategy to date has been to take presentation technology and just make it bigger. Larger screens. More sub-bass. But at the end of the day, it’s just more of the same. One-way technology that only allows someone to watch. A broadcast model. Technology 2.0 - Responsive Technology
Responsive technology invites you to lean in. Communication is multi-directional. Some churches are beginning to explore this with Twitter walls, polling systems and the like.
The more expansive use of this is in sports and entertainment. A fan snaps a picture, hashtags it, and posts to Instagram, then it shows up on the big screen. Or an attendee tweets a song to the show operator, and he/she plays it. When that happens, the fan just affected the content in the venue. It creates a whole new level of engagement.
We also see this in the rise of mobile apps for events. Soon, sports fans will be able to capture live content via iPhone to feed directly into an arena’s instant replay system. Theoretically, you could have 60,000 angles of a single play for replay.
Technology now makes two-way communication possible in a large gathering of people. This is relatively new, and entertainment venues are committed to exploring it because their audiences want a higher level of interaction.
But you know what people can’t do with 2.0 technology? They can’t yet make it personal.Technology 3.0 – Create a User-Defined Experience from Sophisticated Feedback Loops
If presentation technology requires you to lean back, and responsive technology allows you to lean in, the third level—a user-defined experience—invites you to dance with it. The next wave of technology is about feedback loops. (Imagine dancing with someone and adjusting your steps to theirs.)
Biometric sensors and facial recognition that measure emotion already exist. In the entertainment world, they are used to create more tailored experiences, and advertisers use them to see what media connects and what doesn’t. I.e., cars know when we are sleepy or inattentive.
So how many hours does a pastor spend crafting a sermon?
What would happen if the pastor learned that 70% of the congregation drifted off or was daydreaming when the sermon went over a certain time? What if a worship pastor learned that people sing during one song but not during another? Or stopped singing when the key changed? What if a church learned that their congregation was deeply engaged when they spoke about money or marriage, or life change, but disengaged when the sermon had more of a historical focus? Or the other way around.
These are the analytics that are coming and they're going to modify our understanding of the human experience. Because they are measurable, they will raise the bar on creating engagement.
What happens if when you give feedback, the environment itself responds? This is where the technology is going.
3.0 technology will give churches the power to know how well they are connecting, with what and when. Some will get it wrong, misuse it. Others will use it in highly productive ways to empower the church's mission.
What does this mean for church designers?
We are already hearing pushback from people against “the show” of church. And while some may talk as if it is a reaction to technology as “non-spiritual,” the bigger driver is that there is growing discontent with passive experience.
Today, as church designers we are navigating conversations about screens, video venues, loudspeakers and moving lights. But the conversation absolutely cannot stay there. The higher calling is to help churches move from a passive experience to an active one.
To imagine new ways of using the tech to reach the mission....
We have to get this right. The future is counting on us.