From Pipe Organs to QR Codes

Rebecca Chancellor Sicks —  February 20, 2014

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Did you know the pipe organ was once a strictly secular instrument used primarily for entertainment? That’s right! The pipe organ, which gracefully adorns many of our sanctuaries and pipes out hymns of praise, was once used only to play secular music for ancient Roman circus games, gladiator combat, and for the entertainment of the wealthy. It wasn’t until the 7th-8th centuries that the organ found its way into churches and began to be seen as an acceptable instrument for worship.

I say this because many of us in the church say that we don’t want things to change; we don’t want anything “new” making its way into our worship services. Believe it or not, this may be especially true for young adults in their 20s-30s who find so much chaos and consumerism in the world around us that we crave for the church to be a place of serenity and stability. For those of us who were raised in the church, we may have fond and comforting memories of singing the traditional words to the Doxology and reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

So there was a time that church goers couldn’t conceive of having a pipe organ in worship- oh, the horror! Now we are in a time that some church goers can’t comprehend using personal electronics or social media in worship- oh, the disgust! (You should know that until recently, I had a really hard time embracing this myself!) Did you know that as of January 2014, 91% of American adults have a cell phone and 55% have a smart phone? And 32% of American adults own an e-reader, while 42% own a tablet computer. (Statistics from Pew Research Internet Project.) Maybe it is time we think about how these devices and the technology they provide can help us grow in our faith and build deeper relationships.

I’d like to suggest, that with a little fear and trembling, we embrace technology and social media in the church. Many of us will have to take baby steps, but if we open our hearts and minds to the Spirit’s leading, we may find that newfangled tools and programs do have a place in the church. And I have found that some of the older (and wiser) generations are far more ready to embrace these innovative ideas than we might think.

Here are five simple ways to begin embracing the technology of smart phones, e-readers, and tablets without choosing to overhaul the worship liturgy and music during a Sunday morning worship service. Imagine…

  • Getting a Bulletin: Instead of receiving a paper bulletin from an usher, you are greeted warmly near a QR Code posted on the wall in the narthex or door of the sanctuary. You scan the code with your smart phone, e-reader, or tablet, and BAM- The bulletin for worship is on your device! And now you’ll have easy access to the bulletin all week: to refer back to the announcements, check the calendar, and pray for the people listed under the Prayer Concerns and Celebrations.
  • Signing In: When the worship leader asks everyone to “please sign and pass the friendship registers,” you have the option of “Checking in” to worship using a geolocation app like foursquare, Facebook Places, Gowalla, or Yelp. With the click of a button, people can not only sign-in, but they can also share with the world where they are and what they are experiencing.
  • Processing the Sermon: It’s amazing to me how engaged I can be with a sermon or lecture when I am given the freedom to “live tweet” or share thoughts via Facebook. If the church uses a specific hashtag (#ChurchName), then a conversation can begin among worship goers relating to the scripture and sermon. Using the hashtag, people might send out a quote/photo from the sermon via Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Others can pull up the quotes/thoughts/questions with the hashtag, and a secondary conversation begins… that could continue during coffee hour, throughout the day or all week as people ruminate on the sermon. This invites the congregation into a discussion that has the potential to go much deeper than just hearing the sermon.
  • Offering: Instead of putting cash or a check into the offering plate, you are able to pick up a card from the pew rack and scan a QR code which takes you to a webpage for online giving, or to a website for giving to a special offering (like the One Great Hour of Sharing). All of this is done from the pew while the offertory music plays.
  • Being Sent Out: As we are sent out to be disciples of Christ after worship, we can continue the journey together through group messaging, using programs/apps like GroupMe, Celly, or Remind101. These tools allow a variety of communication: from one person to many (reminders about classes, committees, or mission/outreach events), from one person where many can respond back to the leader (take a poll or pose a question where only the leader receives the responses), and between a group (anyone in the group can share a thought or ask a question and all others can respond with all messages seen in the group).

Change is hard. Change is good and necessary and critical for the Church of Jesus Christ. Though Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, the world around us is not. Even our relationship with Jesus changes and evolves over time. May we be open to God’s Spirit moving among us in new and mysterious ways.

How are YOU using new technologies, apps, and social media in your church community?

Rebecca Chancellor Sicks

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Rebecca currently serves as an Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Dallas, TX. Rebecca is an Oklahoma State University sports enthusiast, explorer, runner, cook, and Child of God.