Live from Omaha, Neb., it’s Sunday worship from Kountze Memorial Lutheran Church! Since 1962, this congregation has broadcast its Sunday service on cable TV.
“Just go to any nursing home on a Sunday morning, and you’ll see our show on the TVs,” said Olaf Roynesdal, who has served as a pastor of Kountze for two years.
He thinks the ministry started because a TV station was conveniently located next door to the church. “Back in the day, it was a simple operation in comparison to now,” he said.
The broadcast ministry is still strong 58 years later. In addition to being televised, the service is now also streamed on the congregation’s website.
Roynesdal said at least seven church volunteers are needed to fully staff the broadcast, with four people shooting digital video, two on computer controls and one person managing the soundboard. The $175-per-week budget for the TV ministry is paid through the church’s endowment.
Kountze’s building, despite being more than 165 years old, has been fully connected with Wi-Fi devices so that, in addition to messages being shared outside the congregation, presentations can be done throughout the building.
Not all congregations can have a TV program, but many have technology ministries, whether they have purchased equipment and fully wired the church, project the hymns on big screens or post simple videos to a Facebook page.
David Chávez, music and worship minister at Abiding Presence Lutheran in Burke, Va., said congregations are meeting members’ needs today by offering more technology during worship. Technology can also solve accessibility needs for people who are sight- or hearing-impaired, he said.
“In order to preach and teach the word today, we need technology. … Technology is how stories get told today.”
In addition to his ministry work, Chávez oversees a technology team of volunteers who run the sound system, the video recording and the projection of the liturgy and hymns during services. The congregation also has a live video feed in the narthex for people who need to step out of the sanctuary with their children during worship.
“In order to preach and teach the word today, we need technology,” he said. “People are used to going to a conference or speech and actually being able to see and hear presentations. I feel it’s our job to know what people want. Technology is how stories get told today.”
Chávez added that Abiding Presence is incorporating the technology that’s popular today: “We try to think about it intentionally. It’s not like we got a new toy and we’re going to use it. It’s intentional.”
Troy Justesen, director of technology and coordinator of nontraditional worship at Desert Hills Lutheran Church in Green Valley, Ariz., agreed.
“We’re constantly looking at what technologies are being utilized today and trying to keep it in perspective,” he said. “We consider what the community needs, what the ELCA is doing, how seminaries are delivering messages, and [then see] what we’d like to adopt. With technology, we take a long-term view, consider the cost and see if it’s beneficial.”
The congregation streams its services on the web, and Justesen said all the technology used during worship is integrated, adding that “our AV (audiovisual) and IT (information technology) has converged over the years.”
Instead of weekly bulletins, Desert Hills’ worship support team creates presentations that are projected onto big screens. Images are magnified, and footage of the pastor and worship leaders are also projected. Justesen said this is important in the large sanctuary.
“We can project the sound and video into our fellowship hall too,” he said. “We also record and post the sermons every Sunday on the web and have it all linked through Facebook and social media.”
At Kountze, Roynesdal said, incorporating different technology has made a difference. “I’ve learned that many, many, many people benefit from this,” he said. “The biggest surprise was the impact our TV show has made. For those who physically can’t come to church, it’s a godsend.”
Tips for starting a technology ministry
Thinking about adding technology to worship but not sure where to start? The congregations featured in the article share their advice.
- Find out the cost. It can be expensive, and you want to be prepared for it. Look for what you can afford.
- It can be accomplished. It’s not the scary enterprise that some might think.
- Do it if necessary but don’t duplicate. If another local congregation is doing a TV ministry, then don’t do it yourself.
- Technology should enable ministry—not the other way around. Ask what you need to fulfill your mission more effectively. Maintain a focus on enabling people to hear, see and understand the word.
- Technology should be part of a comprehensive, long-term plan, with the assistance of and installation by professionals. Find a firm or individual with experience in the kind of technology you need, preferably someone who understands your congregation’s size, worship style and budget.
- Technology should be overseen by staff and run by dedicated members. Dedicated laity are the lifeblood of a tech ministry, but like any essential team, congregational staff support and leadership are indispensable for continuity and planning.
- Evaluate the congregation’s needs. Are amplification and microphones needed? Visual capability too? What about lighting?
- Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. What’s your goal? Will this enhance your ministry?
Technology can help with outreach. For example, a Christmas concert can be streamed and shared with the community.
- It’s important that technology not get in the way of worship. Equipment can be distracting if not used discreetly.
- Budget depends on your location and what you want to do. It’s possible to do low-cost but not low-tech. Determine your budget.
- The larger the church, the more technology you may need. Bigger sanctuaries may require projecting visuals and sound so people in the back can see and hear.