It has been a year since COVID upended how we use music in our church services. As we work our way through this pandemic, I have asked the question, “What will our worship experiences look like on the other side of this?” And not only what will they look like but what should they look like? So many of us have made great technological upgrades so we can better reach folks at home. It brings a whole new level of meaning to the idea of WiFi connection! It seems that there may be a glimmer of light at the end of this long, dark tunnel, which puts us in a good place to revisit both our “why” and our “how” before we go “back to normal.” It seems that we have a chance to walk into this next chapter with reviewed practices and a renewed purpose.
I recently finished reading Leonard Sweet’s book, Rings of Fire, and it is a sobering read, but I highly recommend it. In a chapter dealing with technological advancements and the church, he tells the story about the very first word to go on the internet:
On the evening of October 29, 1969, Charley Kline and Bill Duvall, two young programmers from the West Coast, used special equipment built by BBN Technologies in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to connect their computers to each other. The first word on the Internet? They began to type “LOGIN,” but the computer crashed after the letter “O.” So the first word on the Internet was . . . "LO." Sometimes I think "LO" means the Internet is the beginning of a whole new beautiful word: "Lo! How a rose e’er blooming." Sometimes I think "LO" means the Internet is the end of the world as we know it: "Lo! He comes with clouds descending.” It will most likely be the artists and poets–not the scientists, sociologists, philosophers, or even ethicists–who grasp the significance of these new features” (emphasis mine).
I wonder if we have hit a “LO” point in some ways; not “LOW” but “LO,” meaning a moment of significance. As worship leaders, we are artists and poets as well as technicians and practitioners. We have the responsibility to “grasp the significance” of what technology can do–both for us and to us–and to discern the way forward. We wrestle with the integration of technology into our worship experiences without somehow worshiping the technology itself.
My sense is that the post-COVID church will thrive on less perfection, less polish, and less performance-orientation and more human quality, more artistic expression, a stronger sense of authenticity, and perhaps even more mistakes.
Pentecostals have often been on the cutting-edge of technology in worship–writing new songs given by the Spirit, using lighting to enhance the production quality of the worship experience, and introducing or re-introducing instruments like horns, drums, electronic keyboards, and guitars into the service. For years, performance tracks–affectionately called “canned music” or “Christian karaoke” –have been popular for providing instrumental accompaniment that allowed singers to sing with the original accompaniment. This benefited the vocals but really gave no place to the band. Nowadays, of course, we have click tracks and multi tracks, which allow us to play live instruments alongside the original tracks. This is a step in the right direction toward the goal of empowering our team members to be artists. Of course, click tracks and multi tracks can be best friends and worst enemies to those of us who use them. They serve a purpose, for sure, especially with beginning drummers! But that’s just the point: we use the technology to set the guardrails so that we can grow as artists and learn to play on the beat.
So, there is much to appreciate about what technology can do for us while acknowledging what it cannot do for us. My sense is that the post-COVID church will thrive on less perfection, less polish, and less performance-orientation and more human quality, more artistic expression, a stronger sense of authenticity, and perhaps even more mistakes. Humans were created by the Creator, so we have the divine genes to create. He never makes mistakes, but sometimes we do and that’s okay. Admittedly, the song may not be exactly the right tempo or executed the same every time, but that’s what makes it human. We have an open door to supplement our worship music with technology and digital devices while strengthening the substance with artistry and creativity that is true to the people who sing and play the instruments. This is the LO point where we find human connection to God as artists and poets: engaging the senses, affecting the soul.
Trés Ward serves as the Assistant to the President, Director of Worship and Arts Ministries, and an adjunct faculty member at Emmanuel College. He teaches courses in Worship Ministry and Music Education and directs the Emmanuel Singers, The Voices of Emmanuel, and the Chapel Worship teams. Trés received the Bachelor of Music Education from Appalachian State University and is completing the Master of Divinity at Liberty University with an emphasis in Worship Studies. A credentialed minister with the International Pentecostal Holiness Church, Trés has served the local church and at conference and general denominational events as a choir director, worship leader, and Fine Arts adjudicator as well as an itinerant preacher, evangelist, youth camp speaker, and missions team leader.