Last week I went to see Prometheus in IMAX 3D. For a sci-fi nerd like me, it was worth every penny of the $15 ticket. The most awesome thing about the IMAX theater is not the visuals, in my humble opinion—it is the speakers. You do not hear the bass so much as feel it, and it is so powerful that when Prometheus was landing on the alien planet I could feel the rumble of the engines in my body. I actually worried a bit that the vibrations might be throwing my heart out of rhythm, but I couldn’t remember if that was an urban legend or not.
But really, after the first thirty minutes or so of alien landscape flyovers, tiny shots of the ship dwarfed by enormous moons, and gut-scrambling engine noise, I more or less forgot about the special effects. All the noise and glam is pointless unless it enhances a good story, and I got wrapped up the story. I forgot I was watching a movie in 3D.
The same thing can happen watching an antique 6-inch black-and-white television screen, if the story is good enough. And all the special effects in the world can’t save a boring film. I was one of the unfortunate people who shelled out money to see The Matrix: Reloaded in the theater, and I found myself checking my watch and thinking about what I would do after the movie during the fight scenes.
I think the same thing is true of worship in church. You can put a lot of resources into creating an experience with lighting, fog machines, big screens, gimmicks, and great audio, but they can’t compensate for a lack of substance. And if the story is good enough, people get caught up in the experience and forget where they are, or the limitations of the technology.
It is also possible, of course, for technology to sabotage worship. A buzzing microphone or lighting problem will distract people and cause them to drop out of the experience. But these things are easily overcome. Nothing can take the place of a good story, well-told.
I’m definitely sick of over-doing the technology in worship. Have been for a long, long time. I’m sure that’s obvious, though, because I always tried to keep Contact as simple as possible, while still utilizing what we had.
Yeah, as much as I really love cool gadgets, sometimes we let the medium take over the message. While I think it is important to think about how to reach a visually-oriented tech culture, sometimes the message needs to be about unplugging and simplifying and connecting with other people in community, and the media should reflect that.