This reminded me of a trend I have noticed at most (some? – at least the ones I observe) churches lately. This is the tendency to use never-ending audio-visual stimulation. In case you are not familiar, here is the typical scene: as people arrive at the church building, music is playing over the sound system. On the omnipresent large screen at the front of the auditorium, images are projected. This continues until ‘live’ music begins, with words and visual effects projected on the big screen. Many churches include a time when people greet one another with great commotion. During the sermon, someone is talking (of course) and usually images are being projected on that omnipresent screen. Even during the time of communion, music (live or canned) is played in the background. Even “silent prayer” seems to be rare these days.
It might sound a bit far-fetched now, but if artificial olfactory and tactile stimulation were affordable, I suppose some congregations would never turn those off. Wouldn’t it be better if every suggestion of smell during singing, preaching, or anything else were wafted across the auditorium of the church? Wouldn’t it be exciting if the seats vibrated when images of motion were suggested by anything being said?
There is nothing inherently wrong with any of this. But it does reflect our culture’s dread of silence. Perhaps this an area where the church should intentionally go against the grain of our culture. While not to be pushed to any extreme, perhaps there is a place to practice a bit of Hab. 2:20 when the church meets – at least a little bit, some of the time. (And should the time ever come, this would include the artificial smells and shaking seats, too!)
I have heard preachers talk about the need to “turn off all your digital devices” and focus your attention on God. But why would anyone do this at home when church leaders never turn off the digital devices when the church meets?
One of the practical problems with the never-ending-audio/visual-stimulation approach is that, in the presence of unending noise and images, people very naturally begin to tune them out. In the end, our imagined need never to shut off our technological toys means that many people just stop paying attention.
Also, feeding our culturally-created desire for constant audio-visual stimulation is something like supplying an addict more dope. Again, I am not suggesting that we never use media in church meetings. I am strongly suggesting that we need to very carefully measure our use of media, and think about why we use it when we do, and to what end. The mere fact that we have an expensive projection system in place is no reason never to turn it off.
It is amazing how quickly and how easily the church is sucked into the vortex of culture. We never seem to stop and make ourselves aware. Of course, how could we? The screen is always on, and the amplified sounds never end.