By Deborrah Uecker, CMI Board Member
In the 60s and 70s the Bell phone system had as its slogan, ”Long distance – the next best thing to being there.” The technology of the one phone a home was likely to have hung on the wall of the kitchen. If you had relatives long distances away, weekly phone calls were a treasure. As a college student at Dr. Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota in the early 70s, I so looked forward to the one phone call a week I received from my home in Seattle. The voice of my mother 2000 miles away was the next best thing.
Fast forward to about 2009 and the beginning days of the Christ in Media Institute. In those early meetings and conferences we set our agenda to be a clearinghouse for ideas as to how to use a vast array of technology to do Gospel outreach. We did not see ourselves as creating content, but as a place to share ideas of how rapidly advancing technologies could be used by churches, schools and individuals to get the Word of God’s promise out there. We talked about faith-based feature films and media content in multiple languages, attracting students to use their skills and talents with technology in Christ centered ways and most recently we focused on virtual reality possibilities. CMI has attempted to provide an opportunity to see ways we might carry out the Great Commission using the gift of God that technology can be.
I recall a number of years ago we convened a conference about online church services. This was perhaps more than five years ago. Not many churches were offering much beyond perhaps cassette taped services hand delivered to shut ins or the occasional use of public access for services in local communities. There did not seem to be much of a need. And certainly the perceived expense of equipment to record and broadcast was often deemed excessive. Who was going to watch something ‘amateur’ and of low production value? It seemed as though many of us were somewhat paralyzed in place, unable to see outside of the box of how we had always done things. And besides, we don’t want our “Jesus” stuff next to a Facebook post promoting something unsavory!
So here we are May of 2020. In what seemed like an instant the world as we have known it was forever changed in mid-March. The closing of the world and our country because of COVID-19 removed our paralysis. Our media-rich and driven society quickly raced to embrace all of the options for content so much in demand by people who were now quarantined at home and had a lot of time on their hands! And when it comes to production values – well think about it. There is no longer a sense of place for media personalities. From day one of staying at home we have seen our news anchors reporting from their kitchens, absent from their hair and makeup people. Performers we idolize are singing from their showers, orchestra and special effects free. And we can’t seem to get enough of it.
Out of crisis comes the opportunity most churches have embraced without hesitation in using simple production techniques to hold services through the busiest season of the church year, Lent to Easter. Granted, many of the options for use have become far less expensive and readily available to most in the pews over time. But the explosion of content produced in such a short span of time is astonishing! No one is concerned with production values – lighting, backgrounds or special effects. It is enough just being there with the Word for people when church is supposed to be, or available when people need it the most. We see someone’s corner kitchen table Bible study, “evening of encouragement” devotions, to say nothing of comforting Bible passages on a Facebook feed – our Jesus stuff is all over the place!!
It may not be the next best thing to being there but when it’s all you have, it is enough. If and when this crisis and lock-down is over do we go back to our old ways? I hope not – I pray not! Think about one last thing: we often have no idea who is viewing our Facebook messages or accessing our livestream church services. If we ever wondered what the “invisible church” looks like – well now we have it in spades! What connects us all is not crisis but promise. When we get over ourselves and get out of the way, God shines to all in ways we just perhaps did not see or had the courage to trust.
As an early CMI board member I often said, you know the devil is leading the way using technology – we need to get going! Well thank you virus – and take that Satan! One little word – no, thousands of words and images have felled you! To God be the glory!