Technology and Pastoral Care, Part 3

SplitShire_IMG_5806In part 2 of this series, I wrote about some of the underlying changes that are happening in our world, mobility and immobility and how technology might help us better face the challenges they present to us. How can technology be a part of our life of prayer and mutual support?

As I shared in that post:
“If mobility and immobility are pulling us further apart, can technology bring us closer together? Yes, it can. It will never replace the power of being together. However, it can supplement it. It can make connection possible when it would otherwise be impossible.”

Now, I want to get down to specifics. Let’s start with Live Streaming.

Live Streaming is a technology that allows us to share a live video feed over the internet. This feed can be viewed live on computers, web-enabled televisions, and mobile devices. You can also record it for later viewing.

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 8.51.47 AMYears ago very large churches could do something similar by running their services live on local television or recording them and broadcasting them later. This was incredibly expensive. The costs of a broadcast-quality camera and switcher plus the costs of television air-time put this out of reach of all but the largest, well-funded congregations.

Now, through advances in technology, for less than $1000 a church can buy the needed equipment to capture audio and video from a worship service. Services that will “host” the video stream online cost as little as $99 a month. (In fact, with options like Periscope, Google Hangouts, and YouTube it is technically possible to stream with no monthly fee. However, I don’t recommend it, yet.)

On the surface, the idea of someone “watching” a church service on their iPad doesn’t feel like something that would draw us closer. Worship is a communal activity, something we do physically together. But what about when we can’t be together? What if we are far away? What if we aren’t far away but our health or other circumstances prohibit us from physically being in church? Should we just leave people out of the worship of God?

There is a fear that I hear from lay and clergy alike: If we make it easy for people to worship online, they will stop coming to church. My response has two parts.

1. Many of them have already stopped coming to church.
2. If your worship services are as powerful online as they are in person, you might need to work on your worship experience.

To my first point, if our churches were growing, and people were coming to church more often, we might not be having this conversation. It is not that the technology has moved in, and we have to deal with it. It is that we have a problem, and we may be able to leverage technology to help us with it.

To the second point, I am not a huge basketball fan but I live in San Antonio and the Spurs are amazing. When someone offers me tickets, I will drive all the way across the city, walk a mile from my parking spot to the arena, pay five dollars for a soda, all knowing it will take me over an hour to get home due to post-game traffic, just to be there for the game in person. I could just watch it on television. And I will if that is my only option. But there is something about being at the game.

If there isn’t something about church that would make someone want to come instead of watching it on television, we need to re-think church.

So let’s put that aside and think about the value of live-streaming worship services.

For our mobile people – When on vacation, visiting grandkids or travelling for work, people can stay connected to their church. They can experience worship, they can hear the pastor’s teaching. It won’t be the same as being there, but it will be better than completely missing a week.

For our immobile people – Live-streaming may be one of the greatest gifts you can offer them. We have people who used to attend church every single Sunday. Now they can’t. It won’t be the same on their iPad or computer, but it will be more than they would have otherwise.

Live-streaming is not some magic fix for church or Christianity. But it can be a useful tool in our life of prayer and mutual support. Just setting up a live-stream and hitting play may not be enough. In my next post, I am going to write about some practices that may humanize the technology and better leverage it to keep us connected.

Does your church offer live stream? Do you ever take advantage of it? What is the experience like? I would love to hear your view in the comments.


  1. Will, I am totally enthralled by “live-streaming” and wish to learn more from your next posting. I wish I could make the screen larger but that will/may come. Keep up the good news for the “homebound”.

  2. Will. I have watched live streaming from UUMC when Inwas at home ill and when I travel. Helps me worship wherever I am, and keeps me connected to my home church. I think it is a wonderful opportunity for anyone who can’t be in worship. I have also used it to experience worship at one campus after I have worshipped at the other campus (you know what I mean).

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