During most of my life, Sunday mornings were spent in church. I would wake up early Sunday morning, exercise, shower, dress, eat, and drive to church. Until recently, I dressed for Sunday worship in a coat and tie, even during the wickedly hot Texas summers where I grew up and worked. People dressed in their ‘Sunday-best’ clothes when attending church services. At the time, it felt normal although looking back, dressing in heavy clothing during summer made no practical sense.
Today, people have more worship options. Many churches offer worship services at various times on Saturday and Sunday. Our church held a mid-week Taizé service until Covid. Casual clothes are now common for worship services. And there is the growing proliferation of virtual worship services. I can be anywhere in the world and connect virtually to Sunday morning worship services and my adult church class. If I miss the live service, then I can watch the recorded service when I am able. For example, I can sit in bed in my pajamas and attend worship. This change now feels normal, although it is not my preferred way of worshiping. I am old-fashioned and desire to attend services in-person.
When we started spending our summers in British Columbia, we attended a non-denominational church, Glad Tidings, in the nearby city of Victoria. The contemporary services were uplifting, and the senior pastor preached mainline theology. We now have the option to attend in-person or virtually at Glad Tidings or worship virtually at our Austin church. Last Sunday, we decided to worship virtually because the sermon was preached by one of our favorite Austin ministers. This flexibility gave us more time to prepare our home for guests who were arriving that afternoon. Worship options expanded our ability to worship. Since the beginning of the pandemic, it is rare for my wife and I to miss a Sunday worship service. And if we miss, we usually view the recorded service.
Technology is both a blessing and a curse. Connecting virtually allows for distance human interactions which supports community. Connecting virtually also reduces human physical connections such as handshakes, hugs, and close interactions. Virtual worship is better than no worship, but it should not be used as the only means of worship, unless a person is physically unable to attend services. Because of technology, total church attendance has risen since 2019. According to Barna Group, 13% of US churches were only in-person last Christmas. 50% were hybrid (both physical attendance and live stream) and the remaining Christmas services were either recorded or viewed later online. This flexibility may partially or fully halt the declining population of Christian worshippers, which is a positive technology attribute.
Technology has enhanced our ability to pray. Since the start of Covid, faith apps have proliferated (for example, ChristianPray.com and Hallow.com). These technology tools can help people create space for private and communal prayer during their busy day. Given that young people have replaced physical interactions with phone apps, it seems reasonable to develop faith apps as a spiritual tool rather than just cede this technology to finance, relationship, and health apps. These apps can remind a person to pray, suggest spiritual resources, or connect into communal prayer. The Pew Research Center found that only 45% of US adults pray daily, down from 58% in 2007. Perhaps technology can reverse this downward trend. My prayer preferences remain with quiet solo prayer and in-person communal prayer. However, I am thankful that technology gives Christians more prayer options.
When I began seminary, I purchased the software program BibleWorks which gave me access to numerous Scripture research tools. I use it to search Scripture words in English, Greek, and Hebrew. For example, I used it in my book, Trading with God, to write my chapter on Scripture words related to faith and work. For my current research on vocation, BibleWorks saved me countless hours of Biblical research as I could query English vocational words, download relevant Scripture verses into a spreadsheet, and cross-reference English-Hebrew/English-Greek translations. Technology allows me to be more efficient and accurate.
When I worked in energy trading, I learned the value of options. There is a saying on the trade floor: “never refuse a free option and never give away a free option.” Optionality allows for multiple paths to reach an end point. When only one path is available, freedom is reduced, and the journey may be more difficult and costly. The same is true with communal worship. Without virtual technology during the pandemic, communal worship would have ceased or been greatly reduced to socially distanced worship. Now that our worship options have expanded, my free options have also expanded, something everyone should never refuse.