Technology in religion

Pastor Steve Chupp shows off an iPhone Bible app he uses.

Turn your hymnal to page such-and-such and proceed to make a joyful noise.

It’s the traditional approach to church music, and one attendees can still take at Clinton Frame Mennonite Church along C.R. 35 east of Goshen. If they do, they’ll find the hymn books there in not-too-shabby shape.

“Those hymnals are in very good condition and will be for a long time because they’re not used much,” said DeWayne Bontrager, church administrator since mid-December and a Clinton Frame member for 25-plus years. The musical score is projected onscreen, and Bontrager said few congregants hold the hymnals.

“It allows families to hold their kids,” added Anita Yoder, Clinton Frame pastor of worship and music for the past seven years. “They can look up. They don’t have to hold a hymnal.”

The audio-visual component separates a Clinton Frame service circa 2012 from one that would have taken place in decades past. But technology’s reach extends beyond that.

At Clinton Frame and other local houses of worship, websites, e-mails and smartphones have been incorporated into the church mission and are taking it to the next level.

“As far as drawing new people in, there are a lot of things we’re doing that are a lot different than seven, 10 years ago, much different than 25 years ago,” Bontrager said. “We’re constantly thinking about just that: What’s that next step? How do we get our kids more involved? Where is technology taking us in the next five to 10 years?”

It’s certainly advanced since Yoder began her pastoral role.

“When I started we were just starting to think about using PowerPoint,” she said. “That was new and exciting.”

Now software lends itself to not only PowerPoint but also video clips and moving backgrounds being part of the presentation.

“We try to make the technology blend with the service, not stick out,” Bontrager said. “We want it to be transparent.”

Yoder said Clinton Frame services are videotaped, and for years the recordings have been taken to Greencroft for viewing. The services have been put on DVD the past three or four years, and people could check the discs out if they missed a service.

“We thought we were kind of cutting-edge,” Yoder said.

Now services are online. Bontrager uploads them the Monday morning after a service to

“Used to be it was just the sermon,” Yoder said. Now the entire service is online. “They can watch the singing and everything.”

Bontrager recently sent a tech-support e-mail to an older woman vacationing in Arizona who was having trouble accessing the video.

That same week, Yoder talked to a woman who was watching the prior Sunday services.

“She’s a shut-in,” Yoder said. “She can’t get here, but she’s able to stay connected.”

The same is true of church members who travel south for the winter, Bontrager said, who can still see their home church service via the Internet.

Mass e-mails are part of the Clinton Frame church experience. The church youth group has a Facebook page. During a service, congregants can reference Scripture on their smartphones. Live streaming of services is in Clinton Frame’s near future, Bontrager said.

Still, there’s a blend of old and new at Clinton Frame. Church bulletins are e-mailed out, but attendees can still get a hardcopy in their church mailbox.

Bontrager wants change to be gradual.

“We’re also very careful,” he said, “because we understand that the level of technology use and understanding varies with age group.”

Yoder feels Bontrager is going to take Clinton Frame’s relationship to technology to another level.

“We’re just on that growing edge, feeling like we have all these things we want to do,” she said. “And it’s happening.”

In Bontrager’s view, the church’s role and mission haven’t changed. Technology just facilitates that mission.

“We’re keeping up,” he said, “with the way people are used to communicating outside of the church.”

Remaining relevant

Keeping current is a tradition at Maple City Chapel, 2015 Lincolnway East.

Pastor Jay Shetler’s father, Mel, started the church as a teen center 40-plus years ago in downtown Goshen.

“Part of our philosophy from the beginning is that if we’re going to reach young people, we have to adapt what we do so it will attract young people,” Shetler said.

Back in the 1970s, that included using drums and other musical instruments in the service — unusual at the time, Shetler said. And now new technology at the church is a means of staying relevant to the culture.

It’s also a recruitment tool.

“It’s amazing how many people come (to church) because they first visited us on the Internet,” Shetler said.

There’s been a big push in the last several months to update the chapel’s website material, according to Shetler, and also to use Facebook more effectively.

Text-messaging is frequently used to communicate at Maple City, Shetler said. One of the ways it’s utilized is to organize volunteers.

“We use e-mail blasts quite a bit for prayer,” the pastor added. A note about and a picture of the person in need of help is sent out with a prayer request.

Twenty or 30 years ago, getting the word out was a slower process. Shetler remembers the “phone tree” — calling people who would call other people, etc.

“One of the benefits of technology,” he said, “is more mass communication.”

At Maple City Chapel, video clips are often used during a sermon, and via his own Facebook page Shetler has noticed people reposting them.

“(The video) leaves more of a lasting impression sometimes,” he said. “Hopefully it helps make the point of the sermon.”

With Facebook, Shetler can post a prayer request to his church community and far beyond. He said he has friends in China, in California “and people around the world who can be praying. Just like that.”

The Internet is also used to stay in touch with Maple City’s missionaries. During the retirement celebration for Shetler’s dad in October, it helped bridge no small gap.

“On Sunday morning, we had one of our missionary couples Skype in live for the service,” Shetler said. “So we saw them live on the screen and they were able to dialogue with us. They were in Turkey, so there’s no way in the world they would have been part of that celebration if not for Skype.”

Shetler sees definite benefits to technology. But Shetler, trained as a clinical psychologist, is also concerned about the pitfalls. He feels the church community has been slow to address the impact of technology on individuals and families.

“There are some huge, important questions around technology that we as a church can speak to,” Shetler said.

Staying connected

Facebook came into play at Goshen’s Harvest Community Church — formerly Zion Chapel — a couple of years ago.

“We use a Facebook page quite a bit,” Harvest director of administration Monica Gould said. “...We have a lot of followers who used to go here and moved out of the area. So it’s not necessarily just for our people. It’s a way that other people relationally can keep in touch with the church even if they don’t live around here and come here on Sunday.”

Gould uploads pictures of the Harvest building addition project to Facebook almost every week. Last month, the church did a fundraiser for Reason Enough to Act called the “Baby Bottle Blitz”; the idea was to fill a giant bottle with donated change. Gould posted photos of the bottle on Facebook, and as part of a contest congregants were invited to guess the correct amount of change collected.

Harvest senior pastor Steve Chupp, Gould’s father, said the staff works to keep the church website active and current. However, he described Facebook as much more active.

“A website is so static,” Gould said. “It’s informational, but Facebook is relational. (People are) looking at your Facebook feed with all their friends.”

Facebook is a speedy means to get information out to the Harvest community. So is e-mail. Chupp said the husband of a church attendee died on a recent Sunday night, and e-mail was used to get the funeral time and other information out to a lot of people very quickly.

Bible or app?

As with other Goshen-area churches, video clips and other visuals are more prevalent than in years past. Church services also have a different look these days thanks to smartphones.

Gould pointed out that some visiting pastors to Harvest don’t use notes or a Bible.

“They just preach off their smartphones,” she said.

“Or an iPad,” Chupp added.

Chupp himself has been known to read a verse off his iPhone during a service.

“It looks kind of funny if you don’t know what he’s doing,” Gould said. “Like, ‘Why is the pastor checking his e-mail?’”

Harvest has public WiFi, and some churchgoers use their Bible app on Sunday rather than their Bible.

“So I’ll tell people, ‘Either open your Bible or open your app,’” Chupp said. “I’ve said that a time or two.”

Still, Chupp brings his print-on-page Bible. Hard-copy Bibles are still available for churchgoers at Harvest.

“We didn’t go totally paperless,” Gould said.

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