Churches using more technology to keep up with congregations

Churches using more technology to keep up with congregations

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By HAYLEY HARMON
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Technology is everywhere in today's modern world as an essential part of most people's daily lives.

From smart phones to tablets, it is difficult to find anyone that doesn't use them.  

A number of churches nationwide are now using them to reach out to their tech-savvy congregations.

Many churches in East Tennessee are tapping into social media. Some even have their own apps, but does the upgrade help churches better connect to members, or does it take the focus off a church's main purpose?

It starts like any sermon.

"It's good to see you guys. My name is Stephen and I'm one of the pastors here at Cokesbury, and if you are joining us for the first time, I'm really glad that you found your way to Cokesbury."

Chrissy Faught listens to her pastor's sermons that she missed, but she isn't sitting in a church pew.

She is at home, watching her pastor on her iPhone, all thanks to the app created by her church, Cokesbury United Methodist Church in Knoxville.

"Here's the Cokesbury app. You have messages for the week," Faught said, who has attended Cokesbury for more than a decade.

While she has been a member, things have changed.

Cokesbury's Sunday morning church service has undergone a major tech upgrade, from the massive screen displayed in the sanctuary that play videos and display notes for the congregation to follow along with, to the contemporary worship style, and even the iPad the pastor uses in the pulpit.

Cokesbury United Methodist Church has three campuses, and Senior Pastor Stephen DeFur hopes to one day have a podcast that will air live at all of them, where audience members can interact in real-time with the pastor.

"We really like to complement everything we do with some kind of media, even if it's just a thought that gets printed and put on a screen," Defur said. "It helps people stay focused and hopefully trigger their memory throughout the week."

DeFur said today's church member is more technologically-advanced than in years past, so why can't their church adapt as well?

Cokesbury uses its website, Facebook, and Twitter to reach their members. They also employ a new form of media, called The City. It is an social media site exclusively for churches, designed to increase outreach to the members and community.

"We have basically abandoned all print media and have relied on The City to help stay connected with our members," DeFur said.

Faught, like many of the church's 3,000 members, use these tools daily.

"If you really want to get to know the people that you're trying to reach, technology is the way to do it because that's just our world," Faught said.

Defur said the decision to bring in today's technology was an easy one.

"It just became part of our DNA. Our average age is 33-years-old. It's technology that a lot of us grew up using. So we just made the decision," he said "If we're all just on this technology, it makes perfect sense that when you came to church, you ought to experience that same technology."

But it's not just Cokesbury trying to stay relevant to a media-driven society. Other churches in Knoxville are adapting as well.

If you step into the Regal Cinemas Movie Theater at the West Town Mall on Sunday morning, you'll find The Point, a church that is looking at service in a unique way.

It's a casual atmosphere that is bringing people in who might not otherwise attend, like newcomer Brad Kirkham.

"It's a great place to get started and get comfortable into church," Kirkham said.

They also use social media and have an app, which actually lets people tithe right from their cell phones during the service.

They can also text questions directly to the pastor, which he answers on the spot.

"We use mobile apps because people use mobile phones. We use texting because people text and I know people have questions. Why not let people just text it in? It turns it into a conversation," said Matt Peeples, lead pastor at The Point.

New worshipers like Kirkham appreciate this aspect of The Point.

"You can really ask the tough question and get a true answer."

But has this progressive, technology-run worship service strayed too far from the traditional setting that many people grew up with?

Peeples said they've certainly had people who came once or twice, and then elected to not come back. Both Peeples and DeFur admit this style isn't for everyone.

But despite the doubts, both pastors said the increased use of technology helps them get their message across, and that it's just a natural adaptation.

"Most of what we call traditional is 1500s contemporary," Peeples said. "The New Testament and The Bible have always been about meeting people in their cultural context. I believe worship should be contextual. It is elastic. It's the truth of the message that isn't elastic."

In their eyes, church is still church. Now, it's simply version 2.0.

"I think you see that the churches that are being effective are those that are embracing technology and are continuing to move with the culture," Defur said. "Our message doesn't change, but the catalyst to get that message out in the community I think is rapidly changing."

Both churches plan on continuing to increase the amount of technology they use, so it appears this is only the beginning for Cokesbury United Methodist and The Point.

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