With training and background as a Director of Christian Education (DCE), now ordained and associate pastor at First Trinity Lutheran Church in Tonawanda, New York, Rev. Jason Christ has long been fascinated by and experimented with technology. We recently sat down with him over Zoom and chatted about the blessings and challenges of integrating technology in ministry, giving new things a try, and engaging others in ministry through their technological gifts and skills.
Share a bit about your ministry experience.
As a Director of Christian Education (serving congregations in Texas and Ohio before coming to First Trinity), I spent most of my work in youth ministry, officially. Unofficially, I was also the tech guy for the different churches I was at. Every church I came to, we launched a church database of some sort; kind of doing tech support, bringing churches into a new space technologically speaking.
What is your background with technology?
It kind of started in middle school. I had an old Commodore 64 computer, and my buddy had an Apple IIGS. We would play computer games and hang out on the computers, and we would learn how to program computers. We started tearing apart computers. We bought our own parts to build computers in high school and figured out how to do networking so that we could play games together with our other friends.
In college, I ended up with a job in the computer department. It was actually very funny. They didn’t have in-room internet when I started at Concordia, and I really wanted to get my computer on the internet. I just decided I would take my computer down to the computer lab and take one of their internet cords and plug it in and use my own computer. I was doing that for a while, and one of the workers told me you couldn’t bring your own computer. I ended up with a job and got to help with tech support and taking apart computers and rebuilding stuff, fixing laptops.
How do you integrate technology into the ministry you’re a part of?
We’ve used technology in our confirmation program for a long time. We use screens with PowerPoint to follow along and give everybody the same context. Sometimes we’ll use videos. When the pandemic hit, we decided to go online. So we did last year in all hybrid or online formats. Student engagement went way down when we were hybrid. Kids won’t turn their cameras on; they don’t participate as much in conversation.
When it came time to decide what to do for this year, we opted to not offer a hybrid solution for those who are local. We just found the relationship piece was hurt by the technology, that they couldn’t connect as well over technology. They were a lot more self-conscious because they knew everybody was looking at them and that kind of changed the dynamic. Whereas in a small group that’s in-person together, now you can see each other, but you’re also not front and center on the screen and you’re not seeing yourself, which is a big piece of it.
Integrating technology is tricky, because . . . these are great tools for bringing God’s Word to people. Again, at the same time, you don’t always use a hammer, right? Different technologies serve different purposes, and you’ve really got to be wise and careful about how you integrate that technology because it might be working against you. Or it shifts the focus from the relationship or face-to-face interaction with people onto a screen. Now all of the sudden, we’re just individuals who are all taking in the same material and less of a community that’s processing.
How do you bring others into ministry, specifically as it relates to technology?
Letting others really handle the content side or presentation of the content. Our office manager takes the overall vision for Instagram and creates and puts stuff out there.
Then, streaming worship, we have a young man in our congregation who works in the film industry. He’s been helping get the cameras tuned well so the lighting and the color balance and whatnot.
Our now-operations manager, he was a production manager, sound, and lighting guy. The pandemic hit, he had no work; turns out we had a lot of work to do, so he was here helping and kind of got the tech side really optimized, up and running.
Our confirmation students serve in worship in some capacity, which almost always means they acolyte. This year, before confirmation started, we needed people to run technology for streaming worship. We needed a PowerPoint person, a stream operator that controls the cameras and the scene changes, and we needed sound. The high school and late middle school students have been making sure church online happens week in and week out. They’re running the slides, running the stream. What an awesome opportunity for kids to help lead people in worship!
We have a high school student who takes the whole worship video and creates a clip of just the sermon for YouTube. He does it every week. He’s super reliable. He gets it done. It looks great. He posts it to our website and all of the sudden, it’s all done.
Any tips or words of wisdom for those looking to be more intentional about how and when they use technology in their ministry?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are a ton of resources out there in addition to resources in your congregation or your ministry setting, whatever that is. It might be young people who do this as a native language. It might be a colleague at another church nearby or someone you know online.
Don’t be afraid to experiment and Google things and see what happens. I find that people are afraid of breaking things, and I get that, but computers are pretty resilient. Figure out the question you would ask somebody who knows what they’re doing and type that into Google. You start reading and experimenting and see what comes.
Have fun with technology. If it’s all work and no fun, it’s not as likely to succeed. Practice with something fun. Like, you learn how to download Jackbox games and play with your friends on Zoom, and maybe that leads to how to do an online Bible study for your church. You’re learning with something that’s fun and silly, and then you can turn it into something that’s useful.
The big thing is to try stuff, see what happens. Don’t be afraid to fail. Technology is just one more tool. You can learn it. Watch other people who use technology well, but don’t compare your technological integrations or offerings with a giant church or a church worker who has done this their whole career. Do what you can and then build from there. Baby steps.
Want to learn more about technology and the life of the Church?