Sunday, July 26, 2015

Multimedia and Worship

Over the past few years I have assigned a discussion project in my World Religions' Course at the University of Guelph which requires students to attend a place of worship. Preferably this should be an unfamiliar one, and they must report on the experience. I have always allowed 'attendance' at television or online services with the added proviso that they comment on the differences between online and physical attendance. Which, come to think of it, is ironic given that they are 'attending' an online class.

The comments to this comparison are various.  Some appreciate being able, as one said, to sit in my pyjamas noisily eating my breakfast cereal 'at church', while others find the experience profoundly unsatisfying.

Why unsatisfying?  Well, let me analyze that by noting the online services that students have generally enjoyed.  These are the services which use multimedia effectively.  They have interesting graphics (gifs I guess....), music that is of roughly the type they listen to as entertainment, lots of movement, lighting and so on - in other words, the techniques used are those used in music videos or concerts.  The services most students did not like online, were simple camera views of old-style services - two dimensional, flat, boring. A few comment that the service might have been better had they attended in person.

So, multimedia yes - but not simply multimedia.  I teach that multimedia began with George Whitefield in the First Great Awakening in the 1740s. He used what was then high tech - the newspaper to build excitement before he arrived in any town, then delivered a talk that pulled at the emotions and was light on doctrine. This is what successful online Christian services do.  Plus ├ža change!

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