By Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Usually, hiding a cell phone in your lap or purse during church is a definite no-no, but the Orchard Oxford is encouraging its congregation to break out their devices during services. Last month, the church released a smartphone app for members to download onto their phone.
“It’s easy to blast the blending of tech into worship as evil, but if we get into too much of a rut, we miss things God wants to do,” said Orchard pastor Pat Ward. “As a church, we are always thinking about how to communicate, and the new generation of worshipers have never not known this technology.”
Ward has been with the Orchard Oxford since its founding seven years ago, and said the church’s relationship with technology has evolved each year.
“At first we used e-mail to communicate with our members, but when compared to Facebook, e-mail is very limited,” Ward said. “Facebook became the next tier, but the information we were trying to get out was getting lost in the Facebook noise.”
However, it was with the advent of tablets and smart phones that the possibilities really took off. When Apple released the first iPad in 2010, it immediately became a presence at church as a searcheable, navigable Bible. Comparably powerful and more transportable smart phones made communication through technology convenient, easy, and novel.
“So many people have smart phones and carry them everywhere that they really have become the new Swiss army knife,” Ward said.
The app was created through the website churchapp.org, which originated from a large Seattle church that soon realized their app was merely a template. Each individual church can substitute their own content and graphics. The Orchard app has an archive of past sermons, a list of scripture to be discussed over the next few weeks, and a built-in Bible. Downloadable from the Android market and the iTunes store, the app allows members to catch the sermon when they are forced to miss church for whatever reason, and also allows the church to keep the congregation up to date with event schedules and news.
“It also allows us to see how many people have downloaded it and where they are listening,” he said. “It’s amazing, one of our listeners tunes in from Laos, in Asia.”
“Even when people first started writing, they were hesitant to actually write ‘Yaweh,’ because they weren’t sure what God would think about it,” Ward said. “Whatever’s next – holograms, whatever – we will always be having this discussion about it.”
Ward said he sees a parallel between the accessibility of the app and the nature of Jesus’ parables. It is key to remember who Jesus was speaking to: a work-loaded agrarian audience. Accordingly, the parables Christ told often used the vocabulary of agriculture. They were endlessly insightful, but compact enough for listeners to remember and share with others.
However, Ward said the app in no way is meant to take the place of the church.
“The app is a useful tool, but in no way is it an adequate substitute for actually being in church and being involved in a church community,” he said.
Additionally, the church does not assume everyone has access to the app. It takes care to make information accessible through as many channels impossible from e-mails to newsletters. Ward said everything available on the app is available on paper through the church, as well.
Ward said the respect afforded to tradition melded with a constant self-evaluation on how to better reach people defines the true spirit of The Orchard.
“In our services, we sing traditional hymns along with contemporary songs because each one offers something different. Using them together really makes for something beautiful,” he said. “The app is an attempt to do the same thing.”