I would like to suggest that church in the new millennium has to be more about what people do, as opposed to what they see or hear. So much of our programming is visual/aural expression, not personal and emotional immersion that we must now shift our focus to connecting people with Jesus personally, not simply demonstrating for them what that connection might look like. People want to feel like they are an active part of what is going on in this new economy of shared experiences.
Interactivity redeems the audience. It elevates the everyman to a position of artist and entrepreneur. It gets Nicodemus out of the tree and Peter out of the boat. Interactivity also makes the crowd worthy of attention, not disdain, and gives bread to all 5,000 at once. Sidestepping issues about the individual, interactivity suggests that there is an individuality to each audience as well as to each person. Therefore it becomes necessary to do away with our old paradigm of the “uneducated masses” and instead view a new audience: a better educated audience that has developed their own standard for excellence, that takes responsibility for evaluating truth, and that works hard to find voices worthy of trust.[i]
According to Edwin Schlossberg, “excellence exists only in the variety and quality of our interactions[ii]” and he further suggests that we begin to consider the audience as an integral part of composition design.[iii] Because I have found this line of thinking to be so accurate, I have begun to evaluate many of our services and events based on how the audience itself was involved, instead of merely entertained or shown. For example, a recent outreach we did was “Purchase of God”, a play about a World War One soldier which incorporated 7 different mediums[iv], and most notably facilitated a discussion around themes of the play lead by table pastors instead of a traditional altar call.
This was done in an effort to avoid the danger of breeding consumers, and while it is certain that not everyone wants interactive experiences, it must be said that if we do “provide everything for people when they come, there is nothing left for them to provide.[v]” Instead, interactivity creates opportunities for awe, delight, truthfulness and hope[vi] wherever the experience of an event happens both in front of its members and in between them. Schlossberg contends that this kind of “necessary first step” is also an entry into a whole new paradigm of interactive experience[vii].
Interactivity takes us away from reading the story, and places us with a sword in our hand atop a white horse chasing dragons.
[i] This description of the new audience is a synthesis of several sections of Schlossberg, found primarily on pp.29 and 49.
[ii] Edwin Schlossberg, Interactive Excellence p.98
[iii] Ibid, p.5
[iv] photography, dance, live music, computer-generated graphics, drama, film, audio sequencing and efx
[v] Edwin Schlossberg, Interactive Excellence p.71
[vi] Quentin Schultz, in High Tech Worship?, proposes these four characteristics as essential qualities in Christian worship. Cf. p.30
[vii] Edwin Schlossberg, Interactive Excellence p.26