In late 1999 there was a major television special highlighting the 100 most influential people of the past millennium. King of the hill was Johann Gutenberg, inventor of the movable type printing press.
The Reformers took advantage of that new technology to spread the written words of Bible in the language of the common people. (We can take some appropriately-modest pride that Martin Luther made #3 on the millennium list!) Poets and musicians, artists and writers fled to the Lutheran church to express the Gospel with new freedom and clarity.
Fast-forward to today. How does a congregation use modern electronic resources to spread the ancient Gospel message? That is a different question than “do you use contemporary or traditional music, organ or keyboard and guitars.” One option is radio.
The congregation I serve has broadcast a weekly worship service live on the local radio station since 1948 to reach members and others not present because of age, infirmity or just because they are off to grandma’s house.
Several churches in our area sponsor radio programs. Most broadcast a recording of the sermon from the previous week, although one presents a live program of recorded Gospel music as an invitation to attend its services later that morning. Another nearby congregation actually owns its own low power station with a range just covering the small town it is in.
But our congregation broadcasts the entire service live to five counties, which brings with it a unique set of demands and opportunities. Services have to start and end on time, with preludes and sermons timed to fit. The sanctuary sound system needs to work well and be operated by trained volunteers. Every speaker or choir needs to be miked. And there are no long periods of silence for meditation!
When the new sanctuary was built in the 1960’s provisions for the necessary cables and equipment were included. As technology changed, the signal – at first sent over telephone lines to the radio station – now traveled via a small remote broadcasting transmitter.
Worship has changed too. In the 1980’s a new radio booth was carved out of the attic with a larger window to see the action as piano, guitars and children’s choirs became part of our worship vocabulary. There was even room for a mixer with 16 channels!
Recently worship styles have seen the inclusion of electric keyboards, solo CD accompaniment tracks, projection screens and the like. Electronics have gone digital and programs are available over the internet to download on your personal MP3 player. Even newer equipment – now with 96 channels – has moved us in the new 21st Century.
Other ministry challenges include a long-term financial commitment for equipment and local broadcast fees, recruiting and training volunteers, knowledge of copyright law and broadcast licenses, and a host of other things never covered in seminary or conservatory classes.
Our radio ministry continues to serve today as it always has, but it has also become the foundation for a new method of outreach. The magic of radio – which lost a lot of luster to television and CDs and DVDs – has now found a foothold on the internet, the touchstone of our modern connected world.
Our little local station – WNCO-AM 1340 – is now on the World Wide Web, and, therefore, so are we! With the station taking care of the legalities and licenses needed, just click on the “Listen Now” button between 10:30 a.m. and 12 noon Eastern Time any Sunday from any connected computer in the world to hear the live worship service – warts and all – from Trinity Lutheran Church in Ashland, Ohio.
We are expanding our small footprint on the internet too. Having recorded a copy of the services because of the radio ministry, a library of past sermons is now available on our website. One of the pastors is writing a blog further exploring the sermon topics. And you can like us on Facebook to receive notice of important announcements.
So far we have not added other service selections, but there are podcasting licenses available from companies such as CCLI when (notice the “when”) we do.
Not every congregation has the opportunity or desire to broadcast worship live over the radio. But any congregation with a laptop can reach the world in the 21st century via the internet.
What unique opportunity does your congregation have to reach out electronically for the sake of the Gospel?