Back at the beginning of this decade, Apple introduced the iPod portable mp3 player. Since then, that little gadget has revolutionized pretty much every aspect of the music industry, from major labels on down to independent local artists. On top of that, the iPod has a tendency to make its way into every facet of its users lives--I know that's true for me. Then Web 2.0 came along, and suddenly we had blogs, podcasts, Facebook and RSS feeds; the new web tools merged perfectly with the portable phones and music players we all started carrying around--think about the way you get your news, listen to music, keep up with sports, conduct business or keep in touch with friends. Now think about how you would have done those things fifteen years ago.
So it should be little surprise that the last decade's advances in personal entertainment would eventually have their effect on religion as well. NPR reports:
It's another Sunday morning at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in Southern California. But some congregants are holding more than just the printed page, thanks to their iPhones. That's because they have access to the entire Bible on the device.
Technology is producing a new form of religious interaction. There are over two dozen Bible apps for smart phones. And beyond Scripture, people are using gadgets for devotional purposes.
"We believe that technology can bring people closer together and closer to God," says Bobby Gruenewald, a pastor at Lifechurch.tv. The Web site brings worship services to approximately 60,000 computer screens each week. Gruenewald tries to allay fears of social and religious isolation by pointing to earlier concerns about telephones and VCRs.
"When they were invented, people made these bold predictions that people are no longer going to need to meet with each other," Gruenewald says. "But we have this history now to look back and say that humans are actually pretty capable of integrating technology into their lives." (My emphasis)
On top of that, podcasting seems to be a growing practice among churches, especially in the Emerging/Emergent Church (see emergingchurch.info, emergentvillage.com or Homebrewed Christianity for more info). For those of you unfamiliar with podcasting, it's basically like downloading a radio show (or in this case a worship service) to your iPod so that you can listen at your leisure. There are podcasts for just about everything you can imagine. I have some personal experience with this--never one to wake up too early, podcasting was pretty much the only way I could get to church in college!