Sunday, April 14, 2013

Interactive Technology and Faith Formation

Last night, I went to a fascinating dinner where Rich Melheim was the guest of honor. I expect to write a post or two about him in the coming weeks; today, we spend the whole day with him, so I expect to have more to say.

Over dinner last night, we talked about technology, time, sleep, and how to be effective families, whether we have children or not. Melheim has done a lot of studying of neurology. Some of what he brought up was familiar to me, like the importance of exercise to creativity and problem solving. Some of it was not. Did you know that your brain produces the most neurons between hours 6 and 8 of sleep? Me neither.

So, what does it mean if we only get 5 hours of sleep a night? We should probably get more.

I was lucky in that I was part of a small group.  In some ways, it was strange, because I was the only one there without children.  But I'm not uninterested in children.  So, the things we talked about when we talked about how to create meaningful, daily family rituals weren't boring to me.

In fact, I would argue that even those of us who don't have children need to have the same kinds of rituals.  We need to talk about our highs and lows.  We need to root ourselves in some Bible reading.  We need to pray together.

I'm also interested in what research about children tells us about how we should be thinking about church and Christian education--and other kinds of education.

Melheim has two children, now grown, and he talked about the differences in their approach to technology; he suggests they're indicative of a larger trend, and I suspect he's right.  He said that somewhere along 2005, we passed a point where the majority of teens spend more time on the Internet than watching TV.

He says his older child still watches TV, while his younger one sees it as a useless waste of time.  What does this mean for worship planning?

Most of traditional worship is not very interactive.  You may think that liturgy is interactive because there are congregational responses, but that's not what people who are used to controlling technology think of, when they want interactive kinds of experiences.

Melheim, an ELCA pastor and founder of Faith Inkubators, encourages churches to continue to have a traditional liturgy if there's enough congregational interest.  But we shouldn't kid ourselves.  We're not reaching the younger generations that way.  We're not preparing future generations of Christians.  We're not doing faith formation in the way that we need to do it.

What does he recommend?  For one thing, we need to get more of the body involved than just the mouth that says the responses that it says week after week.  We need to teach new information.  We need to get physically active, whether it's learning the sign language of key verses, learning the material in different languages, creating a drama, doing some other creative piece, creating some worship movement to go along with the liturgy.  We're only constrained by our own imaginations.

And here's the problem:  most of us haven't had our imaginations nourished.  We're stunted, and so it's hard to imagine ways of doing church differently.  Or worse, we assume that we must do it the way we've always done it--and then we wonder why the younger generations have disappeared.

I'm lucky to be part of a church that's experimenting.  If you're reading this blog, you're seeing some chronicles of our efforts, and some news of what other churches are trying.

So, today will be an interesting day. We spend the day with Rich Melheim. He's preaching at 3 services at church and then leading an afternoon workshop and then there's an evening comedy kind of event. I'm not sure what to expect, but I do expect to return home with much to write about in the coming days.

If you're in South Florida, come on over to Trinity Lutheran, at the corner of Pines Blvd. and 72nd Avenue in Pembroke Pines.  The afternoon event starts at 1, and the evening event at 6:30.  It's free and sure to be fascinating--what do you have to lose?

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