This article by Thomas J. Cook was published in the August, 1997 edition of The Sunday School Leader magazine in the column "Especially for the Sunday School Director." Copyright 1997 by the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The explosion of technology in today's Information Age can represent a real challenge to Sunday Schools. On the one hand, most of our teachers, pupils, and prospects are exposed to excellence in high-tech presentations at work and at school each day, resulting in high expectations for quality, clarity, and production values. On the other hand, the entry cost is high for equipment and skills to provide technology which will compare favorably in production excellence, and new developments and advances will make today's investment obsolete in only a few months.
While the church cannot realistically compete at the "bleeding edge" of the technology curve, neither can it afford to ignore the environment to which most of its people are exposed daily. It is probably not reasonable for the church to be "high tech" at the level of television production, especially when we are more properly called by the Great Commission to be "high touch" as we emphasize meeting needs which individuals feel in this age of isolation, impersonalization, and automation. But we can introduce video productions and computer presentations in order to communicate well. In short, technology must never be a substitute for human relationships, but it can serve as an effective supplement to support and enhance those relationships.
Some areas where these concepts might be applied include:
Computer-based packages such as Microsoft PowerPoint make preparing high-quality, professional presentations for delivery in a variety of ways. Overhead transparencies or slides can be prepared in color, or a computer can be tied directly to a video screen or projector for presentation. The leader can concentrate on content, while the program takes care of the visuals.
Use of computers is especially appropriate with youth and children. Desktop publishing packages take care of many of the details of production, engaging the pupil while leaving the teacher free to focus on encouraging the pupils, guiding them in Bible research, and helping them to relate the lesson to attitudes and life needs.
A key to using any type of technology in the classroom is careful planning and integration of the media into the lesson plan. Never use a video tape or a computer game as a filler. Introduce the activity, make specific assignments for points to watch for during the presentation, and debrief the activity with discussion or follow-up. This keeps focus on the relational emphasis which is the church's real strength and charter.
Presentation packages can be placed in high-traffic areas to promote church activities or used during business meetings to make reports and proposals, and in many other ways to enhance communication inside and outside the church. At Jersey Baptist, we use the World Wide Web to establish a presence in the Internet community. Visit our home page to see one approach. Our address is http://www.jerseychurch.org.
As your church moves into the computer era, security, privacy, and ethical issues also become important. Computer security is needed to preserve critical data and to protect the privacy of your members and prospects. Use secure passwords and control physical access to your church computers. Even with the best of intentions, novice users may accidentally scribble key data or infect your computer with a virus. Establish and maintain a good backup strategy to fully protect your data.
Software must legally and ethically be used as noted in each program's license agreement. Typically this means that you must purchase a separate copy for each computer on which you run the software. Don't try to save a few dollars by "borrowing" a software package from others. Manufacturers are becoming more stringent in their enforcement of copyright laws. Many excellent "shareware" packages are available as well. With this licensing arrangement, you may try the software for a time, after which you must register it for a nominal fee or remove it from your computer.