Monday, January 24, 2011

Media and the ALC

Lately I've been visiting various ALC church web sites listed on the denomination's church locator page. There are 57 congregations listed there from all across the United States, providing interesting insights into the role that the internet and media plays in this historically media-suspicious branch of Laestadianism. The congregations listed there range from those without any web presence all the way to those that provide advanced multi-media options for viewing, listening, or reading part or all of their church services.

(As an aside, I would love to know if this is an exhaustive list of all current ALC congregations. If it is, it makes the level of media use all the more compelling. Even if it isn't, however, I still think that what follows is interesting. Either way, the list seemed pretty exhaustive to me.)

One thing that struck me was how many congregations had live streaming video, live streaming audio, live telephone dial in, or archived audio or video of the services. It seemed more than a little ironic considering that many of these congregations were strongly opposed to television back in the 60s and 70s, and against the internet in its early days. On the other hand there has always been a role for media. I remember sermons being recorded on audio cassette when I was a kid, and they were circulated widely among those who lived too far away to attend an ALC congregation regularly.

Of the 57 congregations I looked at, 5 have live streaming video feeds over the internet when church is in session. That is nearly 10%!

Hockinson
Ashburnham
Eastside
Lake Worth
Spruce Grove

Of the 57, 4 have live streaming internet audio when church is in session.

New Ipswich
Greer
Hancock
Laurium

For those who may not have an internet connection, there are 4 congregations that provide a local or toll free telephone number and PIN where you can dial in to listen to church while it is in session over a land line or cell phone.

Seattle
New Ipswich
Laurium
Spruce Grove

Eliminating duplicates, that makes 10 congregations out of 57 that provide some means of accessing the church service live without being physically present. That's 17.5% and an astoundingly high number, if you ask me!

Carrying on the audio tape tradition in a modern format, 15 congregations had archived audio, video, or text of past sermons that could be either streamed or downloaded for playback on an iPod or other digital player. That includes some of the congregations with live options, however.

I haven't looked at other denominations in this level of detail, but my gut level reaction is that the ALC is making much heavier use of live streaming media than many other denominations.

I wonder why?

One ALC site I visited stated that they are merely trying to make the gospel as widely accessible as possible. While I don't discount this as part of the justification, there are many other denominations with more evangelical fervor that don't seem to use live streaming media as frequently as the ALC does.

I think the relatively small size of the denomination also plays a role. As with the earlier generation of audio cassette exchange, live streaming media fills a real need for many Laestadians that might live too far away from the closest ALC congregation to be able to attend services regularly.

I also wonder if vestiges of the old Laestadian exclusivism play a role in the demand for this type of "at a distance" access? Where other people might consider switching to a closer or more convenient denomination under these circumstances, Laestadians face a much higher bar where much more is at stake. Viewing services over the web allows them to stay connected even if they are hundreds of miles away from the closest like-minded congregation.

From an ex-Laestadian perspective, I find the streaming sites to be a great asset with a wealth of current information on the state of the denomination. I don't have to waste my time actually attending church services in order to keep up on what's current. If someone tries to sell me on the idea that things are so much different now and better than they used to be, I can test those assertions against written, audio, and video material directed at the flock and not as a sales pitch to backslider outsiders such as myself. :-)

Finally, I wonder what type of unintended consequences will happen as a result of putting the church service online? Will it invite more scrutiny because anyone can see it? Will devout ALCers start skipping church because they can watch it in their bathrobe Sunday morning instead? (or at least claim to?) Will there be more switching between congregations (or even between branches of Laestadianism) because there is now an easy no social cost way to check out other congregations?

15 comments:

  1. Believe it or not, IMO the Michaelson group or the Federation has always seemed to be the most open minded of all of the American Laestadian groups. That is why they have such extremes amongst their various congregational beliefs as they have been more open to disparate views on Biblical interpretation. Hence, that is why I suspect they have much more of an internet presence than the others as various factions within the movement actually try to take an evangelical stance. I doubt streaming internet services will keep many at home on Sunday morning as the church service itself provides an important social outlet for members. What is also nice is that if you listen to a Laestadian service online you do not have to listen to pleas for money donations like one would hear if they listened to one of the television ministries. Years ago there used to be open rejoicing and also big open public confessions and wailing during some of the services. Public confessions used to happen a lot on communion Sundays as everyone seemed to be terrified of taking communion with some church induced sin on their conscience. I wonder if they stream those thins live too or are they edited? or do those things occur any more? Web outreach can provide an important method of evangelizing as people who would not dare step into a church can at least get a taste of it by watching a service online. I have taken a look at several of their church web sites. I always got the impression for example that Spruce Grove is a nice folksy, family centered, Biblically sound church. Oh yes Tomte I think New Ipswitch is actually spelled New Ipswich. Old AP

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  2. I just fixed the mis-spelling of "New Ipswich." Thanks!

    That's a good point about the public confessions and will they lessen now that the service is being broadcast. I haven't seen one of those since I was a kid but then I haven't been to ALC services regularly in over 20 years either.

    Maybe I'll have to tune in some communion Sunday to see what happens. :)

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  3. Tomte. I have thought of listening to some of the sermons but I never got around to it myself. I read how in another 5 to 10 years people will be able to stream a 3D holigraphic image of a movie into their home. I would guess that in theory a Laestadian minister preaching in Michigan would be able to have his live 3D image transmitted into the pulpit of an Apostolic Church say in Washington State. Or during the Big Summer Services the 3D holigraphic image could be transmitted outside if there was not enough room inside. Kind of scary isn't it? Old AP

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  4. What about LLC, would someone have any views about their attitudes to the Internet and video technology?

    "Mind and sight"

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  5. Anonymous said, 'What about LLC, would someone have any views about their attitudes to the Internet and video technology?' Here is the Laestadian Lutheran Church's web site. Give them a call and ask them: http://www.llchurch.org/

    Old AP

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  6. The llc has live online streaming too. I don't know what their website is but I'm sure it would pop up if you google'd it.

    Their view on internet and video technology is that it is good, there is nothing wrong with it, and can be a good tool. Unfortunately alot of them don't realize that horrible things can be found really easily, and don't moniter their children using it at all. Either that, or they have the attitude that "my child would never look for that". As for having tv's, they are still pretty frowned upon. They have them for video games, and documentaries, and home video's are okay, but cable/dish is considered a sin, and tv's aren't that common in the llc home unless that has changed in the last few years.

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  7. Already in the 1980s they showed the preachers on tv screens in the basement of the Lutheran church they were using for the OALC summer meetings in Lahti, Finland. But that was in the 80s, I don't know if they would do it now. A lot of things have changed in the OALC in Finland during the last couple of decades. The atmosphere was much more liberal in the 80s than it is now.

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  8. Hibernatus said, 'The atmosphere was much more liberal in the 80s than it is now.' I call it the rise of the 'old guard.' It was no different in the decades previous to the '80's. A group of hardliners would rise up and begin to bark up a storm about various issues and then everyone would run for cover and ditch their new accoutrements. This would create even more 'church politics' issues which were in reality basically the same issues as the decade before. Meanwhile the spreading of the Gospel was thrown by the wayside. Old AP

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  9. ex falc says-

    I have never understood how they can allow the internet and frown upon someone having a TV. You can view TV shows on the internet. If you only have access to local channels, there isn't much "bad" stuff you can watch, compared to what is on the internet. I would appreciate someone who thinks this way to explain the biblical basis behind this rational.

    On another note, I heard through the grapevine that a LLC church close to where I live could be loosening the restrictions for kids to participate in school sports activities. Currently, LLC kids do not participate in school sports since it would require associating with "worldly" people, but I think they are realizing that teenage kids with nothing to do actually creates other problems that are worse. Been there, done that!

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  10. Hi ~ I currently attend an ALC church in WA. I would say overall, that the use of live streaming video has been accepted as a useful tool... I think that the ability to see events such as weddings and funerals of relatives and friends across the country has pulled in some of the last hold outs (those who had some mis-guided issues with using video). And it's a little hard for them to argue against the point of reaching more people with the gospel! Of the churches that don't have live video or audio, I would say for 1/2 or more it's a financial issue or the lack of someone to run it. There are still a few congregations that are very legalistic, but I think that for many, good and necessary changes have taken place over the years. The switch to paid Pastors has helped in some areas. But that being said, even in the congregations where the preaching is Biblically sound, there are people within who "keep" the old traditions and "teachings" (if one can call them that!) alive. I think computers and the internet are more accepted because they have more of a purpose (learning tool, social (FB), business etc, while TV's are viewed as strictly entertainment.
    I would encourage you to listen to a service or two from the churches you can access online, and see if you think there have been changes... It would be easier than going to church and having to deal with people (some who WON'T have changed!). Just glancing at the 8 or 9 you listed as having live feed, I think all but 2 are probably going to deliver a sound sermon. (to me, that means we are turned towards Christ and away from self, which also means NO LISTS of do's and don'ts.)
    Hope this helps some...
    Just Me

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  11. The list of congregations on the ALC Federation website is a complete list of the congregations that have membership in the ALC Federation. There are other "congregations" of ALCers that are NOT members of the Federation.

    In Hockinson, when the live video was first implemented, they weren't sure how well received it would be. They received justification for it when an elder pastor (over 90 years old, and one time fairly legalistic) who could no longer attend church regularly due to health extolled the wonders of the live streaming video because by being able to see the face and lips of the preacher, he was able to understand more of the service than just by listening. In fact, he found he got more out of the sermon watching at home than at church because at church he couldn't see the preacher very well!

    (Sorry for the run-on sentence.)

    As far as I know, Hockinson is the only congregation that has provided live video streaming of the Convention when it was hosted in Vancouver WA in 2010. You can still get the archived sermons at www.alcconvention.com under Previous Convention - Media.

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  12. "I haven't looked at other denominations in this level of detail, but my gut level reaction is that the ALC is making much heavier use of live streaming media than many other denominations.

    I wonder why?"


    I think that the congregations that have live streaming media have a fair number of tech-savvy members. Some of them have boards with the temerity to do (non-doctrinal) things without running it by the congregation first, especially when people are willing to donate time & materials to the project.

    It also helps that there are elderly shut-ins with Internet access that enjoy being able to "attend" online when they can't in person. In Hockinson, they will often leave the video camera running until after the service, because people watching online like to see who's there.

    Many of the smaller churches are in rural areas without adequate internet access, or they are old buildings that aren't very secure. This makes it undesirable to leave computer equipment on site, and bringing in and setting up a laptop every Sunday gets to be a drag.

    I know of one congregation that actually banned video cameras back in the 80's, but only because one member insisted on recording the services without first seeking permission. (While the ban has never been officially lifted, video cameras have been allowed at weddings and funerals with a wink and a nod, including the funeral of the aforementioned member.) I think that same congregation might now be receptive, if there were Internet access available at the church.

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  13. Regarding your parenthetical aside, I can't say how exhaustive the linked list is for sure, but since it includes a small congregation like New York Mills, MN, it's probably close.

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  14. Hmmm, I find it interesting that you say you don't have to "waste your time" going to church........what do you mean waste your time? How is going to church a waste of time? Is there a better place to be then in church w/ the saints and sinners?
    with all this "modern technology" where will it lead? In some ways its a blessing when one can't go to church but will it make us lazy? I think we need to examine our hearts in the light of God's Word and be obedient to His Word. God tells us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, that is good instruction right there. It all depends on where the heart is. Where is your heart?

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  15. This is a bit tricky, in my opinion. If we accept the technology as a gift for those who are infirm, or ill, or for whom the distance to church is hard to overcome, then it is wonderful. If the technology is used to avoid going to church, then it's bad. It is the community of believers who are the "church". Jesus said "wherever two or more of you are gathered in my name..." To me, that seems a clear direction that he would want believers to gather, to share and support each other, and to praise him in song and sermon.

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