Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The New Theological Design

This blog post is the inauguration of a new stage for Theological Design.  This new stage is both technical and ideological and I am really excited about the direction in which we are going.  The physical changes to theological design are pretty simple.  As you will have noticed with this post, this blog has moved from to  This changeover is to make room for a new website that will be the landing page for will now be a resource website where you can find all sorts of information and resources related to the church's use of technology.

On the ideological front, I have completely revamped my statement on theological design.  This statement is my ideological understanding of the way that the church has incorporated technology in the past and what they need to effectively incorporate technology in the future.  I have completely started from scratch and tried to give an accurate and concise statement of what I currently believe.  This statement will continue to change and grow over time as I continue to study and work with churches.

My goal for this site and for Theological Design in general is to be useful to churches.  I am happy to help out in any way I can.  If you are looking for some information I would be happy to research and write a post to help you out.  If you have a particular book you would like for me to review, I would be happy to do so.  If you want help starting a "technology ministry" I would be happy to consult and share whatever info and insights I can.  Please don't hesitate to contact me and let me know how I can be of use to you.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Review of Audio, Video, and Media in the Ministry by Clarence Floyd Richmond

I recently finished reading Audio, Video, and Media in the Ministry by Clarence Floyd Richmond.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I had some serious concerns about Dr. Richmond's assumptions when I started digging into the book.  Those original concerns were quickly overshadowed as I discovered some of the more immediate problems with this book.  I want to start out this review by saying that I would not recommend this book for anyone.  I will spend a little bit of time running through my list of grievances with this book, but if you take anything away from this review go and buy a different book.  Because this book will most certainly not serve your needs.

Here are my problems with the book as a whole:

Scope of Topic - This book is 129 pages and in that short time Dr. Richmond tries to cover Sound Reinforcement, Projection, Lighting, Audio Recording, Video Recording, Broadcasting, Web Pages, and Networks.  Anyone who knows anything about any of these topics knows that someone would be hard pressed to write a meaningful book about any of these topics in 129 pages, not to mention trying to cover them all in that short span.

Organization - It appears that there is no real organizational scheme to Dr. Richmond's writing.  He jumps from topic to topic and at some points seems to jump back and forth.

Inaccuracies - Perhaps the most frustrating thing for me in reading this book was the inaccuracies and facts that are simply wrong.  Even in the chapter on sound reinforcement (which is Dr. Richmond's area of expertise) there are a couple of facts he throws out that are simply wrong.

Assumptions - Dr. Richmond presents the context he is most familiar with as the assumed context for all churches.  It is clear that Dr. Richmond is used to dealing with large churches that have several staff members, lots of volunteers, and plenty of money to throw at these issues.  I would suggest that a lot of the things that Dr. Richmond presents as gospel truth would not work as described in most (if not all) of the church contexts I have ever dealt with.

Level of Detail - While the length of this book and the breadth of its subject matter suggest that it should be a broad overview of the topics, Dr. Richmond goes into a substantial amount of detail on some things while completely glossing over other topics.  The seemingly random way that he switches back and forth in level of detail makes this book inadequate both as a general overview of these subjects and a technical manual on how to pull off any of the subjects mentioned.

Ultimately, if you are looking for a the mechanics of how to do the subjects described I would look for a book specifically on that subject.  If you are looking for resources on a philosophy for building these ministries you are pretty much out of luck.  I have not found any good books that cover the philosophical, liturgical, and theological concerns that go along with building these ministries.  I hope one day to write that book myself.  For the moment, I will be covering these sorts of topics on this blog.  Please feel free to contact me if there is a specific topic you would like for me to cover.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Chromebook As a Tool for Churches

Because of the flexibility and the price of a Chromebook it makes for an ideal tool that could be utilized by churches if they have the imagination.  I would imagine that churches would be drawn to the $250 price tag while they would probably shy away from the change in thinking that would have to happen in order to make the use of a Chromebook in their situation.  I would like to put forth a few potential uses that I can see for churches that would like to add Chromebooks to their ministry tool kits.  As with all tools there are certain things that the Chromebook is well suited to and there are certain things that it is not well suited to.  Churches should consider their own ministry needs and their congregational identity when they assess how a tool will fit into their ministry.

A Note About Management:
One of the things that makes the Chromebook an ideal tool for ministry is the way that a deployment of many Chromebooks can be easily managed.  Google offers a web-based management console where a company, school, or church can manage a deployment of Chromebooks in any size.  This tool makes it easy to install or block apps over many Chromebooks, view the usage of your deployment, configure network access for many Chromebooks.  If you are looking at using Chromebooks in your ministry I would highly recommend that you check out the management console.

Potential Uses for Churches:

Tutoring Programs - When I was younger, my mom ran a tutoring program at our church for local inner city kids.  As a part of this program, a bunch of people donated their old computers and we had a suite of academic DOS programs and games that the students could play with their tutor during a period of the tutoring night.  The Chromebook is an excellent tool for younger students to learn on.  The ability for each of the students to create a Google account means they will have all of their individual apps on any Chromebook (or on any computer with a Chrome browser for that matter).  If your church wants to invest even more in local youth you could give a Chromebook to some local inner city kids or even have a checkout system for students so they can check out a Chromebook to work at home.  The price tag means that if a Chromebook gets lost, stolen, or broken it is not the cost of a full computer to replace it.

Church Staff - As I have mentioned previously, I am a huge fan of the Google Apps Suite.  Google Apps for business are an easy and incredibly powerful way to manage your domain and increase productivity.  Google apps allow easy sharing of documents, collaboration and easy storage of everything online.  The way of doing things with Google apps takes some getting used to if you use traditional desktop computing apps, but with a little bit of training and encouragement Google apps can change the way a church runs.  A Chromebook can be a natural extension of the Google apps suite.  The Chromebook can be given to staff members as an additional computing device alongside a desktop computer, or could even be the primary computing device for certain staff positions.  The close Google apps integration can keep the staff connected and collaborating on the go.  If a church wanted to go with a slightly more radical model they could give each of their staff members a Chromebook and have a couple of communal computers for those tasks that require a more traditional computer.  This could be accompanied with a more open model of church offices where there is a lot of open working space and some conference rooms.  In this environment staff could be portable and just find a place to plop down and work.

Volunteers - The price point of the Chromebook also could allow it as a tool that could even be given to volunteers as a tool to accomplish their work for the church.  This is not that much different from the way that a Chromebook could be used with the church staff, but a Chromebook could be a way to honor volunteers by giving them a tool to help them do the work that they do for the church.  This is nice because it can empower volunteers to be more productive and it won't break the bank for the church.  Obviously, this wouldn't work for all volunteers at a church but it could be a way to honor and empower a few key volunteers.

Internet Classes - This might be a nice ministry opportunity for the older members of a congregation and the community around.  Most older people are aware that their grandchildren and in many cases their children live and communicate on the internet.  A Chromebook provides a very simple interface to the web and with a little bit of instruction it could be a good way for older people to stay in touch with their younger family members.

Worship - The Chromebook as a tool in worship is a little bit more out there.  For those churches that are interested in trying new things in worship it could provide some very interesting opportunities.  For instance, you could set up a station where people can tweet their prayer requests.  This could even be tied in to a projection system and tweeted prayers could then be broadcast on the screen for members of the congregation to pray.  This also is a cool way that the congregation can connect to the greater world.  If you are not comfortable with the twitter integration you could do a modern twist on the more traditional prayer station where you have a google form where a person can submit their prayer request.  Theoretically, a Chromebook could be used at any place in a service where paper is used.  It is obviously not practical for all of these applications, but it could be an interesting way to incorporate technology into the service and in the right setting it could be very effective.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Chromebook in Practice

In my previous posts on the Chromebook I expressed how excited I am about the Chromebook, I gave you an honest (but certainly biased) review of the Samsung Chromebook, and I told you that I would like to work the Chromebook into my personal work flow.  Today I would like to express how I see the Chromebook fitting into my personal workflow.

As I have mentioned in my previous posts, I consider myself a power user when it comes to computers.  I do a fair amount of Computer Aided Drafting, as well as Video and Sound Editing.  As such, I thought I would always need a powerful, high end laptop to be able to work on projects on the go.  The one thing that made the Chromebook a feasible part of my work flow is the fact that there are multiple ways to remote control another computer from a Chromebook.  To be clear, I don't think that I could use the Chromebook as my only computer, but I can do 90% of the work I have to do on a daily basis on a Chromebook.  For the rest of the work I have to do I can remotely control my home or work computer to complete the tasks.  I will point out here that I recently found out about a number of apps in the Chrome app store for video, audio and photo editing as well as a solution for coding in chrome.  I haven't played with them yet, but these apps have the potential to let me do most of what I need to do without a complex work around.  There is also an app in the chrome web store for programming, so if you are a programmer and that is a deal breaker for you there is a solution for that.  For a list of cool apps to check out look at this article.

I have just purchased a Samsung Chromebook (in fact it arrived in the mail yesterday!)  I will keep my Macbook Pro until it finally dies (It is about 4 years old right now), but I will likely keep it plugged up on my desk most of the time.  When that computer finally dies instead of buying another laptop, I plan to build myself a computer.  I just built my first "hackintosh" and I am planning on building a really powerful "hack pro" as my primary computer.  I will point out here that a hackintosh is a great project for someone who is comfortable working with a computer and tinkering to get things working.  A hackintosh is not a good solution for someone who who wants a solution that will work out of the box.  If you need a desktop at home, but do not have the skills or comfort level to build your own machine I would suggest the iMac.  The iMac is an incredibly powerful all in one computer but it is also reasonably priced for a mac.  I would highly recommend buying a desktop computer of some kind for your "main" computer because you generally get more bang for your buck with a desktop computer.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been searching for a good solution to remote control my computer.  There is a version of VNC viewer in the Chrome web store, but it is not compatible with the processor in the Samsung Chromebook.  I found Chrome Remote Desktop in the chrome webstore and it could not have been easier to get up and running.  This installs from the chrome web store on the Chrome browser on any computer, but installs as a utility (at least on the mac).  Once it is installed and set up to be accessed you assign a pin to the computer and you can control it by signing into Chrome Remote Desktop on any computer that has a Chrome web browser and access to the internet.

The internet issue is one that can be challenging.  If there is no access to the internet, then a Chromebook becomes all but useless.  It is still possible to work on a Chromebook offline, but you are very limited in what apps and documents you have access to.  Most likely you have wifi at home and at workand there are many restaurants and businesses that offer free wifi to customers.  Hopefully this will cover a great majority of your everyday life.  This Chromebook offers free sessions on GoGo inflight wifi, so if you are traveling you will be able to access the internet on planes.  If you fly a lot, GoGo offers a few subscription options, so you might consider subscribing.  That just leaves anywhere on the ground where there is not free wifi.  There are tons of options from your cellular provider, they make wireless hotspots and most smart phones can also be used as a wireless hotspot.  My solution for this problem is an Android app called FoxFi which will allow any Android phone be used to connect to the internet.  Most phones will support a wifi hotspot through FoxFi, but even if your phone won't work as a wifi hotspot you can connect via usb or bluetooth.

These are simply my thoughts and suggestions on how I can make a Chromebook workable for me.  How would you make a Chromebook work for you?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Review of the Samsung Chromebook

For those of you that are not familiar with the idea of a Chromebook, it is Google's attempt to create what a netbook truly should be.  In order to accomplish this feat Google created an operating system that was designed to provide as little interface as possible between a person and the web.  Google built the OS around their suite of web apps which serve the same purpose as many traditional computer applications.

The Samsung Chromebook is the more expensive chromebook on the lower end of the price scale and at $250 it is a great deal.  You can see all the specs on the link above, but basically it has a minimal solid state drive and 2GB of ram.  It has an 11.6" screen and with a USB 3.0 port, a USB 2.0 port and an HDMI port as well as an SD card reader.  This model also comes with 100GB of extra storage for Google Drive for 2 years and 12 Free sessions of GoGo Inflight Internet.

The Good:

Speed - The Chromebook is pretty snappy with most tasks.  It boots up and navigates quickly.  The speed is somewhat dependent on the network, but assuming you have solid internet access the Chromebook is speedy all around.

Battery - The battery life is good and solid.  The information page touts 6.5 hours.  I have not used the Chromebook straight through the day, but I have been charging it at night and using it throughout the day.  It seems like computer uses almost no power while asleep.  The 6.5 hours stated on the website seems to be 6.5 hours of constant heavy use.

Size - At 11.6 inches this computer seems much more spacious than I expected.  I have used netbooks before at 10.5 inches they always seem small and unusable.  Considering this is only an inch larger than most netbooks it is comfortable and usable as a computer.  I think this has mostly to do with the full sized keyboard and the good HD screen.  The Chromebook is also thin and light, I would call it ultra portable.

Apps - The app store is also much better than I expected.  There are tons of useful apps in the chrome webstore.  Outside of a few very specialized and resource intensive programs, it is likely that you will be able to find an app in the appstore that will serve your needs.  It is important to note here that apps on the chrome  store are not like apps you download on your phone or Mac.  What Chrome refers to as apps are really online apps.  Most of the apps are simply shortcuts to a web service.

Web Integration - Because most of the work done on a Chromebook is  on the web it means that you don't have to worry about backing up or losing your data.  Everything is on the cloud and if your computer breaks or you are in a place where you don't have your Chromebook you can access your data on any computer through a web browser.

Price - I know I have mentioned this multiple times before, but this computer only costs $250.  That is cheaper than just about any other computer.  That means at some level, this is a disposable computer.  If your Chromebook gets lost, stolen, or broken you simply buy another one.

The Challenges: (I refer to these as "the challenges" rather than "the bad" because I see these as things that can be overcome with a little bit of imagination.  In my next blog post I will talk a little bit about how I plan to overcome some of these challenges for myself.)

Flimsiness - This computer is light and thin, but it is also clear that this computer is not hardened to survive a lot of wear and tear.  That is part of the trade off for getting an ultra portable computer that is also very reasonably priced.  The flimsiness does increase the chance that you will need to replace your Chromebook at some point.  That also means that this model of Chromebook might not be the best choice for the accident prone and children who have the tendency to be hard on electronics.

Small Storage Size - One of the things that is a strength of the Chromebook is also one of the challenges for me.  I use certain applications for Computer Aided Drafting, Music Editing, and Video Editing that simply cannot run on a Chromebook.  This means that if I have to work with one of those programs on the go, then I need to get creative.

Internet Access - This particular model of Chromebook is a wifi only model, so you need to be connected to wifi in order to access most things.  There are a few apps that work offline, but in order to do much you need to have internet access.  There is free wifi in most places and Google is clearly anticipating this need with the offer of free GoGo Inflight Internet sessions.

Presentation - The only Video output that this Chromebook has is an HDMI output.  While this will work with HDTVs and more modern AV systems, it is far from standard.  Chrome has a default presentation app that is similar to Microsoft Powerpoint and you can also get apps for Presi and other simple presentation software.  If your primary use of a portable computer is for doing presentations then you will want to look at one of the other Chromebook models with a VGA port or a more traditional laptop.

Overall the Samsung Chromebook is is a pretty solid computer.  It is small and lightweight and still feels like a real usable computer.  It is snappy and works pretty well for most tasks, but there are certainly some challenges that one needs to overcome if they want to make the most of a chrome book.  For the majority of users a Chromebook could easily serve most, if not all, of their computer needs.  Using chrome OS, and the cloud can be an adjustment, but I think that most people will be happy with the results once they get used to it.

What are the obstacles that would keep you from using a Chromebook?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Why I Want to Switch to a Chromebook

From the time that I first heard about them a few years back I have been intrigued with the idea of Google's Chrome OS and the Chromebook.  Up until recently, that fascination had simply to do with the fact that I am a geek and the idea of an operating system that was totally internet based seemed like it would be a cool system to play around with.  I have been a big fan of Google apps and now that I am at a school that uses Google apps I have made them part of my daily routine.  Even after all this, I thought that I could never make a Chromebook a usable part of my routine.

As cool as the idea of chrome OS was, I am a power user and I regularly need access to a couple of special applications.  I thought that as awesome as Chrome OS is and as much as I wanted to tinker with it, I thought it would never replace my Macbook pro.  About a week ago all of that changed.

My school has a 1 to 1 program for students in the middle and upper schools, and we have recently begun to consider the idea of adding 1 to 1 Chromebooks for at least a few of the grades in the lower school.  As part of this consideration the school bought a couple of Chromebooks so we can see how they work.  I was lucky enough to get one of Chromebooks to test out.  I absolutely love it!  And the best part of this Chromebook?  It only costs about $250!  I have decided that a Chromebook will become an important part of my workflow from now on.  In a couple of future posts I will talk a little bit about the advantages of the chrome book and how I plan to successfully move from a Macbook pro to a Chromebook as my primary laptop computer.

Have you had a chance to play with a Chromebook?  What did you think of the user experience?  Is it something you can see yourself including in your workflow?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What Does "Media Ministry" Mean?

In my previous post I discussed what I feel is assumption that is underlying the book Audio, Video, and Media in the Ministry by C. Floyd Richmond which I feel are also the underlying assumptions of the mainline denominations when it comes to technology.  In his introduction there is a subheading labeled "Importance of the Media Ministry Team" where he lays out what he thinks the media team (and by extension media itself) adds to the worship service.  He speaks specifically about sound system and projection.

I find it very interesting that Dr. Richmond includes both sound and AV into what he calls "media ministry."  I would argue that these two jobs should not be included under the same umbrella because these two jobs accomplish different functions within the worship service.  Running sound in a worship service is a strictly technical job.  The sound does not shape the service, it is simply a medium through which the worship leaders can be better heard by the people of God.  AV is more what I would define as media ministry.  The job of a media ministry team is not simply to run a piece of technology.  The media ministry is responsible for creating content that becomes an integral part of the worship service.  As such, media ministry is should be treated with much more care than simply technical ministries.  The media that is created has to be in harmony with the other elements of the worship service or it will create a disharmony that takes away from the worship experience.

When we look at the different potential technical ministries that a church can utilize in  worship, media ministry stands out as different from the rest.  The creation of content in media ministry places this ministry as more a mix between technical and arts ministry.  In order to do their job effectively the media ministry team must both understand how the hardware and software of an AV system work and must understand the aesthetic quality that the ministry team is trying to incorporate into the worship experience.  I think that the "Media Ministry" at a church would more effectively include the AV team and the "Web" team.  Both of these groups are tasked with creating and presenting content that shapes the worship and the public face of a congregation.

What groups does the media ministry at your church include?  Is your media ministry considered a technical ministry or is it considered more of an arts ministry?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Theory of Church Technology

I just started reading a book called Audio, Video, and Media in the Ministry by Clarence Floyd Richmond.  To be completely fair I have only read the first chapter and therefore cannot comment on the book as a whole, but I have some serious issues with some of Mr. Richmond's assumptions.  While I totally agree with what he is trying to do with this book, I think some of the things that he presented as common knowledge speak to some of the assumptions that many churches have when considering the use of technology and therefore can be a jumping off point to talk about some of the problems with these assumptions.

I would like to start out this conversation by what I see as the prevailing assumption about technology in most mainline denominations.  It seems that most mainline churches that want to start using technology have a fundamental assumption that technology will magically make their church relevant and well attended.  To qualify this assumption a little bit, churches seem to mean projection when they mention "technology." It also seems that there is no in depth plan about how that projection will be used within the worship, mission and ministry of a particular congregation.

It seems to me that this fundamental assumption about technology comes from the megachurch movement and the decline of the mainline denominations.  In the 1950s and the 1960s very large churches called megachurches began to gain popularity.  In addition to being large, these churches were (and still are) characterized by their openness for "seekers" (non-Christians exploring Christianity), their use of contemporary worship music, and their use of projection and other entertainment technology in worship.  As megachurches grew in popularity in the United States, the mainline denominations declined.  In the last 20 years mainline churches have desperately looked for ways to increase the number of people that they have in worship on a weekly basis.  Seeing the success of megachurches, mainline church leaders took a look at megachurches to figure out what made them so popular.  For some reason, mainline church leaders grasped onto projection as the thing that made megachurches successful.  These churches simply jumped into the use of projection in worship without analyzing their worship to see how projection might naturally fit in.

The simple fact of the matter is that projection is not the end all be all of worship.  Projection is not going to magically save anyone's worship.  It is possible that projection, when used poorly, can hurt the worship experience of individual churches.  There is a range of technology out there that can enhance worship, but technology will not enhance worship as a matter of course.  The technology available today simply gives churches more tools to use in crafting their worship experience.  Churches who want to use technology need to analyze their worship and understand how a particular piece of technology will fit in with their worship and with their whole identity as a congregation.

In my next few posts, I would like to take some of the simple statements that Richmond presents in Audio, Video and Media in the Ministry and respectfully disagree with them.

Have you experienced worship in a congregation that could benefit from better planning for their use of technology in worship?