How religious institutions harness technology to engage and attract followers.

  1. The reach of institutions is associated with God's power

  2. Facility with modern technology makes institutions more attractive

  3. Widely-used technological tools

  4. Control over the religious environment

  5. Staying connected to God

  6. Global audiences
The reach of institutions is associated with God's power
It’s possible for believers to invoke their personal religious beliefs under practically any circumstance imaginable, if they so choose. On the other hand, it’s much harder for a religious institution to involve itself in all aspects of its followers’ lives.

Religious institutions are representative of God. Believers subconsciously associate the extent of their institution’s influence with the reach of God’s command.

The more aspects of life to which religion is systematically applied, the more believers tend to perceive God as being omnipresent. In nations where religion is institutionalised by the state, this perception is relatively easy to sustain.

If there are areas from which religion is excluded or largely absent, such as school, work, or the family, then believers are more inclined to mentally compartmentalise their interactions with God, by time and place. God, instead of being omnipresent, is confined to settings that are specifically designated for religion.
Facility with modern technology makes institutions more attractive
The same goes for the types of technology that a religious institution uses to engage with its members- if it only communicates through certain media, and leaves out other formats, then religion and God appear to be restricted in scope. Religion is relegated to certain domains and becomes inconsequential in others.

Many religious institutions are upfront about the fact that they depend on followers for their existence. This is particularly so in secular nations, where there are no legal means of enforcing religious statutes. Such institutions make it a priority to communicate with followers and respond to their needs.

When an institution presents information in ways that appeal to young people or the technologically savvy, it demonstrates its ability to keep up with the times. The skilful use of technology indicates that an institution is up to date. Traditional messages, packaged in new formats, appear fresh and dynamic.

This attracts more of these members to the institution, further enhancing its image and adaptability. (Refer to the section on Presentation for more on how the style of delivery influences our perceptions.)
Widely-used technological tools
These are some examples of technological tools used by religious institutions to communicate more effectively and creatively with followers:
  • A carefully designed website conveys a desirable image- that of godliness, spirituality, and authority.

  • Media such as images, podcasts, and video clips of religious proceedings, sermons, and talks, are posted online, or distributed on CDs and DVDs.

  • During services, projectors and screens display visuals such as movies, lecture notes, announcements, and images.

  • High-quality sound systems do justice to good music.

  • Social networking sites, instant messages, text messages, and email, allow rapid communication between members.

  • Digital downloads are produced alongside traditional print materials (ebooks, books, pdf documents, email updates, brochures, newsletters, sermon notes, diaries, calendars, religious scriptures).

  • Religious exams, lessons, and meetings take place through video conferencing using software such as Skype.
Mastery over these channels of communication provides institutions with finer control of the environment in which believers are immersed.
Control over the religious environment
Religious sites and events are often carefully designed to form a particular impression in the visitor’s mind. When believers enter their place of worship, they feel awe, reverence, solemnity, and spirituality.

Everything from the seating arrangement, the architecture, the size of the entrance hall, the temperature, the interior design, the lighting, and the noise levels, can be adjusted to elicit the desired effect. Great control over these settings can be achieved through careful use of technology.

The methods used to manipulate a physical environment, and thereby influence a visitor’s mental state, are well understood and widely used in places such as shopping malls, schools, hospitals, homes, and offices. To control the auditory environment, institutions often use music and sound dampeners. They may prohibit loud conversation.

The visual environment can be using text, images, posters, choice of lighting, clothing, furniture, and layout. Other factors such as the use of air conditioning or heating, the materials used in the building and the interior design, the smell and taste of food and drink, and the presence of welcoming, smiling fellow believers, all contribute to the impression made in the mind of the visitor.

These issues may not be discussed too openly among believers, in case followers find such top-down direction overly contrived and manipulative. After all, people usually prefer their sense of divine wonder to beam directly down from God, and not be primarily due to dazzling but artificial human methods. With some consideration, though, one realises that on many occasions, such human-directed control is prevalent.

Numerous people play their part in the formation of an environment that caters to the believers’ spiritual needs:

Musicians, light and sound technicians, singers, dancers, administrative staff, ministers, architects, interior designers, web designers, software engineers, cooks, parking attendants, and the gatherers themselves.

Little wonder then, given the conscientious efforts of all these people and attention to detail demanded, that many believers readily adopt a God-centred frame of mind when they enter a religious setting, or view the well-designed website of a religious organisation.
Staying connected to God
Today, the widespread use of electronic devices means that believers can stay connected to their religious organisation even if they are not physically onsite. Religion is, after all, often an intensely social affair. Believers form strong bonds during regular religious meetings, but may not see each other frequently otherwise. Mobile devices allow people to maintain close contact and strengthen their ties with each other and with their central religious authorities.

For instance, believers may opt to have religious verses delivered to their inboxes on a daily basis, encouraging them to pray and keep devotion. They may receive updates from their religious institution, alerting them to new activities, services, and gatherings. They may carry out rituals remotely, in the company of onscreen devotees.
Global audiences
Religious institutions are able to reach global audiences with materials that can be easily disseminated online. They establish a web presence and use social media to convey their messages and connect followers. Many advertise their services through physical and online banners and screens, and run advertisements in newspapers and on public billboards, transport vehicles, and buildings.

Location is no longer the limiting factor when it comes to recruiting and reaching believers and potential converts.
  • Believers hold online discussions, run forums, manage websites, and send emails, with minimal entry costs and overhead.

  • Religious teachers can hold classes, administer tests, and collect their fees online, using the requisite learning and video conferencing software.

  • Speakers may post sermons, sell books, and spread their religious beliefs online.

  • Performers put audio and video clip samples on their homepages, promote albums and singles, and advertise their availability for gigs.

  • Architects and designers display their portfolios, and showcase their ability to create spiritually-themed work.
Technology can be employed strategically and powerfully. Whether its effects are desirable or not depends on whether the wishes of individual believers coincide with the aims of the religious organisation.

At any rate, it’s important for us to stay informed about the ways in which individuals can be influenced, and to be aware of how subtly and subconsciously these manmade designs can affect our judgment and behaviour.
comments courtesy of Disqus

background image