Open Paris Session 3: Digital Media and Mission

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Session 3 of the Open Paris Conference was From Guttenberg to Zuckerberg: How Social Media is Changing the Church by me.  If you wish to use the powerpoint click here:

 

Of all the messages the world has ever heard from politicians, story tellers, advertisers and more the gospel is still the stickiest.  The good news is that God’s message is your message, which makes your presence and voice online wholly (and holy) indispensable!

I want to challenge you today as a Christ follower to change your mind-set of the way you spend your time online.  I want to challenge you to forgo denomination, to sit in the same pew or row, and write this ongoing story together and share new ways to reach a fragmented world for Christ.

Together, as leaders we can light up the online space.  We can “go” and we can “tell” as Jesus asked each of us to do.  And we can change absolutely everything.

Game Changers

Throughout history, game changers have stepped forward in the faith to affect the way people communicate God’s truth in the culture in which they live.

As far back as 2002, Pope John Paul II got it.  He understood the significance of the Internet and inspired Christians around the globe to embrace it as a way to share Christ with the world.  Here’s what he said in a public speech:

“From this galaxy of sight and sound will the face of Christ emerge and the voice of Christ be heard?  For it is only when His face is seen and His voice heard that the world will know the glad tidings of our redemption.  This is the purpose of evangelisation.  And this is what will make the Internet a genuinely human space, for if there is no room for Christ, there is no room for man … I dare to summon the whole Church bravely to cross this new threshold, to put out into the deep of the Net, so that now as in the past, the great engagement of the Gospel and culture may show to the world, ‘the glory of God on the face of Christ.”

Communication channels have changed radically since Moses walked down the mountain, stone tablets in hand.  Old Testament scribes wrote on parchment made from treated skins of sheep or goats, and they used pens fashioned from reeds.  The prophets preached in synagogues and countryside’s.  Later, Paul wrote his letters on scrolls of papyrus and gave them to friends who would deliver them to the churches in other cities.

Little did Paul realise the frenzy that would kick up on the other side of his prison bars as game changers emerged, ready to take up the charge of the gospel.  Generations of followers communicated the gospel with various tools.  In 1440 the printing press changed everything as Bibles went from locked archives to retail.

In 1517 Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the University Church in Wittenberg and changed the game again.  Religious tracts were used as major channels throughout the turbulence of the Protestant Reformation.  John Calvin wrote, debated, and preached tirelessly during the Reformation.  In the eighteenth century, John Wesley travelled 250,000 miles by horseback in his efforts to spread the Word, and he preached in open fields to as many as twenty thousand people at a time.

In 1922 Aimee Semple McPherson preached what is believed to be the first radio sermon.  Christian writers such as A.W. Tozer and C.S. Lewis followed with critically important writings through World War II.  Passionate game changers such as Dwight Moody and Billy Graham also shared the gospel over the radio waves.  Television and revivals catapulted the reach of Billy Graham’s ministry.  His first television crusade generated 1.5 million letters to the television station, confirming the power of that medium.

Bill Bright was another game changer when he wrote The Four Spiritual Laws, the most widely distributed religious booklet in history, and later commissioned The JESUS Film, one of the most influential films ever made.  The renowned documentary on the life of Christ has reached more than 6 billion people in 234 countries and has been translated into one thousand languages.

But just because a technology evolves, there is no guarantee that a demand will support it.  Remember the Microsoft Zune?  The Apple Cube?  Google Buzz?  You don’t remember the technology failures because they failed.  Multiple factors can be attributed to why social media has grown so rapidly, including cheaper broadband, a fire to innovate and the global economy shift.  As unprecedented economic, political, and social factors continue to fragment continents, cities and even homes, words such as connection, community, and relationship increasingly dominate the conversation.

To explain this in statistics it took radio thirty-eight years to reach fifty million users; television, thirteen years; the Internet, four years; and the iPod, three years.  In just a nine month period, Facebook added one hundred million users, and downloads of iPhone applications reached one billion.

Still think using social media is a passing fad or another waste of time?  You may soon join the ranks of these leading, albeit well-meaning, thinkers:

  • “Everyone acquainted with the subject will recognise it as a conspicuous failure.”  Henry Morton, president of the Stevens Institute of Technology on Thomas Edison’s light bulb, 1880.
  • “The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad”  The president of the Michigan Savings Bank advising Henry Ford’s lawyer not to invest in the Ford Motor Company, 1903.
  • “Remote shopping, while entirely feasible, will flop – because women like to get out of the house, like to handle merchandise, like to be able to change their minds.”  Time, 1966
  • “While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming.”  Lee DeForest, American radio pioneer, and inventor of the vacuum tube, 1926.
  • “Transmission of documents via telephone wires is possible in principle, but the apparatus required is so expensive that it will never become a practical proposition.”  Dennis Gabor, British physicist, 1969.

Broadcast to Social Media

In the five hundred years or so between the inventions of the printing press and the Internet, we have lived in a broadcast media environment of books, radio, newspapers, and television.  These media served as highly effective platforms for sending a single, well-crafted, attention-getting message out to as many people as possible.  But broadcast media afforded little opportunity for feedback or discussion, except, perhaps, for letters to the editor.  In the church, we have used this one-to-many broadcast communication model in sermons, printed newsletters, letters from the Rector, and broadcasting worship services on Radio 3 or Songs of Praise.

Social media represents a profound shift in this model.  Today, almost anyone can publish a blog, have a YouTube channel, and host their own podcast – in effect an internet based radio station.  Anyone can comment on, extend, qualify, discuss, and share a clergy’s sermons.

In the era of broadcast media, the most influential ministry platforms tended to be those of large cong

Digital Children: Q&A with Bishop Paul Butler

Q&A with Bishop Paul Butler at the Digital Children conference:

Why is it that most Vicars only receive 1 seminar on children’s ministry in 3 years of full-time training?  Wouldn’t disagree with you, keep arguing and don’t seem to get anywhere.  Heads of Theological colleges began to take it on board but changing the culture takes time.

In Australia people are licensed as a Children’s Minister or Youth Minister – everything rises and falls on leadership – why are we not empowering on this?  The last year or two of CYM has struggled to get its numbers in the Children’s Course and the number of churches that are employing a children’s specialist.  If All-Age becomes the sustainable model do the training colleges begin to slim down?

Churches seem to struggle to find the calibre of workers should we employ from abroad?  But the Border Agency would not welcome this.

Refreshing to have a Bishop who gets it – don’t take that for granted – for many a children’s worker issues of leadership are real.  How do we encourage leadership generally from sentiment and rhetoric to meaningful action?  Show me a budget and I will tell you what your focus, but let’s be honest in our accounting so that we include volunteer hours.  Honestly don’t know the answer which is one of the frustrations.  Chair the Joint Liaison Safeguarding Group between CofE and Methodists – one of the positives is that Bishops are now waking up to the seriousness of the situation and to the wider issue of where are headed with childhood.  One of the things might be to find different ways in – coming from another angle people are now willing to speak about The Good Childhood etc.  Alongside Safeguarding try Parenting and Grand-Parenting skills.

Youth worker seeking ordination thinks schools and community work has to stop – that you graduate from children’s and youth ministry to focus on the grown-up issues of weddings, funerals and more.  Part of that is about placing Ordinands with Vicars and Rectors who get it.  It is still depressing to hear that said especially given how we now say bring your business skills, or teacher skills or social work skills.  In some Dioceses the do a weekend to train Curates on Children’s and Youth ministry.

Parishes that are having the most significant success are those that are tackling the issues of poverty – for churches doing football etc., they were feeding children, building better homes and more.  We can ask for more children’s workers but it is about missiology and the child piece in that.  It is not rocket science to look at what works for the community, 8am service was to allow the workers to milk the cows, do the service and then go back to cook lunch whilst the Lord and Lady attend the 10.30am.

Half churches aren’t engaging in children’s and youth work – there is a sense of larger churches growing due to their churches – thereby leading no people to lead that work.  How do we solve this?  There are schemes to get a part-time worker; maybe it is okay for some churches to not have children’s work as some areas have a demographic where there are very few children and so should focus on the elderly etc., and partner with a local place for the few children; ecumenical partnerships will be increasingly important.

Sticky Faith talks about involvement in all areas of the church being key for faith development, but All-Age Worship is often the worse attended, committed to it as a principle but how do we shake that image.  The only way is to shake it up by having an all-age group to plan the all-age worship to think how the different ages etc. work as too often it is child worship not all-age.

We are still focussed on aspirations – children and young people who go to university – half don’t so how do we connect with them?  So much is connected to those who go off to university, and we have to go back to Rakes with the Sunday School movement and the Ragged Schools – what is the equivalent for us – Glee Club and where we can raise aspirations.

Greatest cricketer in Viv Richards asking a guy in his congregation who was a poor county cricketer to improve him.  How?  He watched and spotted and commented it and left it to Viv to make the changes.

Digital Children: Bishop Paul Butler

Bishop Paul Butler led the next session at the Digital Children conference:

Children in attendance at church has been in decline although in 2011 Baptist numbers were up and the CofE numbers were just about steady

Sales of Sunday School materials are in decline, wider materials such as Bible reading notes etc. are also in decline.

Half of all churches have little or no contact with children, and more than half have little or no contact with young people.

Schools

Our engagement with schools is stronger than it has been for a number of years, and the opportunity is there.  We all know it can vary from Head teacher to Head teacher, but the options are there, especially if we are creative.  Why is Open the Book so successful?  It says you don’t need to be young, it is dramatic, it is creative, people enjoy it, and it tells the Bible stories very faithfully.  Too many churches still think engagement with schools is taking assemblies even though they haven’t been called that for a long time – it is running gardening clubs, breakfast clubs, after-school clubs.

Messy Church

Lots of research but no one knows why it works.  It is the willingness to explore the questions as to what it looks like – what do the sacraments look like in Messy Church, how does it change from a monthly event to a lifestyle – trying things out some of which work and some of which don’t.  Whilst in Walthamstow, was told by a Superintendent from the police the problem is that we have to know it works before we will try it.  Messy Church will continue to grow and variants will develop, e.g. Godly Play in prisons and Alzheimer’s work.

Toddler and Carer Groups

They continue to flourish at extraordinary rates – very quickly parents are asking for wisdom on how to parent and bringing children up spiritually.

Church Clubs

Still a huge role for places where children can enjoy, run around, be free to explore.  But we need to explore BGT and XFactor which is dance, drama and comedy – why aren’t we doing more Glee Clubs etc.

Sport culture

150 years of football which local churches started.  Southall is a town of 7,000 inhabitants, on Sunday morning there are 500 young people in the local football club.  Why are churches not freeing adults to go and be at Southall Town FC – don’t set up your own clubs.

Mentoring

Single parent families seeing so many young people growing up with no male role model, where does the church fit in with mentoring.

Residentials

We need to grow these further, interesting conversations from schools visits with senior staff about how they matter to the life of schools and how funding limits could cause problems.  We need to help churches grow their residentials, also including families.

Church Worship

Churches will move to all-age as the norm, what Mary Hawes does in Teddington with 25 minute services is going to be important.  Sustaining Sunday groups as they are in the current format is near impossible.  We may even see the beginning of Sunday afternoon school again as seen in the development of the Messy Church timings.

Poverty

In 2011 Paul’s diocese was the fastest growing, one common feature is they engage with the local community for the sake of the community not for bringing people into the church.  We need to work alongside Sure Start, social workers, schools etc., as the poverty issue is going to be the one that will run as there is a growth in child poverty, even the government are admitting that 250k extra children will fall into child poverty due to Welfare Reforms.

Get the Story Out

We have to get the story of Jesus out into people’s lives.  We have to use digital resources but look at low tech not high tech in the sense of YouTube, Facebook, Gavin Tyte’s beatboxing – not technically brilliant, mass market and massively possible.  We want some people who are brilliant at high tech but we have to get the message out.  This doesn’t just apply to children’s and youth work – it is the whole work of the church.

Which are the stories that will connect?  Paula Goodyer and Paul Butler are working on a book for 2014 taking a dozen bible stories with Bible scholar and passionate children’s worker reflecting together on the stories.  There is the whole of the Bible not just the favourite bits which are often mis-represented in the way they are told and dumbed down.

Don’t give up on evangelism with children – who knows what we might be sowing for the long-term.

Digital Children: From Clay Tablets to iPads

Dave Roberts  carried on the Digital Children conference with Clay Tablets to iPads:

Watching a programme about impressionist paintings was like watching paint dry, but was surprised and became hooked to the four programmes in the series.  The presenter spoke about howthe artists wanted to paint the ordinary things.

They were aided by several things

  • Tube technology for storing paint came into being
  • Someone invented an easel that you could fold up and take with you
  • The railways were invented so people could travel to do the Normandy scenes
  • The brushes changed allowing the daubing to take place.

What is the core of who we are?  God the Father, Jesus the Son, work and nature of the Holy Spirit.  But John 1 with the word becoming flesh is pivotal.  Words capture faith – who we are and what we believe.

  • How has culture dealt with words, how have Christians dealt with words?
  • Are we early adopters of technology with words.

Clay Tablets

Or tablets of stone, the 10 Commandments were handed down on tablets and still guide us now.  Lots of storytelling was done in hieroglyphics and picture form on clay tablets – much of which we morally wouldn’t agree with; recorded debt – each bit scratched off and then the tablet is broken when the debt is paid is a legitimate purpose but often turned out to be illegitimate; literacy related to the devout who formed schools for children to learn – honey on lips – honey on the tablets for the letters which they picked out with hteir fingers.

Scrolls

The medium for the scene was Jesus picking up a scroll and reading Isaiah saying this is what he had come to do.  This suggests Jesus had literacy skills.  The children were taught to read so they could read the scrolls – but in reality they were asked to memorise the first five books of the Bible.  The oral tradition was very strong – some countries the Christians learn scripture by memory in case they have their Bibles taken off them by persecuting governments.

Paul writes epistles on the scrolls and uses them to help believers.

Mass Teaching Needs

The reformation was important as it allowed dissent from one theological view – John Wesley was key for this and was influenced by Zinserzolf.  But Zinserzolf was in rebellion against monastic scholasticism, and wanted ordinary people to meet in homes and begin to understand the Bible.  Out of this comes a push for mass literacy.  In pietistic communities they start to educate the girls as well as the boys.  In general literature we see references to blackboards enabling teachers to communicate on a highly visible surface.

The move to mass literacy needs equipment

Then something happened coming from Wesley based around the Clapham Sect who said they would help Wilberforce to abolish slavery, then led to the formation of the NSPCC and the RSPCA, the Religious Tract Society and the Bible Society.  We saw a tension between the Bible, Pilgrims Progress etc., against books on the Occult, witch craft.  All of the big publishers came from Christian movements, e.g. Harper Collins, Hodder & Stoughton, Mills & Boons.

Mass literacy through organisations such as the London City Mission breaks the hegemony of a particular view point bringing democracy and equality.  This needs tools – clay was discovered to develop pencils.

Tell me a story

Mass literacy is an important aspect in the story telling.  Telling the story through pictures came through television and flannelgraph.

There must be an alternative

The CUBE project of the 1950s was The Eagle, started by a Anglican Vicar who believed children’s minds were being poisoned by comics and felt that the church had an inadequate response.   The first print run had 900,000 with Dan Dare being a manly vicar or parson.  The back page had a story linked to the Apostle Paul.

Tell me the story with moving pictures

Christians got involved in moving pictures telling great stories with good skills, leading to Veggietales in the Charts and films in the Cinema.

Conclusion

The Word is the Word is the Word.  Sometimes used for desperately hurtful purposes but equally for building up.  We’ve been in the business of using technology from forever.  Taking information away from elite groups and onto the wider population.

Digital Children: Children meeting God – in the digital realm

Maggie Barfield spoke on Children meeting God – in the digital realm

“… people with a story to tell are finding: that to tell it, they need not only to entertain their audience, but to involve them, invite them in, let them immerse themselves.”  The Art of Immersion, Frank Rose (editor of The Wired), Norton 2011

We have the stickiest story so we need to involve, invite, and immerse them.

CUBE: Working together with the American Bible Society to help 8-11s grow in their faith online.

Doing it because of the Great Commission.  Christians have done this for 2,000 years.

Most children aged 8-11s spend 2 hours online a day so if we’re going to fulfil the Great Commission we need to go online and speak their language.  Instead of telling them what to do we ask them “what should you be doing?”  “What should we be doing to help children meet God through the Bible and prayer?”

Looked at all the areas of child development, in faith and spirituality, ways of handling the Bible, where education and learning styles is going, technology developments – tablets didn’t exist when initial project started, safety and child protection.  Digital delivery quite quickly came

Marc Prensky, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, 2001: “think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors … are ‘native speakers’ of the language.

“Digital natives …”

  • Used to receiving information really fast
  • Like to parallel process and multi-task
  • Prefer their graphics before their text
  • Prefer random access (like hypertext) – finding things on Wikipedia that are irrelevant
  • Function best when networked
  • Thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards
  • Prefer games to “serious work”.

“a new type of narrative is emerging – one that’s told through many media at once in a way that is nonlinear, that’s participatory and often game-like, and that’s designed above all to be immersive.  This is “deep media”: stories that are not just entertaining, but immersive taking you deeper …”  The Art of Immersion, Frank Rose (editor of The Wired), Norton 2011

Justin Barrett from Fuller Theological Seminary says:

“Children learn things that their minds are tuned to learn more readily than things that go against that natural tuning … children’s minds are not a level playing field.  They are tilted in the direction of belief.”

Faith can be …

  • Shaped by teaching
  • Enhanced through response
  • Grown in community

This is all works when we live in a digital age.

Product definition

Our solution is to pursue a site that is child-focussed including gaming, entertaining and information.

“This stage of development has been called by some “the age of the young scientist” in that it is a time when things are either right or wrong.  It is also a period of considerable spiritual awareness.”  Howard Worsley, A Child Sees God

Everything we are aiming to do through CUBE can be done through a Virtual World, innovations that game writers are surprised by, finding new ways to tell and explore Bible stories with a genuine response in the online environment.  Doing some new work on the metrics and indicators of faith.

Matters Arising

  • How do you “reward” activity in a digital world – it’s normally for shooting or killing something!
  • Avoiding the anticlimax – revolutionary fun and then the Bible story – interesting and challenging.
  • Grace – how do you share this concept of God’s grace against the
  • Moving between game and beyond-game – and back.
  • Balance between fun and purpose.
  • Who am I?  Is it real or not?

Are we nearly there yet?

Done a lot of research and thinking.  Ready to press the button, but there isn’t much to show.  Want to have something available to the public in January 2014 to build an audience, and next April launch fully, scaling up the site from then on.

www.projectcube.org

www.facebook.com/ProjectCube

Digital Children: From Guttenberg to Zuckerberg: How Social Media is Changing the Church

Here’s my Digital Media PowerPoint and the text from my presentation at the  the Digital Children conference:

Of all the messages the world has ever heard from politicians, story tellers, advertisers and more the gospel is still the stickiest.  The good news is that God’s message is your message, which makes your presence and voice online and that of the children and young people we work with wholly (and holy) indispensable!

I want to challenge you today as a Christ follower to change your mind-set of the way you spend your time online.  I want to challenge you to share new ways to reach a fragmented world for Christ.  Together, we can light up the online space.  We can “go” and we can “tell” as Jesus asked each of us to do.

Game Changers

Multiple factors can be attributed to why social media has grown so rapidly, including cheaper broadband, a fire to innovate and the global economy shift.  As unprecedented economic, political, and social factors continue to fragment continents, cities and even homes, words such as connection, community, and relationship increasingly dominate the conversation.

Broadcast to Social Media

In the 500 years or so between the inventions of the printing press and the Internet, which Dave will explore later, we have lived in a broadcast media environment of books, radio, newspapers, and television.  These media served as highly effective platforms for sending a single, well-crafted, attention-getting message out to as many people as possible.  But broadcast media afforded little opportunity for feedback or discussion.  In the church, we have used this one-to-many broadcast communication model in sermons, printed newsletters, letters from the Rector, and broadcasting worship services on Radio 3 or Songs of Praise.

Social media represents a profound shift in this model.  Today, almost anyone can publish a blog, have a YouTube channel, and host their own podcast.  Anyone can comment on, extend, qualify, discuss, and share a sermon.  With today’s technology, you can reach in minutes, and even seconds, the physical ground that the apostle Paul and other game changers covered in years. 

Sheer size of Social Media

The sheer size of social media is huge:

  • Facebook with 1 billion (and growing) registered users, making it the third biggest country in the world.  Interestingly though for us the largest growing segment of Facebook users are those aged 55 years plus.
  • The average user has 130 friends, spending 24 minutes per day on Facebook, creating 70 pieces of content each month,
  • Each day 460,000 new users sign up to Twitter
  • 110 million tweets are posted each day
  • 37% of active Twitter users use their phone to tweet.
  • There are over 150 million blogs globally.
  • People are engaging video at increasingly higher rates (about 5%) than other social media.
  • Engagement, with video increases with each subsequent generation – for Millennials (18-33 year olds) watching video is the fourth most popular online activity behind email, web search, and social networking.
  • YouTube sees 72 hours of video uploaded every minute.
  • YouTube is also the web’s second largest search engine – people want to see us in action, hear our voice, not just read our words.
  • The average person will watch 5 hours of video a day.
  • Whilst at the Third Lausanne Congress in 2010 we were told that 25% of people coming to faith do so through media on mobile phones.

Following all those statistics it is easy to be over whelmed.  But as Paul challenges us in 2 Corinthians we need to not lose heart, not be crushed, not in despair, not abandoned, not destroyed, as we’ll hear in a moment, if anything the opportunities that we have to share the Gospel are ever increasing in this digital world.

Practicing Digital Ministry

Jesus: The Master of Buzz

Remember the viral buzz generated around The Blair Witch Project back in 1999?  How about the Susan Boyle Britain’s Got Talent audition video?  Don’t forget the explosion of the YouTube phenomenon that is now Justin Bieber, or the hilarious viral e-mail sent each Christmas that allows the whole world to Elf Itself.

We each have the opportunity to give voice to the supernatural acts of God in this day and age.  Everyday believers just like you are already stepping out and adding to Jesus’ phenomenal buzz.

However you want to look at it, as a resident of the twenty-first century you’ve got the potential to wield some serious digital influence – for Christ.  The message is as sticky, as good as it gets.  Sticky content is independent of time, change, and cyberspace.  The Apostle Paul, no doubt a thought leader of his day, knew the message was unlike anything else the world had ever known, and he wrote: “We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives.”

Adapting to technology does not mean you change the message to fit the culture.  The Word of God stands and does not need to be spiced up or watered down to fit the taste buds of any culture or generations.  The Word is as alive and active as it was when God spoke it into existence.  The only thing that you must change is your mind-set about how you must now relate to the culture around you.

Writer and theologian Francis Schaeffer said that “each generation of the church in each setting has the responsibility of communicating the gospel in understandable terms, considering the language and thought-forms of that setting.”  Whilst the technology that we’re being invited to use might be different, in essence I want to encourage you to rely on traditional modes of engaging with people that have served the Christian community well for generations.

Called to Humility

The online world provides the perfect storm for pride to rise up like a toxic tsunami.  To quote C.S. Lewis, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.”  When you think more of yourself, you create a place where pride creeps in, and if you’re not careful, it finds a place to set up permanent residence deep inside you.  As I’ve said earlier, we’re not here to focus on ourselves, but instead to be Jesus’ servant, faithfully sharing his message.

Humility has a gentle tone; it doesn’t condescend or diminish another person’s value.  It doesn’t ignore, marginalise, or favour.  It never criticises or corrects in public, especially over minor things.  Just check out the example of Mo Farah, having won the New Orleans half-marathon, Farah was asked by WSDU presenter LaTonya Norton if he had ever run before.  Farah broke into a smile and replied that he had run a half-marathon before, but that this was his first time running in New Orleans.  Not once during the interview did Norton note Farah’s 5,000 metres and 10,000m gold medal success at the London Olympics, only ever referring to him as the male winner of that half-marathon.  Various people in the twitter world criticised the presenter to which Mo Farah replied: “Just wanna say to everyone being nasty to LaTonya Norton please stop!! She made a mistake like we all do!! She didn’t mean anything by it!”

Caring for God’s People

When Jesus started His ministry, He began to call individuals to “follow” Him.  We see and hear the expression “follow me” or “I’m following …” a lot in the social networking realm, but to date, no one has yet to offer the return on investment (eternity) that Jesus offered.  Once the disciples began following Him, Jesus proved worthy of their trust by being consistently genuine and authentic.  Basically, He cared, and it showed as He walked, talked, prayed, ate, and lived out the highs and lows of daily life with His beloved tribe of twelve.

The same trust, built through consistent, real, one-on-one dialogue, is the goal in our online relationships.  It will be a steadiness of character, a showing up, and a reaching out with a Jesus brand of compassion that will touch hearts for eternity.

It is a paradox of social media that people will share very intimate and sometimes life-and-death matters in social media spaces, even though such sharing becomes immediately both public and permanent.  Today, new loves, breakups, engagements, marriages, divorces, birth and death announcements, health news, and personal locations are all shared online.  Social media therefore can serve as a good “leading indicator” that something is amiss with someone.

I see my Facebook news feed and Twitter stream as place of and occasions for prayer.  People, regardless of faith, in my experience, deeply appreciate these digital expressions of pastoral attentiveness and concern.

We can also actively solicit prayer requests, something we’ve often done with our youth group, in preparation for Parish Prayers on a Wednesday morning – they see that God answers all knee mails!  Interestingly I receive as many prayer request from those who don’t see themselves as Christians as from those who do.

Forming Disciples

Social media is changing the way we learn because it has changed the way we access information and the way we connect with one another.  Scott McLeod, a professor of educational leadership describes it this way: “We no longer live in an information push-out world where we passively receive information that is broadcast out to us by large, centralized entities.  Instead, we now live within multi-directional conversation spaces.”

The ability people have to find out almost anything on Google, Wikipedia or YouTube necessarily changes the role of the ministry leader as an education.  Those in leadership no longer function as “resident theologians” by virtue of any special gnosis or knowledge received in seminary, or from the shelves of the theological books and commentaries in their office.  Instead, in a sea of information, they need to help others to become theologians themselves, inviting people to reflect critically upon all the information they encounter and to engage in discussion with others over that information.

Consider the difference between a sermon and the increasingly popular Pub Theology offered by churches around the country.  In a traditional sermon, a congregation gathers to hear a vicar impart information.  There may be some discussion afterwards in coffee, but the structure of the learning is centred on the teacher who shares their expertise.

By contrast, pub theology is normally facilitated by a “resident theologian” around a table, with everyone having the opportunity to bring something meaningful to the discussion.  Social media presents a similar opportunity – a theological conversation happening in a public place, influenced by the life that is all around it.  This is, of course, entirely consistent with the Latin root of “sermon”, sermo, which means “discussion.”

Building Community

Many people worry that digital relationships will eclipse face-to-face engagement; however, studies show that people active in social networks are more likely to be engaged in face-to-face volunteerism and faith communities.  This is because people who long for community seek it out in many forms, and people who connect in meaningful ways enjoy opportunities to extend that connection in both online and offline settings.  Thus, one of the important roles we have on social network sites is to cultivate a sense of community that moves between both online and offline locales.

Making Public Witness

As we end I want to share with you examples of creative ways to share faith using evangelism.  First off, in Facebook, someone took the time to create Jesus’ account for Holy Week – I’ve used it a number of times in schools and youth work to help young people engage with the Gospel.

Second, Twitter users followed the Natwivity throughout Advent, when different figures from the world’s most famous story wrote 140-character updates each day.  It included Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, the three wise and King Herod.  Natwivity was organised by design company Share Creative and the Evangelical Alliance to bring the 2,000-year-old story to social media platforms.

The Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus video has been seen by over 24 million people on YouTube alone.  It’s a spoken word, a modern poem by a young man highlighting the difference between Jesus and false religion.

Dibden Youth has created an online community through our Facebook page.  We share information on upcoming events with the 96 people who are part of the page, but it goes well beyond using the page simply as a digital bulletin board.  We regularly pray for them, we inspire them with quotes from Christian saints, encouraging them to reflect.  All of this digital engagement reinforces the face-to-face engagement we have with them.  In addition, for example, in Holy Week we saw 21,147 engage in a range of images and videos we shared linked to Easter.  For an average church with a youth group we were able to reach a huge number of people.

Conclusion

The possibilities for the Kingdom in the online world are real, they’re here and now.  The invitation exists for anyone with access to the internet.  Transformation has started, and you are here to be part of it.  The testimonies of grace, forgiveness, redemption, and new life are echoing through cyberspace – if you listen.

Studies show that Christians are online, with their shiny gadgets in hand.  This is a wake-up call prompting you to get intentional about how you spend your time online – connecting, serving and leading the conversation in such a way that others will seek to know Christ personally.