Came across a good article on using social media in ministry on Rick Warrens Toolbox.
I was reading recently about a minister who was tweeting a communion service. His idea was to take the church out into the world that knows nothing of church. This idea interests me on two fronts because I’m interested in web things and in taking Jesus (this may include the church) out into a world that knows very little of Jesus. There is a big part of me that is excited about this idea and that wants to support it – and possibly a year or so ago I would have done – but now I think it’s just plain wrong.
Communion (aka Eucharist, Lord’s supper, etc) is a physical act
I think web people are often so caught up in the excitement and possibilities of the web that they miss the point that it does not include a physical presence. What I mean is that the web just does not provide a means for people to meet physically and never will (even if we ever manage to create an imitation of physical presence). As a Christian I am forced to accept the simple truth that God created a physical world. God didn’t need to do this, we could all have simply been spiritual beings, but God did. This must mean that there is a purpose to being physical. It also means that the physical world is not something we should be trying to avoid or escape from. This is a big subject but hopefully this gives the gist of what I’m trying to say.
Taking communion is a physical thing. Jesus didn’t need to make communion this way, he could simply have said pray to remember me or talk about my sacrifice and remember me but instead he took something that was a physical act and said do this to remember me.
No matter how much we would rather this was different it isn’t.
Of course, we might argue that people on the other end of twitter (or whatever) are physically present and so is the bread and wine that they use to share in the experience but I think this misses the point that although the physical is present in this way it isn’t the same thing – and so on to my next point.
Communion is about people who are physically together
The church has always pressed the point that one person can’t have communion on their own. You have to share that experience with someone else. I’ve already made the point that communion is a physical thing and now I want to make the point that it is not just the bread and wine that are physical but also it is the physical presence of people that is important. When sharing communion physical presence is part of the deal – you can’t remove this from it. If there is no physical presence then you can’t have communion. In exactly the same way I wouldn’t be having communion with my local church if I was at home and took some bread and wine when my local congregation was taking it.
Being on the other end of twitter (or whatever) doesn’t give you this physical presence.
Communion is also about being together and this is just not possible online. We are present with each other in some ways but not in a physical sense – we just can’t be – and we shouldn’t diminish this truth just for the sake of desire.
Communion is a sacrament
A sacrament, of course, is a physical act for making a spiritual truth real that has been given by Jesus for the church to use (to put it very simply).
My last point is that communion is a sacrament and as such is one of the ways that the church expresses itself. Being connected in some form with others on the web is not the same as being a church. There are things about church that you simply can’t replicate online (the physical presence being one of them of course). We miss the point if we think that simply meeting together (especially virtually) makes a church. I’ve been to plenty of so-called churches that meet physically together and yet are not really a church but that is not an argument for meeting together online and calling ourselves a church.
I also want to make the point that taking communion out in to the world is not really possible. Communion is something that the church does it is not something that we can use to reach out to people who are not Christian. Yes, they can be part of it within a church and it can help to convince people of Christian truth but this is very different from believing we are taking anything out to anyone just because we use modern media to do it.
I suggest anyone who believes that different media is nothing more than a different way to deliver the message explores how media changes a message. An excellent book to read on this is Flickering Pixels by Shane Hipps.
You cannot deliver communion through the web any more than you could give people a book with a communion service in it and say they are taking communion if they read it. There is so much more to this sacrament.
I hate to say it but my deliberations must lead me to the conclusion that online communion is wrong. Far from being a great way to reach out to those outside the church it makes the act of communion too simplistic and removes the elements of mystery and commitment that the act of taking communion involves. We just can’t get around the fact that the web is not a physical place and we never will.
I watched a Bruce Willis film a while back called “Surrogates” where someone invented robots that could replace us in the ‘real world’. The point of the film (whether you like the film or not) was well made in that the surrogates were simply not the same as actually being in the physical world yourself (even if it meant growing old and not looking perfect). We are in danger of going down the route of believing that somehow our web presence is better than our real presence. Christians are well placed to challenge this idea – not to collude with it.
I was reading something the other day that suggested that all new technology is controlled by the young. They cited the example of text speak and how adults don’t understand that kind of thing. They also cited the usual cry of the technologically challenged that if they were a 12 year old they would be able to do it. I don’t agree with this idea.
It is true that young people like to make up languages so they can talk to each other without adults understanding, but this has always been true (as far as I understand it). It is also true that many (not all) young people understand technology that baffles a lot of adults. However isn’t it also true that young people often fiddle with technology a lot more than adults and that many young people don’t think of the consequences of what they do as much as adults do (that is they are far more confident around technology).
I have a 14 year old and a 12 year old and a 10 year old and a 7 year old living in my house and I know and awful lot more about technology and how to use it than they do. This is because I have to deal with it every day and they don’t. I fully admit that I’m not adept with a mobile phone but then I hardly every use one, if I did I would be know how to use it.
This brings me back to the web. Of course there are some things that suit the younger web user rather than the older one but that doesn’t mean that older people are less able to make use of the web. Young people do drive certain ideas and technology forwards as they use it more but this doesn’t mean that they have control over the technology.
In my experience the web is open to all both young and old. There are plenty of older web users that are involved in the development of its new tools and new directions. It is something of an outdated cliche to suggest that young people are the only ones who know about technology and the sooner we can get over this idea the better.
So the next time you are tempted to excuse your ignorance of something technical because you are not young please think again.
This is where people are brought into the church through a process or system defined by the church. This form has operated since the beginnings of Christianity.
The model is that Christians are introduced to the church by parents and are educated within the church about the Christian faith. At a certain point they are then asked to attend confirmation lessons which will, hopefully lead them into a deeper relationship with Christ. They are then confirmed within the church at a special service.
There can be little doubt that this has worked in the past in a more regular form of church. Of course going through a system doesn’t make you a Christian and can persuade someone who has no faith that because it all sounds nice and familiar they must have a faith.
Although the web doesn’t really have this form of evangelism on it the web can have a disruptive effect on this approach. As people explore what they believe it is possible to find all kinds of counter ideas on the web. This can disrupt what a church is teaching – especially where the person has not really had a personal encounter with Christ. The authority of the church is challenged and like all good post-modernists people start to question the churches authority to make a claim to absolute truth.
Churches that still want to use this form of evangelism must take account of what is happening in a world where people have instant access to the web. It is not enough to simply describe what is believed it is now important to give a good answer to why this is believed. But just having an answer to why it is believed is still not enough because now people also want to know if it works. In a society that defines itself by what it owns or possesses it is becoming important to show that the Christian faith is more than just an idea but it is an idea that has a positive effect on life.
What are the values of your web site? This may seem like a bit of nonsense asking what values a web site has but bear with me a while. A web site is the public face of an organization or an individual. As the public face it should reflect the values of the people/person behind it. There are several reasons (especially for Christians) as to why this might be important.
1. Other content on your site
If you allow others to post content on your web site (maybe adding comments or even contributing articles) do you make sure that they reflect the values of your web site? If you don’t have your values clearly defined how will you know if they do? Do you offer any guidelines to writers as to what content is acceptable? Do you proofread things to make sure people are sticking to the codes?
2. Adverts from third parties
You might have a site that will display adverts from other people, this is becoming particularly important with the popularity of things like syndicated adverts that you can display on your site for some income. Do these adverts always reflect the values of your web site? It is easy to persuade yourself that it doesn’t matter because you are not in control of them but anything that appears on your site says something about the site itself. Have you even considered if it is appropriate to have adverts on your site in the first place?
3. Your own content
It helps a web site user if the content of a web site is always in line with its values. It is hard to trust the content of a site that always seems to changing what it is about and what its values are.
4. You represent Christianity
Do you think about who you are representing with your web site? Like it or not people will judge Jesus and Christianity on the basis of what you web site says. If you proclaim yourself a Christian and then use your blog to attack every one you disagree with you are reflecting badly on Christianity.
Understand your values
There are many good reasons for understanding your own values and these reasons are just the same for a web site. You need to appreciate that your site is viewable by many people and whatever you say on your sight should reflect the values you hold. I’m not suggesting you should stop expressing yourself but simply that understanding your own values and the values of the organisation you represent are important.
Why not take some time to reflect on your values?
Having a small computer with telephone attached, that you can carry around with a diary and contacts, etc on it has certainly changed the things. We don’t even have to wait to access the web any more but instead can make use of those spare moments we have to catch up on things. I must confess at this point that I’m one of those old fashioned types who likes to use spare time for thinking and reflecting but I understand that I’m on my way to becoming a ‘thing of the past’.
However, the web becomes a different kind of thing if you access it through a mobile phone. Many phones use a text based approach to web sites and this makes many web sites unusable and others that use a kind of miniature web browser allow you to access most sites but on a small part at a time.
What is kind of strange is that this seems to me to be going back to the old web days when many sites were text based and small (to suite the average sized monitor).
Of course it is possible using style sheets to create a site that will work differently on different platforms but experience tells me that this is easier said than done (it is still not that easy to lay out a site that will work the same on ‘normal’ computers let alone making them also work for mobiles.
Of course social networking sites work fairly well on a mobile.
I don’t personally think that we will stop using full sized computers for the web (in fact with the rise of video streaming etc we are more likely to be using even bigger screens in the future) but we will also now have to consider users with mobile phones.
So how does this change things for the Christian web?
It doesn’t – other than we limit ourselves if we produce stuff only for the regular web. But I also think it gives us yet another opportunity.
At present people access the web on a mobile in a very limited way – social networking, email, directories, etc. They generally want information or to respond quickly to something. People are not spending hours on end surfing the web on a mobile (at least not most people). So how can Christians make good use of the web that works with this rather than demands people to change behaviour to engage?
Here in the UK we are right in the middle of an election. Despite that fact that having to watch Political Party leaders driving around in black cars and kissing babies on TV is about as exciting as finding some gum stuck on the bottom of your shoe there are, as in any election, some big issues at stake.
The web can have a big influence on the way people vote and so I’m hoping that every online Christian is doing their best to get a good Christian viewpoint across. Christian viewpoints cut across political boundaries I find.
But how do we make sense of it all?
I’ve been hunting around to find the best election tools on the web and I’ve seen some pretty interesting stuff. I’ve enjoyed fiddling around with the bbc seat calculator to see how things are going and I’ve also been on to the Sky who I should vote for quiz and whilst it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know I thought it would probably be very useful for anyone who was undecided. There are many other good widgets and sites out there but I think you would get bored with reading about them.
Of course without the big budgets Christian web sites seem to have less exciting things going on but a few do have sections on the election. The Evangelical Alliance site for instance has quite a big election part of their site.
After the Presendential elections in the USA it was felt by many that the web would change the way elections are run. However, it seems that it is the Americans who use social networking sites for this kind of thing more than the British. Perhaps it is our more reserved nature that stops us from telling our friends how they should be voting in a tweet.
It seems that this time around it is probably the TV that is having the biggest impact with the excitement over the Leaders debates.
I found it interesting though to listen to a ‘person on the street’ moaning about how none of the politians seems willing to admit that we need to be making serious savings to pay off the national debt. I’m not sure what reports he has been watching but I would say that I have heard all of the politicians saying exactly that even before the election started. It reminds me that media is not just about what is said but also about how it is received.
It is one of the downsides of the web that there is just too much information to process.
I’ve been given some more links that might help though.
There is information on the CTBI site
Is the web having any effect on the way you will be voting?
This model uses a blend of contemporary and Christian music at a live festival to draw people into a relationship with the church and hence to Jesus. It has proved more popular with younger people – generally – although the larger secular festival scene now has a following amongst middle-aged professionals.
These events work for several reasons.
a) People feel more willing to invite their friends to a music event than to a normal church service – friends are probably also less likely to feel threatened by such an invitation.
b) Music has always been a good way of telling people about God without them getting upset about you telling them. It always amazes me that in a song you can speak about the gospel in very strong terms whereas if there is no music involved people easily get upset.
c) Festivals are good fun and people are more willing to listen when they are enjoying themselves.
d) It’s possible to present the gospel in a way that is relevant to modern people.
How does this relate to anything online and is there something we can replicate or learn from?
So far the web itself doesn’t seem to have anything that equates to a festival of music (I expect there must be something that is similar somewhere but I just don’t know about it).
There are, however, sometimes events in the offline world that are so big and important that they attract bloggers who will follow the event closely and blog about the experience – the Olympics is one event that springs to mind. These blogs then tend to attract a large number of followers who are interesting in what is going on. Perhaps this equates a little to the festival model, or perhaps I should broaden my thinking and apply it to any event online that attracts a large number of visitors.
It is quite hard to think of an online event that non-Christians would be willing to join in with that would be the equivalent of a music festival. Perhaps the only answer is for Christians to provide information about an event that people would naturally be interested in anyway and then use this as a chance to express the gospel to them.
Apparently we are now spending more time looking at the web on our hand held devices than we do reading a newspaper or looking at magazines. According to some reasearch done by the European Interactive Advertising Association (EIAA), the average European users will spend approximately 6.4 hours a week browsing the web from a mobile device. In contrast, they will only spend 4.8 hours reading a newspaper or 4.1 hours with a magazine.
Of course the research doesn’t tell us what people are looking at on their mobiles and it seems to be an advert for selling mobile advertising but the results are not really very surprising.
I have heard mobile fans declaring that the mobile will be THE way to browse the web in the future but I personally feel that the limitations of very small screens will never supplant the need for a computer with a nice big screen. I think there is a certain irony in the fact that just when computer screens have reached reasonable sizes there are some who want us to go to an ultra small screen instead. Does anyone else remember the days of 12 inch text only screens in green and white?