Paper Abstract: Media, Religion and Culture in a Networked World, Canterbury, U.K. – August 4-8, 2014. Accepted.
A frequent topic in the British newspapers is the declining numbers in church membership. For many churchgoing is no longer the ‘cultural norm’. People don’t actively ignore the church: they don’t even think about it, whilst literally billions are in the digital spaces and the social networks. Those in the Christian sector, including churches, have been slow to recognize the value of online spaces, largely through relationships with church members, rather than the church itself. Technologies have changed what is possible, and for many churches over the last few hundred years we have adopted a model of passive, presentation-piece services, heightened even more by a broadcast mode of media that we all got used to with the TV and the radio. Social media, however, offers much more space for questioning, and for congregations to actively engage with sermons through tweeting along, checking something on their online Bibles or Google, sharing photos of church activities, or being encouraged to continue discussions throughout the week through a Facebook group.
Since 2011, The BIGBible Project has created a network of #DIGIDisciples who contribute to a blog questioning what it means to be a Christian in the digital age and in the digital environment. As Elizabeth Dresher would point out, the churches natural style fits the pattern of the social media world – that of participation and creativity rather than a broadcast hierarchical structure. #DIGIDisciples look to see what digital technologies allow us to do differently, as well as how they may impact our behaviours online. #DIGIDisciples subscribe to the belief that our spiritual lives are 24/7, and that we need to take seriously our Christian presence both online and offline, questioning whether we are we the same person, living by the same values in both environments, modeling Christlike behaviour. Voices are from across the ecumenical spectrum, and at all levels of online expertise (or none) have participated.
The conference paper will draw from the rich collection of over 2,500 #digidisciple posts to demonstrate the potential that the digital has offered churches, whilst also highlighting some of the issues that have been raised.