The following abstract has been accepted for the inaugural European Conference on Social Media.
Note: Abstract submission now remains open til 6th January 2014.
In the twenty-first century churchgoing is no longer the ‘cultural norm’ for many in the UK. People don’t actively ignore the church: they don’t even think about it. For churches, websites and social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest have now effectively become the ‘front door’ to billions of digital users. As Sara Batts research has shown us, many churches are finally starting to get that the online landscape is important, but still need convincing that something more radical is needed than a new website, as opportunities have arisen to embrace a more social ministry, where to ‘love your neighbour’ may include those from anywhere in the world.
The ‘digital age’ brings the opportunity for a wider range of voices to contribute to conversations: many online will engage with ‘church’ through their friends rather than formal Christian organisations. In 2010 ‘The BIGBible Project’ emerged to encourage those at all levels of the Christian sector to engage with digital culture, and to consider what this means for Christian communication practices, in a culture in which messages are both ephemerally ‘in the now’, and perpetually available.
Technologies have changed what is possible, and for many churches over the last few hundred years a model of passive, presentation-piece services has been adopted, 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 hyper-locally throughout the week through a Facebook group.
The BIGBible Project emphasises that disciples live at all times for God, whenever and wherever, and therefore all Christians need to take seriously their presence both online and offline. This paper will draw from over 2,000 contributions made to the The BIGBible blog, where over 120 Christians from across the ecumenical spectrum have contributed thoughts as to how discipleship is affected (and can affect, particularly behaviours) in the digital age and the digital spaces.
The Relevance of the Paper: According to the 2011 census, Christianity is the major religion in the UK. As a sector it offers an interesting case study of how longstanding faith groups are dealing with the challenges presented by the digital age, institutionally and individually.
Keywords: Social Media, Community, Engagement, Discussion, Christianity