People can come to faith while sitting at their computer screens but not by stumbling upon Bible verses quoted out of context, mission workers were told this week during the re-launch of a unique website that answers people’s questions about the Christian faith.
Every month, thousands of people look for answers to questions about Christianity on www.christianity.org.uk – from what do Christians believe about homosexuality to can I have my baby Christened? – demonstrating an appetite to know more. Many of them use the website to get in touch with the Christian Enquiry Agency for personal answers to individual questions.
British adults are more likely to be internet-literate than knowledgeable about the Bible, so churches must engage online as this is the place where seekers are found.
Research from the Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes Report 2014 showed 83 per cent of adults now go online using any type of device in any location and nearly all (98 per cent) aged between 16 and 34 are online.
But it’s not just the young ones – there has been a nine percentage point increase in those aged 65-plus going online – up to 42 per cent.
At the other end of the computer screen, answering people’s questions and replying to people’s comments is Peter Graystone, co-ordinator of the Christian Enquiry Agency, which runs the website.
He said: “I am staggered at what people tell me about their spiritual thoughts behind the privacy of a computer screen. The longing for faith and meaning hasn’t gone away. People who would never walk into a church on a Sunday morning to find answers will readily look for them in a search engine at midnight on a Friday.
“We always give people what they ask for, and nothing more than that. But if their question is, ‘Does praying ever work?’ it begins a conversation that might continue by email for months. And when we share our experience, Jesus makes himself known. In the goodness of God, people are coming to real faith online in a way I would not have thought possible some years ago.
Speaking at the launch of the revamped www.christianity.org.uk website, Gavin Calver – on his first day as director of mission at the Evangelical Alliance – said there is a clear need for Christians to engage with the cultural contexts in which they live in order to draw people towards God. “We need to re-imagine our style,” he said. “The substance doesn’t change, but the method has to. We need to change the method in order that people can hear us. We need to tell Jesus stories in a world that wants to hear them.
“A lot of us lock ourselves away in the Church and speak a language only the Church speaks, so when we encounter people who don’t know Jesus, we find it hard to relate to them. We need a more incarnational form of ministry at times that gets in among people.”
Dr Bex Lewis, research fellow in social media and online learning at CODEC, St John’s College Durham, warned of the potential dangers of Christians bombarding their social media contacts with Bible verses without any context, but encouraged people to form real, in-depth relationships.
“Social media is about relationships,” she said. “How do we encourage people to make those online relationships real? A lot of social media is about getting to know people and finding a starting point for conversation. A huge amount of it is listening. It’s not just about pushing content out.”
In 2014, there were more than 300,000 views of the www.christianity.org.uk website, with visitors ranging from school pupils wanting help with their religious education homework, to people who felt depressed and needed a listening ear, to those who are opposed to Christianity.
Peter Graystone added: “Just write christianity.org.uk on the bottom of posters, emails or anything that is read by people beyond the walls of a church. It’s so easy, and it’s free. We’ll do all the rest.”
To find out more about how churches can support this ministry, visit www.christianity.org.uk/cea
About the Christian Enquiry Agency (who provided press release)
The Christian Enquiry Agency is an agency of Churches Together in England and a charitable company limited by guarantee (charity number 1152730, company number 8302274). CEA works on behalf of all the major UK churches, and in partnership with many Christian organisations. The work of the Christian Enquiry Agency is entirely dependent on donations and grants. The patrons of CEA are Lord Alton of Liverpool and Archbishop John Sentamu. The day to day work is overseen by the Church Army and the Deo Gloria Trust from offices in Croydon, South London, England.
NOTE: Read more in The Church Times.
Dr Bex Lewis is passionate about helping people engage with the digital world in a positive way, where she has more than 20 years’ experience. She is Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University and Visiting Research Fellow at St John’s College, Durham University, with a particular interest in digital culture, persuasion and attitudinal change, especially how this affects the third sector, including faith organisations, and, after her breast cancer diagnosis in 2017, has started to research social media and cancer. Trained as a mass communications historian, she has written the original history of the poster Keep Calm and Carry On: The Truth Behind the Poster (Imperial War Museum, 2017), drawing upon her PhD research. She is Director of social media consultancy Digital Fingerprint, and author of Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst (Lion Hudson, 2014; second edition in process) as well as a number of book chapters, and regularly judges digital awards. She has a strong media presence, with her expertise featured in a wide range of publications and programmes, including national, international and specialist TV, radio and press, and can be found all over social media, typically as @drbexl.