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The Church in a Digital Age: Danger or Opportunity?
Like it or not, the Digital Revolution is Here!
Revolutions are by their very nature destructive and disruptive. Revolutions bring old things down and erect new institutions and networks in their place. Revolutions bring conflict, breed tension, they trample down things once thought sacred, and raise up new images and icons for public devotion. Revolutions can be both cathartic and catastrophic. But above all, revolutions change the way things are, they bring colossal disturbances and create new normalities that become normal so fast that we hardly even remember what things were like before.
The advent of the internet and the proliferation of personal i-devices is disruptive too, it has changed the world in multiple ways, how we buy and sell, how we work, pay bills, listen to music, learn languages, catch-up with family. The digital revolution has created a new virtual space with all sorts of prospects and hazards for all people. The fact is that people now live in their phones, they watch television on everything except a television, their professional and personal life happens either partially or primarily in a digital space, so why would their religious life be any different?
The digital world offers instant access, genuine convenience, diversity of choice, and an assortment of Christian things for people to sample and consume albeit of wide-ranging quality. Whether it is sermons, political commentary, worship music, or mentoring, it is all available for subscription, or even for free. But do we really need it? Is it good for us? Can we get away from it?
There are digital sceptics, purists who would have us log off from facebook, cancel our subscription to Redeemed TV, tell us to stop live streaming services, and scorn us for getting sermon tips from reddit. If you cannot look someone in the eye, shake their hand, or sense the tone of their voice, then it detracts from of the fellowship of the church, is potentially a dangerous distraction from the world, or could even mean allowing yourself to be malignantly influenced by anyone lunatic or charlatan with an internet connection and some kooky days. There is, so it goes, far more to fear than benefit from, so get off the grid, go analogue, and do it old school, i.e., in person.
Can we Put Digitial in our Discipleship?
Let me ask you a question for the digital world and churches.
The problem is that there is no putting the algorithm back into the PC. Our lives now span the physical and digital worlds. Our professional lives and social lives now have a digital footprint, with benefits and risks, but that is the state of play. The same is true for our Christian life and our church’s ministries. There is going to be a digital aspect to them whether we like it or not.
I remember when I worked in military intelligence back in the 1990s that the whole concept of information warfare, cyber-warfare, and command, control, and computing as weapons of warfare was in its infancy. Now, cyber, in both defense and offense, is one of the main theatres of modern warfare as the recent conflict in Ukraine has shown. Cyber is now just as much a theatre of conflict as land, sea, air, and space. I think the same holds true for church ministry.
Digital is now one of the spaces where the church must operate. Our people are in the digital world and so it is to the digital world that we must go. Facebook and twitter are the new agoras, Google is the new Areopagus, your chat group is the new lecture hall of Tyrannus. Whether it is connecting with people digitally, making the best use of the resources that are out there, or making your own resources available to others, that is the place we need to be if we are to bear testimony, make disciples, shepherd the church, and engage life together.
The digital revolution is like nuclear fission, it is a potentially destructive force, but, if rightly handled, it is a near-infinite resource to be utilized in Christian ministry and for service in the kingdom of God.
There is no stopping the digital revolution, but maybe, just maybe, we can ride it, use it, sanctify it, and take it captive to Christ.
Dave Adamson, Metachurch: How to Use Digital Ministry to Reach People and Make Disciples (Independently Published, 2022).
Teresa Berger, Liturgical Practices in a Digital World (London: Rutledge, 2019).
Heidi Campbell and John Dyer, Ecclesiology for a Digital Church: Theological Reflections on a New Normal (London: SCM, 2022).
Nona Jones, From Social Media to Social Ministry: A Guide to Digital Discipleship (New York: Harper Collins, 2021).
Tim Hutchings, Creating Church Online: Ritual, Community, and New Media (London: Rutledge, 2019).
Jonas Kurlburg and Peter M. Phillips (eds.), Missio Dei in a Digital Age (London: SCM, 2020).
Ryan M. Panzer, The Holy Hybrid: Navigating the Church’s Digital Reformation (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2022).
Deanna Thompson, The Virtual Body of Christ in a Suffering World (Nashville: Abingdon, 2016).
James Emery White, Hybrid Church: Rethinking the Church for a Post-Digital Age (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2023).
Jay Y. Kim, Analog Church: Why We Need Real People, Places, and Things in the Digital Age (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2020).