What Would Jesus Blog?

Tag: Church Online

Church ‘where you’re at’

by on Feb.14, 2011, under Uncategorized

It’s a fairly regular occurrence that I read about an exciting new ministry wanting to minister to people ‘where they’re at’. Aside from the terrible grammar, I broadly agree. I think it’s really important that we follow models of ministry that focus on going to where people are and minister to them in their own particular situations, rather than attempting to attract them to our own little world. Reading through the Gospels and the accounts of the early church I see very little imperative to extract people from their lives to follow Christ, but rather countless examples of ways in which people’s lives are transformed by following Christ – often it involves their situation changing, but that comes as a result of following, rather than as a prerequisite. I actually find it quite arrogant to try to attract people – there’s ways of following Christ that are as alien to me as my church would be to a lot of people, so I can’t for a second hold up how we do it as in any way particularly special. I also hear a lot about how people are spending more time online – it doesn’t take a huge leap of logic to say that people are online, the church should be where people are at, therefore we should set up ministries to this hoard of people online, right? I mean, just take Facebook – half a billion people all in one place, what else does an evangelist want?

The problem is, that to meet people ‘where they’re at’ requires them to be somewhere – to say that being logged into Facebook is being somewhere just doesn’t work. It’s a fallacy to mentally model websites on physical meeting places, however tempting it may be. Internet pioneers and early observers did just that – anyone remember the original GeoCities? It was organised into streets (topics), and you had an address on that street. It was fantastic, but how often did you actually ‘walk’ down the ‘street’, and how often did you just type what you wanted into Altavista or Lycos? Early journalism about the Internet talked about it being the final frontier, a realm to be discovered, and early mental models were of a physical realm entered through a computer rather than a means of transport. That’s changed so much now – computers and the Internet are rapidly becoming ubiquitous and the way that we view them has changed. The Internet isn’t a different world any more – it’s an increasingly integral part of our very local lives.

Where people ‘are at’ is in their homes and around their cities, connected to the Internet regularly, if not all the time. It’s a thread running through their lives and a part of their identity, so it should be the same for the churches that seek to minister to them. That’s scary because it means that online ministry isn’t something that ‘people who understand these things’ can do, it’s something that every church has to examine. Whether they choose to reject that online thread of their life as an act of protest, or informedly deem it irrelevant to their minister, or choose to embrace it and use it for God’s glory, ignoring it is no longer relevant.

As ever, ministries face opposition, and there’s a lot of FUD (fear, uncertainly and doubt) about online ministry. But, I’m up to way over 500 words; dispelling myths can wait!

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Digital Natives

by on Nov.14, 2010, under Digital Eucharist?

Hi! I’m Rob, and I’m a digital native. Computers have been in every school since before I was born, and I’ve grown up around mobile phones, the Web and email. I pretty much can’t imagine life without them, and like digital natives around me, digital communications is an everyday part of life. Somehow, even though it’s used by almost everyone these days, I’ve always felt that older people just don’t ‘get’ technology – sure, they use it, but often they seem to use it as a replacement for something offline that came before, rather than as a natural part of life as my friends do. The same’s often true of the church – I’ve so often felt that they’ve come close but just missed the mark in understanding how I tick.

Technology is part of my identity at every level as a digital native. There’s not an ‘online’ me and an ‘offline’ me – most of what I do online I do under my own name or one of a handful of previous monikers, mostly conceived to protect my personal details as a teenager. In fact, most of my online activity relates to my offline relationships – texts to people who are too far away to see as much as I’d like to, online chat to people who might be busy with something else, or just arranging my social life. The photos from Friday night are up on Facebook – it’s nothing special, just how we share our memories. Sure, sometimes I engage in identity play – but that’s as much a part of growing up as the day I first touched hair gel. Hallvard Mavendorf in Second Life is a subset of Rob Redpath in Real Life – with a few tweaks to escape some of things I’d rather forget about myself.

I understand online dangers intuitively – while it’s important to teach kids online safety just like we were taught road safety, observers are often surprised at how younger generations have the same sixth sense about things online as they do about dangers offline. Incidentally, why do we teach kids about sex from Year 5, but not sexting? Or about stranger danger from the start, but not Facebook until the age of 13 because the TOC don’t allow under-13s to use it?

This, and many other, differences between digital natives and previous generations, have led to a lot of misunderstandings. Missiologist Michael Frost (from a previous generation) talks about people online in his book Exiles– he describes it as “another form of hyper-reality […] [in that] it looks like we’re meeting people via the Web, but really we’re meeting only the acceptable persona that they want displayed to the world”. He’s kinda got a point – but digital natives don’t buy it. Digital natives know that what someone puts online is what they want people to see – and they draw their conclusions about the real person from that. Someone’s Facebook profile is a creative work – the face they put on to go online, and digital natives know it.

A lot’s been said recently about ministering to people online – meeting people where they’re at is the buzzword, and where they’re at seems to be online. That’s kinda true – my generation spend ages online, and the Web provides an ideal medium for a lot of interaction and discovery of faith. But while offline-only church only scratches part of where I itch, so does online-only church. My mates are online and offline, and I’m convinced Jesus is. So why does the church allow the two to be so disconnected?

Further reading:-

Palfrey & Gasser – Born Digital
Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture

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Simulation

by on Nov.07, 2010, under Digital Eucharist?

This week at work, Craig and I were talking about authenticity, and how so much of what companies rely on is the feel of authenticity, rather than genuinely being authentic. How much do consumers realise it, and how much do they care? They rely on simulation – much of human endeavour does. The French philosopher Jean Baudrillard explored this in his later life – in particular in Simulation & Simulacra. Incidentally, it’s the book Neo takes the minidisk out of in The Matrix in the scene before he notices the girl with the white rabbit tattoo – the concepts for that film are so based on S&S, I’m glad they payed homage!

Baudrillard describes three levels, or orders, of simulation. The first he describes as ‘natural, naturalistic simulacra: based on image, imitation and counterfeiting’ – a very healthy process of seeing what exists, and copying it for artistic effect or enhancement. Taking a photograph of something produces a likeness of that thing, but it doesn’t claim to be anything more than a photograph. No matter how much you want it to be case, you’ll never have Jeri Ryan on your bedroom wall, but you can have a damn fine poster that makes the room infinitely geekier. Just me then?

The second he describes in terms of the simulation obscuring the real, as a way in which the real can be hidden. The example he gives is the efforts that industrial operations go to in order to hide the level of exploitation inherent in production from the workers, and how a nations that relies on heavy industry might typically try to keep the workers’ dreams modest in order to avoid discontent. If workers could see how much they were being exploited, they would rebel – so the simulation is used to hide the reality, and although they can see that it’s a simulation, they cannot see what’s real to compare.

The third order, the hyper-reality, he describes as concerning ‘simulation simulacra: based on information, the model, cybernetic play’. The simulation replaces the real such that the real is no longer the source of the simulation but rather the product, or the replacement. What can be perceived is the simulation that claims to be reality – the shallow image of what exists has been detached from what exists to be a shallow image, which in and of itself, is all that can be seen. This is distinctly unhealthy, and is the greatest threat to authenticity in contemporary society as it is difficult to distinguish the simulation from the real, and often the simulation offers what appears to be all the benefits of the real without the inherent complexities.

What’s worrying is times when I see hints of third-order simulacra in everyday life – friendship defined by Facebook, relationships defined by the outward appearance rather than what’s beneath. My generation seem to be fairly adept at telling the difference – we see simulations for what they are, for the most part. The generations coming up behind us – well, that’s what another blog post is for :)

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