As an Anglican blogger, I want to reflect a little bit on the theology of blogging and why the church must engage with the digital age. Contemporary society demands it is in constant communication. Each communication culture impacts the Church as God speaks through the tools we invent. We are in the digital age. There is a cyber-space mission field out there. Are we engaging in God's mission on the net?
According to the Pew Internet Project, there are close to two billion people online. We have millions of neighbours in the digital age. E-church will never replace established Church as we understand it, but it is something which the established church needs to be involved in. Dave Walker who runs the Church Times blog captures this with his cartoon. There is not actually any competition between the two expressions of Church. E-church looks down on established church here only because it's in a tower-block – higher-up.The Acts 2 church model is of a body of believers who share everything. So you could argue that e-church fails to conform because we only share words. However, one virtual church born out of the 'Ship of Fools' website: St Pixels, discovered that 38% of its members had phoned each other or met in face to face meetings, like those in our tower block. As members of the Anglican church, we would do well to profess article 19 of the 39 articles which defines Church as 'a place where the Word of God is preached and the sacraments are administered.' I don't think we can administer the sacraments virtually...(!) :-) But we can preach the Word of God and share our Christian journeys.
Pete Ward, in his book 'Liquid Church' defines church as 'something that we make with one another by communicating Christ...' We have always communicated the gospel, without being face-face. Paul set this precedent, communicating with churches by letter when he was behind prison bars.
The reason why I am passionate about internet evangelism is because I believe it is interactive in a way that none of the other communication tools have been. Christians have communicated the gospel with the printed word and the aired broadcast but with the internet, the dialogue is two way: we communicate Christ with one another. The word on the screen is no longer static and the web in no longer just a library of information, it is a place of conversation. Through facebook, myspace, blogging and other social networking tecnologies we are talking to each other around the clock and around the world.
I want to speak about one of the technologies I use to do this: blogging. Blogs or web-logs enable you to write your thoughts up onto the web and converse about them in a thread which drops down beneath. They are hosted in the public domain for free and you choose a template to create your site, so no need to be a programmer. Your site can be produced in about 5 minutes and you can be in conversation instantly, as I was just over one year ago. Blogs capture for me the notion of conversation which I think is so sacred. God expects His followers to engage people with his message wherever communities are forming.
So the technology might be recent but the idea begins in God.
This is how we can articulate the theology of a blog. It reaches inwards and is a space of reflection. Christians have always recorded their journeys with God and I remember Nicky Gumbel, during Alpha, encouraging us to keep a prayer diary. Many bloggers reflect on how the gospel is impacting the smallest details of their every day lives.
So blogging reaches inwards, it also reaches upwards. It's a confessional and prayerful place. It is a place to which we can have the Daily Office delivered by the C of E website as well as some other electronically delivered prayer resources.
Inwards and upwards, a blog also reaches outwards. You can engage Christians and non-Christians in all nature of topics and decide together what God might be saying about an issue. It becomes a place of testing and accountability, a place where we can teach each other.
It becomes a place for reaching out as people pool expertise for their missions and ministries. I have links to resources I've used which I make available to others. So blogs are about establishing community and sharing best practice.
Most importantly, blogs help you to reach out to those seeking a relationship with God ; to those who are curious. I was recently contacted through facebook by the first class I ever taught as an English teacher. We are now in communication which we probably wouldn't have engineered face-to-face. They access my blog from facebbook and get to read about the gospel and the impact it is having on my life. I met one of my ex-students in a book shop just the other day and we were both able to share this common ground and exchange invitations to each other's churches. The opportunities are unlimited.
So to conclude: If we are going to take Matthew 28 and the Great Commission seriously, we need to explore how to be present in this new frontier. We need to navigate it, speak into it, cross its seas and journey through it to reach those who might need to be dragged back to shore and have church experience resuscitated in their lives. Seekers are caught in the safety-net and I hope that in being caught up in the web, they might be caught in a bigger net, the one cast out by Jesus into the teaming seas.
What are the disadvantages as you envisage them of a community that is defined by its communicating rather than its gathering?
I suggest that the net is nourishing faith – what do you think? In what ways does IT help you in your discipleship.
What is your definition of Church?