Digital Damnation? The Church in the Digital Age

by sarahtwonames

John Chapter 1, Teh Cat Macro Becamded Flesh (The Lolcat Bible) –

1In teh beginz is teh meow, and teh meow sez “Oh hai Ceiling Cat” and teh meow iz teh Ceiling Cat.2 Teh meow an teh Ceiling Cat iz teh bests frenz in teh begins.

Only digital would have thought of translating one of the most profound statements in the Bible into lolspeak. And that’s why I love it.

You guessed it folks! I’m looking at what the Bride of Christ did when her Husband lead her into the era of ones and zeros. Given that this post is going to be skirting around some pretty big issues (or what I, as a Christian, consider big), my article comes with two caveats attached:

  1. To quote Alice Cooper “I’m not a philosopher. I consider myself low on the totem pole of knowledgeable Christians.” If you have a problem with anything in this post, it is probably more to do with my own short comings than theology.
  2. The digital world is enormous, so the research done for this wasn’t exhaustive. (Read about an hour and a bit’s worth of Googleage.) Again, #fail of blog = my own #fail .

So on with the catechising.

She followed the ovine herd and updated her Facebook profile

I read the Bible on my phone and Kindle. My church has a website. My Bible study group is on Facebook. My Dad googles the topic in question every time he has to lead a Bible study. We make our own apps. We blog. The Archbishop of Canterbury is on Twitter as is @Pontifex.

We followed the flock and it has been a good thing. With the advent of the Social Web the Christian community continued to do what it has been doing for 2000 years – seek each other out (regardless of geographical location), talk to one another, and debate. Only the global aspect of the Church got a lot easier to deal with. Instead of writing a letter to do the rounds in the Mediterranean, we just fire of a quick email or tweet and watch it travel further than trade routes.

And with the knowledge sharing, free in depth Bible commentaries, and news feeds on the interweb, today’s pilgrim is an informed one. Or should be.

But has she realised she has a new branding problem?

First up, I am aware that the Church is always going to have a branding problem. What we believe tends to have 3 outcomes: 1) People think we’re nuts. 2) People think we’re evil. 3) People think we might be onto something*. To this aspect of the branding issue the Body of Christ just shrugs her shoulders. Rightly so, the Way was not meant to be a walk in the celestial park.

But what I don’t know is if the Beloved has truly considered what tech disruption is doing to her brand or not. If she hasn’t, I can see a triune deity pulling off a truly epic facepalm right about now.

The knowledge sharing between Christians on the information superhighway is happening in public. Which is great, as it means that the Church is no longer an internal affair; secular society has an unprecedented view into what the Bride of Christ really is: unified diversity, functioning as one body**. It now knows its Charismatics from its Methodists, and why the Church of England is a very complicated thing.

However the multi-denominational Church’s arms can get into a fight with its legs. Or the right knee can throw a hissy fit and blame the left ear. And the list goes on. The newly created interactions between those from different bits of the Body of Christ can be a trigger for wonderful, informative, REASONED debate. Or the Beloved can disgrace herself utterly and be no better than a troll. For all the world to see. See also: the Church’s horrific stigmatisation of the queer community and its terrible silence over Russia making a mockery of civil liberties in recent months. Thank God for these guys.

To be fair, like the rest of us, She is still figuring out digital

As you can tell, I am more than happy to acknowledge that the Church has a way to go when it comes to cracking this digital malarkey. We do have to make ourselves heard over things like this and this.

I wonder what “getting it” would look like. I am by no means and expert, but I can hazard a guess. It looks funnier and WAY more innovative. And I mean funnier “ha ha”, not Gnosticism funny. If you head on over to Tearfund’s (one of the UK’s leading Christian charities) YouTube Channel, you will see a lot of informative and mostly sombre (they deal primarily with poverty so it’s not a surprise) videos chock full of very sincere Christians talking direct to camera.

This very emotive video has 1614 views. On the other hand, this Christian comedian has 202 217. (Yes I know it’s only very funny if you’re a Christian). The video that really needs its message heard has fallen flat. But the second video has succeeded. Why? Because it’s funny and unexpected (thank you Church of England for Christianity’s humourless reputation).

I am not saying that poverty is a laughing matter, far from it. But Tearfund would definitely benefit from changing the way it does its videos. There are a few animated clips on the channel, but they still have that very profound, sincere tone. And it’s that tone which means that the charity (and many other Christian organisations) ends up preaching to the converted (pun intended). Given the sheer number of videos on their channel, they clearly know that video is very important in terms of reach and creating a presence. But they may not know what every good digital marketer knows: if you want to get heard, you need to plan for participation i.e. plan to get more people interested in your message.

And participation comes from doing the unexpected, being innovative (and being funny never hurts). I know that a charity which deals with poverty has to be very careful when creating content. However, they, and the wider Christian community, would benefit from a hackathon. What an innovative Christian video would consist of I have no idea, as I said, I am low down on the totem pole.

So what does her binary future hold?

Digital is not going away, and it is not in the nature of the digital ocean to remain static. It does quite the reverse. So the Bride of Christ needs to stop admiring her Facebook profile pic and start paying attention to the ones and zeros all around her. She has to use the Social Web to promote discussion (between believers and non-believers alike), but be prepared to screw-up her manicure when things get ugly. And maybe she should dye her hair bright pink.

* Idea adapted from C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity

** Taken from Flyleaf’s Beautiful Bride