Church and Internet
A couple of days ago Jordon and I were chatting about how denominations and church organizations use the Internet. Their efforts reflect the command and control structures present in their organization. They want to use the web as a tool to communicate from the top down. This reflects itself in it’s web projects and it is why many are dismal failures.
For the last 70 or 80 years radio and television have had a huge impact on people. They are broadcast mediums with little in the way of interactivity. People became used to passive listening. Now the TV universe is fractured in to hundreds of channels and the Internet is gradually becoming the dominant medium. When these people go to church they are pushed back in to an older model that is closer to TV and radio. There is no interactivity.
The problem with non-interactive mediums is that people learn little and change less from them. I’ve seen enough standardized bible content exam scores from first year bible college students to know that bible education in the church is a dismal failure. Even after 13-15 years of sermons, youth group and Sunday School most church kids are bibically illiterate. It isn’t uncommon for kids who had been Christians for 2 or 3 years perform much better on the same test. The difference is the new Christians actually studied the bible themselves.
Interactivity means a loss of control. I’ve come to realize that authority in church settings isn’t much more than being able to speak more and from a higher position than others. If more people get to speak there is a sense that leaders are losing their authority. The web however is so radically egalitarian and open that it constantly works again those who feel the need to control the conversation.
To truly take advantage of the Internet Christian leaders have to accept that church people can have and share their own opinions. Many of those opinions will be filled with falsehoods. I think this maybe one of the reasons why so many leaders reject the net. It has a lot of crap. What they don’t recognize is that it has lot of crap because most people have never really been taught how to interpret, apply or discern in church. What we see online is the fruit of a church that has depended on passive learning. This isn’t going to improved by adopting and implementing materials and programs that turn the local church in to a franchise.
As the net crowd interacts it matures. The Christian blogging community is growing up. This phenomenon is really good but it cannot be harnassed or controlled. One church ministry I know of has enhanced their own community by doing two things. Their main website is a blog, and they link to the blogs of everyone in their church community. This isn’t the next fad to grow a church. It is simply another way for church people to “meet” one another. It provides any easy way for people to interact with leadership. It is another avenue for learning and challenge. Most importantly is that it frees people up to minister to each other.
Embracing the net has its own challenges and limitations. I believe that experiential learning and challenge is better yet than interactive learning. People grow closer, learn more, and change the most when they work together for a purpose that is greater than themselves.