The Internet is shaping our culture. Not just a little bit – a lot. It’s having an impact on the way we access information, the way we do business and the way we connect and communicate with others. Corporations are rethinking their business models, schools and universities are shifting their teaching practices. Pastors and church leaders need to understand the impact of the internet, and creatively re-think the way we do church.
Firstly, the internet provides access to more information, interpretation and opinion than we can ever process. Sermons used to be a tool to help people access information. That access is no longer as important. Anyone with an internet connection can look up multiple Bible translations and commentaries, read challenging and inspiring blogs by the great modern Christian thinkers, download sermon podcasts, or watch a great sermon online any time during their week, 24/7, even on their phone.
Secondly, and more importantly, the “new web” is all about connection and participation. Social media websites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are having an ever increasing impact on our society and how we relate. We can all have a voice and a presence online. It makes the world a smaller place. It brings like-minded people together to discuss problems, support one another, and innovate in community. It is provoking a cultural revolution that is sweeping the globe and causing the downfall of dictatorships, and upheaval across societies. It’s not just for young people, or for the elite and highly educated – anyone who has access to a computer or mobile device can tap into the connected genius of the world-wide web.
“Web 2.0” is a term used to describe the connected, collaborative virtual community of the internet. Unlike all previous mass media, the internet allows us to have a say and an impact. It levels the playing field and takes away the need for experts. It gives us access to unlimited information and self-directed learning. It blends oral and literate cultures and caters to our individual learning styles. It connects us to others who are passionate for social change and gives us greater power and influence. It allows us access to word-of-mouth testimony and peer-to-peer instruction. It changes the way we see ourselves. We can be content creators, not just consumers. We each have the chance to contribute an idea that might just possibly “go viral” and change the world.
The world around us has changed. Social media is allowing everybody to be seen, heard and connected to each other. In the past 24 hours, over 2 billion active internet users around the world posted over 60 million Facebook status updates, shared more than 300 million comments on Twitter, and watched over 4 billion videos on YouTube. None of these websites even existed 10 years ago. The internet is shaping how we see ourselves and how we relate to others. People want to be seen, want to be known, want to contribute to the global conversations. We expect to be able to interact and participate. We want to have a voice and a value. We now have an opportunity to join the conversation and be part of the action.
Church in rows doesn’t make sense anymore in this two-way, post-broadcasting culture we live in. We need to let people be seen and be heard, let people connect and participate, and give people a voice to use both in the church and in the world they live in.