Church in the internet age – the impact of social media and Web 2.0 culture.

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.

10 thoughts on “Church in the internet age – the impact of social media and Web 2.0 culture.

  1. This is an excellent article with some very interesting points. I love.how you highlighted access to information resulting in the loss of experts, and how you correctly categorised the “new web” as connection and participation.

    You are right when you say that there is more information now available than people can process. And exactly because of that amount of available information, people have indeed become self-appointed experts. But many of these experts are expertly distributing error.

    Therefore church’s must be very careful how they give people a voice as they have their own Biblical reputations to maintain. And a lone voice of error that is affiliated to a church, can create quite a bit of damage.

    • Hi Daryl, thanks for your comments and the link on your blog page. 🙂

      I fully agree that the church must be careful of how they give people a voice. One option is to only allow an ordained, qualified professional to have a voice – but this breeds a culture of control, hierarchy and dependency, and doesn’t prevent individuals from going out of the church and saying what they like.

      The other option is to empower people to speak to each other, teach one another and seek God’s voice together in community. I’m not talking about a leaderless model, a free-for-all, but a well-facilitated learning environment which empowers everyone to get involved, actively learn, and be accountable to one another. In my experience, this approach doesn’t breed rampant heresy, but magnifies the potential for that church to have an impact on the world around it.

      I know there’s no such thing as a “perfect” model of church, and “church in a circle” has as many risks as “church in rows”. It’s much easier and “safer” to operate from a model of control rather than trust, from hierarchy rather than equality, from dependency rather than interdependence. Easier, but less potent.

      Blessings in your writing and in your “homeboy” adventures. Thanks for stopping by,

      – Kathleen

      • Hi Kathleen

        Thank you for your reply and for visiting my website.

        I think that you and I are very much on the same page with regards to the participation and engagement aspect of church life. These are in fact the main drivers of my pet passion, that being that the church (as a whole) must be Purposefully Social. And I am particularly glad that you highlighted that this engagement and participation does not mean that it is a leaderless and unaccountable every-man-to-his-own endeavor.

        I think that any form of communication, participation and or engagement that a church wants to implement, must be properly thought through within the communications strategy framework of that church. Especially social media; because, as you pointed out, things can go viral very quickly within social media channels.

        God bless
        Darryl

        PS – This is a valuable post. So I have added it to my MUST READ list of articles on my website (http://purposefullysocial.com/social-media-must-read-articles/).

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  4. I intend to take note of this specific posting, “Church
    in the internet age – the impact of social media and Web 2.
    0 culture. | Church in a Circle” on my own web site.
    Would you care in the event Ido? Many thanks -Joshua

    • Feel free to repost this article, Joshua – as long as you link back to the original and acknowledge us as authors.

      – Kathleen

  5. This is a really interesting article, thank you.
    I have a sense that churches need to become MUCH more social media savvy. Meridith Gould has written an excellent starters guide for churches. ” The Social Media Gospel “. Go check it out. I have given many copies away to parish council groups.

    • Thanks for your comment, Elizabeth. Meredith is doing a great job of bringing churches into the digital age and widening the conversation about how this changes the way we do church.

      – Kathleen

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