On Tuesday, June 15, the Diocese of Truro will be hosting an Online Missional Communities seminar, exploring the possibilities for building missional Christian communities that move freely between the online space and physical shared life. Taking part will be Revd Dr Peter Phillips, Research Fellow in digital theology at Durham University and Revd Chris Lee, vicar of a growing church in west London and founder of the Young Franciscans, a new monastic movement for young people. He is an Instagram influencer with over 170k followers (revchris7) and YouTuber with over 350 million views on the various videos he is involved in.
The pandemic has brought about significant change, some of which we can already see and much which will only become apparent with time. Above all, it has acted to accelerate trends and patterns that were already evident. This is particularly clear in the way we inhabit the online and offline world. Some High Street chains which were already under pressure from online shopping have found it impossible to survive, at the same time, Amazon reported a 200% rise in profits in January 2021.
The overall statistics around internet use show it rose between 2018 and 2020 by more than 25%.
“Our online and offline lives are increasingly blended”
The days of the internet being a separate world from the one we physically inhabit are ending, as we move more and more freely between online and offline spaces, using our phones to shop as we sit in the living room, our tablets to communicate with family members that we can’t meet and our PC’s to hold work meetings on Zoom and Teams.
In the words of one writer on theology and technology, today’s internet society is ‘embedded, embodied and everyday’. Our online and offline lives are increasingly blended, inhabiting each at the same time and without clear distinction.
“Nobody has to be free for a specific time on a particular day to hear the gospel preached”
The church has been part of this transition as well, as we moved quickly and boldly in April 2020 to holding online services, offering recorded reflections and setting up WhatsApp prayer groups. While we long to be able to sing, break bread and chat together, we also recognise the flexibility and possibilities for connection that an online presence offers. Many of us know of people who are connecting to church communities and exploring faith online for the first time. Today, nobody has to be free for a specific time on a particular day to hear the gospel preached. Nobody has to worry about the complexities of getting the kids out, or manoeuvring the wheelchair along the bumpy path to the church or walking into an unknown and alien church building for the first time. Now, there are ways to engage online which are accessible and available.
In the Diocese of Truro we have seen a flourishing of creativity, innovation and mission in this new and emerging world, and we do not want that to end as we emerge from lockdown. As we return to gathered worship, we must not forget that much of the world that we are called to love in Christ’s name, now lives and moves freely between the offline and online worlds and that, in order to connect with and serve them, we must do the same.
For many church communities that will mean continuing to offer online resources, whether by recorded or streamed services, social media posts or other creative offerings. Some, however are looking to be more missional and pioneering, and to use the online world not so much as a way to broadcast, but as a place of intentional connection and community building.
Ben Hudd, for instance, runs two embryonic communities that are exploring how the wide spectrum of digital and social media available can be used to facilitate a community based on the early church described in Acts 2, which includes scripture, fellowship and prayer, but in very different contexts, whilst exploring how best to come together to break bread when guidelines permit.
There are others who have begun initiatives of this sort, or who would like to, and we want to support and encourage them. With that in mind, we are hosting a seminar on Zoom on June 15 from 7.30pm to 9pm. Revd Dr Peter Phillips, Research Fellow in Digital Theology at Durham University, will share thoughts, before a time of discussion and Q & A. The evening will be practical and encouraging and you can book your place at the evening here.