We must all be “Digital Evangelists” now

In today’s world, the old ways of communication have given way to digital forms, principally expressed through emails and the varying forms of social media.

In the decade since this trend began, small start up companies have risen to become billion dollar corporations, and a few such as My Space and Bebo , have then disappeared equally swiftly in this ever changing market place of ideas.

Our young people rarely read newspapers, or watch television in “real time”; Brother Ivo has tried to keep up, but was recently interested to be updated yet again; such is the speed of transition amongst young people, that  apparently  they will frequently “surf’ their music downloads, perhaps listening to only 50 seconds of a track before moving to the next. The listening of the LP from start to finish is plainly long gone.

The culture has changed enormously since the quiet Sunday when attendance at Church to listen to a 45 minute sermon was one of the few intellectual pastimes available to rich and poor alike.

It was their early appreciation of the power of controlling such change that allowed “progressive”/secular thinkers to populate the media and arts  with like minded people and these have led the way in the marginalisation of faith in the public sphere.

“Politics is downstream of culture” it is said, and if that is true, then so too is religion.

The Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci taught several generations that
Socialism is precisely the religion that must overwhelm Christianity the new order, Socialism will triumph by first capturing the culture via infiltrating the schools, universities, churches and the media by transforming the consciousness of society”.

It is not Brother Ivo’s purpose here to address the merits of any particular political creed , but the methodology advanced by Gramsci certainly looks familiar as we have seen secularism incrementally advance across his target areas of influence.

Yet the arrival of the social media has changed the dynamic yet again.

No longer can one plan to capture the commanding heights of the economy , the better to direct one’s revolution of choice.The recent coup against the Turkish President was doomed to failure once it failed to disable his i-phone.

One of the first people to grasp the implications of the social media for politicians was the maverick UKIP MP Douglas Carswell whose book“ The End of politics and the birth of i-Democracy” predated the rise of Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn, but argued that those who understood and used the new social media would prosper in the new Digital world.

Whatever our personal view of the outcome, the game has changed.

Carswell reminded readers of an interesting but important example which many of us read but probably forgot.

You may recall story of the young Scottish schoolgirl Martha Payne who in 2012 began taking digital photographs of her school dinners and reviewing them online. The first impetus of the education authorities was to ban digital phones in the school canteens; when the story broke, public sympathy was quickly on the side of the child not of the bureaucrats, a digital insurgency against poor school dinners looked to be a small victory but it was also an important illustration of what the lowly person using the social media could achieve culturally and politically.

On a larger scale, a three minute critique of the EU delivered by Daniel Hannan MEP in 2009 was ignored by the UK broadcasting media and press; yet within 24 hours it had been shared by 40,000 people and within days it had been viewed by over a million people. It is hard to imagine that Brexit could or would have happened without the social media.

Here lies an important lesson for the Church as it too seeks to address the continued aggressive marginalisation of faith by those following Gramsci ,whether knowingly, or simply by following the current cultural trends.

Within the Church of England’s programme of Renewal and Reform there is a commitment to move our message online, to develop “Digital Evangelism”

A budget has been set and some very good materials are beginning to be produced both by the institutional Church and by enthusiastic amateurs. It is difficult to over estimate the importance of this initiative.

Shortly before last Christmas the Church sought to place an advertisement in cinemas to proceed the new Star Wars film. At the last minute , despite contracts having been signed, the distributers refused to accept it because it was “religious”; it was contrary to their secular policy and and apparently might offend cinema goers. Quite what message the distributors thought the Church of England might be wishing to deliver was never explored.

The Lord moves in mysterious ways however.

The story dominated the news cycle for 24 hours, crossed the Atlantic, was picked up by the Hollywood press and within the week another 1 million hits had been registered. What was so controversial was a video of people saying the Lord’s Prayer entitled “Just Pray”

There is a theme developing here.

Not only did our ultimate outreach exceed the original expectation, but we saved the £200,000 allocated to buy the 2 minutes slots!

Despite the example of such a success, however the wider Church has not yet fully come to terms with Digital outreach.

The is no criticism of the excellent work being undertaken by those who do; at our last General Synod, brief reference was made to the excellent work undertaken by the team at TGI Monday

Their weekly viewings are disappointingly small; yet if every member of General Synod made a point of sharing it and encouraging friends and family to publish it through email, Church Facebook, twitter etc, this gentle, friendly, culturally nudging weekly Christian programme could reach a far wider public.

Why isn’t every review of Ministry now including the question – ” What is your Church doing to share the message through Digital Evangelism?”

Brother Ivo is not pressing his favourite examples, there are many kinds of projects from every perspective of Church; here are a few desperate examples.

The presence of faith in the Fashion industry has just been explored here

The Church Army has produced a brilliant free course on how to enable ordinary people to speak to others of their faith; Faith Pictures can be sampled here.

Ordinary people sharing their faith can be compelling.  young people’s  challenged members of Synod to do just that and with a low-tech project demonstrate how easy it is to secure internet testimony on a shoe string budget

We don’t have to be po-faced, we can laugh at ourselves as this self deprecating piece exploring “Hand Waving Churches” illustrates.

A longer, entertaining but challenging evening about  Accidental Saints – finding God in all the wrong people”was delivered at St Paul’s by Rev Richard Coles and Nadia Bolz-Weber. Many on the fringes faith will relate to the self critical approach of clergy as the secular world often does not perceive them

Brother Ivo plans to use his blog to search out and publish such pieces from time to time, making this blog a place where Digital Evangelism may be sought and found.

Yet it is not intended that this shall be a destination.

Canon John Spence has boldly proclaimed that he “will not be satisfied until we have put Jesus Christ back at the centre of the country’s life where he rightfully belongs”.

The Social Media gives each and everyone of us the opportunity to play a part in that re-alignment of the culture. We do not have to be authors or technically adept. All each of us need do, is to resolve to be a link in the chain, receiving outreach and passing it on as we build a counter culture that explores faith and helps people to know Jesus in all his ways as expressed in the life of our fellow Christians.

If we can encourage our Churches, families, and friends to “click and share” there is no reason why we cannot fill lives with the normality of the love of Jesus. A lady in the Fashion video speaks of praying ” Father bring the people out of the shadows in the fashion industry”.

Presumably there was relief on both sides as they “came out for Christ”.

That is a profound prayer which we can adapt and extend throughout our social interactions on and off line. If we share our faith, others will feel less afraid and more confident. We can each play our part in advancing our desire to make Jesus known in all the right – and all the wrong places.

It will cost no money and very little effort. It begins with you sharing one of these clips or perhaps a better one known to you.

We can all be Digital Evangelists today