June 01, 2014
We live in the digital age—a revolution that is rapidly impacting the whole world. Pioneering this revolution is one of the world's most consumerist nations—Australia. In 2012 over 80% of Australians were recorded as internet users, ranking us in the top 25 countries relative to our population. In addition, Australians are one of the highest users of social media worldwide, with 3 million Twitter accounts and 9 million Facebook users who access their profiles every day. We rank in the top 5 countries for smartphone ownership, with two thirds of us owning smartphone devices. At the heart of this revolution is a nation seeking community. People are striving to be more connected than ever before with their friends, family, neighbours, colleagues, clients, and customers. The harvest is indeed plentiful.
In this context churches can struggle to stress the relevance of the gospel. By condemning the digital age, or even simply failing to embrace it, churches imply that the gospel is irrelevant to our culture. Or they may embrace it, but do so poorly, skewing the timeless message, and bringing disrepute to the name of Jesus and His church.
We do not need to change the message; we need to change the method.
The people of the 1st century Greco-Roman culture were primarily oral learners. Today, in the 21st century, visual learning is much more prominent. But we are becoming far more than just visual learners. We want to see, to hear, and to touch in order to receive the full emotive experience through the products we use. Our devices captivate us, blurring the lines of reality as we enter into our own fantasy worlds.
Little wonder that addiction to devices is an increasing issue in our society. Last year Australians increased their mobile data usage by 40%, with video downloads accounting for more than half of all mobile web traffic. In the next 5 years mobile traffic is forecast to increase by another 70%. The problem of addition is not going to go away.
We are consumed by technology, and for many of us it is an idol. So why should churches use technology?
First we need to recognise that technology is a good thing but should not be elevated to a god thing. It is a tool that can assist Christians to reach unbelievers with the gospel and to strengthen believers in their faith.
Secondly, Jesus has come and his message has rung out. As the book of Acts tells of the spread of the gospel and the growth of the early church, it is evident that the apostles used every means available to them: Roman roads, letters, couriers, ships, various languages. When the printing press was invented centuries later, it became the Roman road for the Reformation period—the new vehicle to aid the spread of the gospel. Today it is digital technology. Too often churches view technology as a distraction, but we have the opportunity to embrace this flexible and powerful tool and use it for the good of the church and the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31).
The question remains—how can the church use technology to communicate the unchanging message of the gospel to our culture? One word—media.
Our society defines media as ‘something that communicates information’—TV, video, photography, design, publications, social media, the web—the list goes on. Most of these media channels involve visual communication. This does not mean we ditch face-to-face communication, but work out how we can use digital alongside face-to-face communication. If Christians are to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8), what better way than to use media as an instrument.
Christians need to spearhead contemporary media and visual communication. Churches need to impact the different spheres of our culture with the gospel—particularly the culture-shapers of Australia who work in branding, web, social-media, design, video, and TV. In order to do this, we need a philosophy of producing original and quality media that provokes discussion about, and leads people to, Jesus. The media we use impacts the message, so if the church is going to have a voice in our culture, the following values must be at the forefront of our minds when we create:
Christians are privileged to communicate the greatest message of all, so it's worth embracing technology and media for the sake of the gospel. This should be a joy and an act of worship in response to what Jesus has done.
See below for an interview with David May on how his church, City on a Hill, Melbourne, has implemented new technologies.
 Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (McGraw-Hill, 1964).
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