The Anglican Cathedral of Second Life

Anglican Ministry in a Technological Age

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At the recent Anglican Missions Conference in New Zealand I presented a Workshop on ‘Anglican Ministry in a Technological Age.’ After some adaption for this blog, I thought I would make it available…

header.JPGIntroduction

At the beginning of the year I took three weeks out with the aim of ‘taking a walk to the cutting edge.’In that time I discovered both Web 2.0 and Web 3.0, both of which I had never heard of before.I don’t consider myself a technical person and I don’t like wasting time so you can be assured of two things:this post will not be full of technical jargon and all that we cover will be 100% practically focused.I promise you a no fluff policy.

What is this about?

To continue to remain relevant to society we as the church need to periodically consider what the latest forms of communication are and then shape our offerings to utilize thesenew communication forms.This post endeavours to begin this process, in particular considering the use of the internet.

The mission of the church and the purpose of technology

I am part of the Anglican Diocese of Wellington in New Zealand.Our mission is summed up in this five-fold statement:

  • to proclaim the good news of God’s reconciling love in Jesus Christ;
  • to baptize and nurture those who come to faith in Christ;
  • to respond to human needs with caring and loving service;
  • to work for the transformation of society according to God’s values;
  • to strive to safeguard, sustain and nurture the environment and the physical world we live in.

According to Martin Heidegger, technology is the means for the achieving of goals.[1]So technology is that which can be employed so as to achieve the five tasks listed above.Technology works when it facilitates meeting our mission.So in a simple example, we may well begin a phone counseling service so as to assist our desire to respond to human needs.

The trick is to make sure that technology remains a servant and doesn’t become the master.Or put another way, our mission remains the focus, not the process.

My model of mission

Picture a sphere… at its core is what we as a church believe: our faith, our values.This core is firm and unchangeable.But the edge is malleable:sphere.JPG we are prepared to shift and change so as to engage with the world around us.

We have an ancient story that needs to be told in our vernacular, in the language of today.To achieve this ‘telling’ requires using the systems and methods that appeal today.What we use this year may well need to change five years from now.

The digital divide

Back in 2004 the NZ government released a report entitled, ‘The Digital Divide.’This concluded that:

Data presented in this report show that a digital divide exists in New Zealand. Some households are less likely to be connected to the Internet than others. The results of this report reflect international research, which suggests that the expansion of information communication technologies is mainly utilised by households with higher incomes, and households whose members have formal educational qualifications.[2]

Any discussion around technology has to acknowledge that not every person has access to the hardware required to fully participate.This is slowly changing as internet connection and computer costs come down.

Flaptop-intronew.jpgurther afield and worth a mention is the $100 laptop project born out of MIT Media Laboratory in the US:

The mission of the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) movement is to ensure that all school-aged children in the developing world are able to engage effectively with their own personal laptop, networked to the world, so that they, their families and their communities can openly learn and learn about learning.[3]

Statistics on engagement by church and web 2.0

So what is the rate of internet usage in New Zealand? 2006 figures:

15-24 years of age

85.5%

25-44 years of age

79.8%

45-64 years of age

66%

65-74 years of age

38.7%

75+ years of age

17.3%[4]

Research out of the US shows that most in the 12 – 28 age bracket expect interaction with Web 2.0.[5]

Given this age bracket comprises a key demographic for the church the question has to be asked: “what percentage of churches utilize Web 2.0?”According to a survey completed in America by the Centre for Church Communication[6], the percentage of churches making use of this new communication method is only 10%.One could say it is like ships passing in the night.

So what is Web 2.0?

WEB 2.0

wiki.JPGFrom its beginnings the internet was principally about communicating information in a passive manner.Similar to television or the newspaper, users had little input into the content.In the last four or so years a major shift has occurred.Users are now actively involved in producing content.Many of the most successful websites are 100% user driven. This shift is known as Web 2.0; the second stage of internet development. The Pew Internet Project describes this as the ‘surging wisdom of crowds’ (http://www.pewinternet.org/).Sites that exemplify this ‘crowd wisdom’ include Facebook, You Tube and Wikipedia.

Facebook:Social Networking

One of the key attributes of Web 2.0 is creating a platform by which people can meet new people, develop friendships and express themselvesfacebook.JPG to a new crowd. This is known as social networking.One such networking site is facebook.com which describes itself as:

Facebook is a social utility that connects people with friends and others who work, study and live around them. People use Facebook to keep up with friends, upload an unlimited number of photos, share links and videos, and learn more about the people they meet.


So how can we use social networking within the church?

Fundamental to a successful church is community – making connections.Part of community is staying in touch, being involved in each other’s lives.Facebook.com and numerous other offerings, facilitate this and are freely available to those with computers and internet access.The technology is simple to use and provides the ability to share photos, stories, prayer requests etc…You can also link with those in your local community, so assisting in making connections to those outside the church community.

You Tube

Youtube.com was created in February 2005 and sold to Google just twenty months later for a staggering US$1.65 billion in stock.It allows users to upload videos, watch other people’s videos and comment on those videos.Around 70 million videos are watched every day.

Within the usual limits of decency, users are given complete freedom to create and comment on the contributions of others.

This participation is a key characteristic of Web 2.0.

One participant known as “nielsft” states:

For me, the main criterion for a good 2.0 site is that it invites me to engage in a conversation. I don’t want to be talked down to, told what to do. That doesn’t work for me anymore. It is that culture of conversation that makes all the difference[7].

People expect a voice, whether to respond or to express an opinion.The dictating of truth by authorities is mostly a thing of the past when it comes to the internet; people expect to participate, to be given a voice.Another excellent example of Web 2.0 is Wikipedia.com which is an online encyclopaedia which anyone can contribute to.

So if there is one statement that encapsulates Web 2.0 it is:

being able to participate, being able to contribute.

So how does this assist the church and how can we make use of it?

So right about now you may be thinking…

ok do I need to organise a church website?How can I do that, it costs thousands of dollars and we don’t have any young people to make it work!

I would like to suggest that yes, you need a presence on the internet so as to connect with those in and around your community.I would also like to state that you can do this for very little outlay.

One of the beauties of Web 2.0 is that it is free.

There is an amazing website resource called MyChurch which can be found at www.mychurch.orgmychurch.JPG

As at Oct 07 it had 10,779 churches making use of it, with some 65,232 members and 41,827 blogs.

MyChurch describes itself as:

“MyChurch.org is a free online tool for churches to outreach and build community by networking with their congregation. Amongst some of its features are a library for sermons and media, a social network, a sharing board, a collaborative blog, a photo sharing application, and an event calendar for you and your church.”

So sermons can be shared in audio and text format; video of services or events can be offered, news and photos distributed, and a blog created.For the royal tour click here.

Ok so getting really practical….How do we make use of this?My hope is that this post will inspire you to explore this site and other such offerings some more and that through this exploration, you will either see how your church can make use of this, or you delegate this to someone to take up. I encourage you to get involved!

The Blog

Another key form of Web 2.0 is the blog or weblog such as this one!!

So what practical use does a Blog have to Anglican Ministry?

Again setting up a blog is free.Whether through MyChurch or some other offering such as www.wordpress.com, setting up a blog is very easy.The challenge is working out what to write and then promoting it!

Blogging is about sharing information and encouraging participation and engagement with that information.At any point in the life of a church or ministry there are a range of issues that need to be shared and discussed.An example:a church is working on a new mission statement. Traditionally this might be shared via the pulpit, through extraordinary meetings etc… With the addition of a blog, an article on the mission statement could be posted and congregation members encouraged to comment and debate the merits.

As with any technological offering, it exists to assist, not replace, our present face to face methods.

My five blogging tips:

  • Post every 3 to 5 days;

  • Set it up so that people can subscribe to your blog.So when a new post is made, they get an email alert to check it out.I recommend feedburner as a simple way of doing this http://www.feedburner.com/fb/a/home

  • Leave comments and a link to your blog on popular Christian blogs.

  • Keep the posts short and make use of images.For a wonderful resource of mostly free images see www.flickr.comAnd where possible include a video.

  • Be topical and interesting.

Best Practice Web 2.0 site

An excellent example of a church utilizing Web 2.0 is the National Community Church in the US:

ncc.JPG

Click here to check it out.. well worth a tour.It has the following qualities:

1. Well designed and regularly updated;

2. It provides information, advocacy and the opportunity to participate;

3. It provides a place for members to share stories, images, and video via a blog;

4. Multiple methods of communication:email newsletters; blogging; podcasts (audio recordings) etc.. ; and

5. Provide an RSS feed which alerts people via email when content on the website changes;

Clearly this has been built on a big budget… but it encapsulates a church that has embraced Web 2.0.For a much more economical version again, check out www.MyChurch.org

WEB 3.0

One of the challenges facing the church is to remain fresh in how it communicates its message.This involves keeping a watching brief on how society is changing and then responding to that change.One clear reality is that the reach and impact of the internet is growing.

Noted Australian psychologist and social commentator, Hugh Mackay, stated recently that people no longer expect to be physically present to connect.

The next stage of internet development according to such luminaries as Bill Gates and the CEO of IBM, Samuel Palmisano, will be a shift to a virtual setting.The virtual setting is where you interact through the internet, with others, in a three dimensional way.The attraction of the virtual platform is that it offers something in between Facebook.com and a physical encounter.Our yearning for community can be better fulfilled through a virtual encounter than the text, video, image based system that prevails today. Some are describing this as Web 3.0. The most popular version of the virtual platform is Second Life.


Given the importance of this new development, I want to spend some time sharing a new project that is endeavouring to create church within this virtual setting.

What is Second Life?

Second Life[8] (SL) is founded by Linden Labs[9]. As of the 10th of September 2007 there were some 9.5 million members with around 1.9 million participating in the past 60 days.A member is represented by an ‘avatar’. The avatar moves around a three dimensional world mostly created by the members.A significant amount of the activity is social networking although there is a burgeoning economy with some US$1.8 exchanging hands over the past 24 hours.Land is regularly bought and sold and a range of businesses offer services from virtual clothing to the promotion of products in the ‘real world’.

Communication is possible through text and voice.

The Anglican Community in Second Life

In January of this year I undertook some research on ministry engagement within the Web 2.0 environment and in the process came across Second Life (SL).Upon entering this virtual world I quickly realised that there were 2.8 million members and hardly any church presence, let alone Anglican.

So I started to explore what would be involved in creating an Anglican Community[10].30th-sept-07-first-service_007.JPG

The first step was to call a meeting to discuss the possibilities.This occurred in February and involved just five people.As part of that meeting I offered to lead the community which was accepted; I then shared my vision for building a Cathedral.One of the five at the meeting caught the vision and made contact with a friend who offered to build the Cathedral.Some seven months later the Cathedral is built, we run three services each week and we now have more than 200 members with new members joining every week. (See above – me preaching in the Anglican Cathedral of Second Life.)

We commenced the three weekly services only a couple of months ago.Each service caters for the major time zones: US, Europe and Pacific.The services offered have been Compline and a form of evensong.Two of the services offered include a sermon.The liturgy is typed, with attendees provided with an Order of Service.The sermon is pre-recorded audio that is ‘streamed into SL’.The number of people attending has been growing each week with an overall average of more than 20 attending each of the services.

The community is also a lively place for support, care and evangelism.Like any Christian community we attract people who face significant challenges.For most, the limited communication of text is sufficient, but for the few where the issues are rather more serious the course of action has been to recommend connecting with their local church/doctor for a more thorough level of intervention.

As well as attending to the needs of the SL community, and engaging with this emerging technology, my aim is also to provide a tool for the wider church to assist in their ministries.This new ministry expression will always be complementary to the undertakings in the real world.So how could it practically assist?

30th-sept-07-first-service_012.JPGSecond Life is being used as a forum for meetings between people where distance is an issue.Rather than teleconference, with the associated costs, or Skype with its patchy reliability, meeting in SL is a viable alternative.This simply requires each meeting participant to download the SL software and obtain an avatar (about a 20 minute process) and then travel to the meeting place.This can be purpose built to include power point, video and text based notes.

A number of churches are recording their services and making them available via the internet.SL provides another level of presentation and interaction.The audio or video file can be played in SL within a church and then the church ‘staff’ are on hand to pray and support the congregation following the service.

Second Life also provides an opportunity to assist in educating about our church and our faith in a context that is growing in influence and where most news about the church is negative.


The future of the project


The project has huge potential as it seeks not only to provide a church to those within Second Life, but also to develop a new missional model that makes use of the growing Virtual Reality platform.

I envisage in the not to distant future that a Priest will be appointed to oversee this growing virtual ministry.I also can see that this will become a significant form of church for thousands of people over the coming 10 or so years.

To conclude

The perennial challenge in delivering ministry is remaining fresh and relevant to those we seek to influence.Over the past ten years the internet has grown to the point where it involves a majority of New Zealanders.In its present Web 2.0 form, people expect to participate and have a say. And yet research shows that most churches struggle to utilize web 2.0.One significant way of connecting is for the church to take a step and get involved through setting up blogs as well as other such initiatives.

May God bless you in your endeavours!!!

In Christ,

Mark Brown

http://www.brownblog.info


[1] See:http://www.culturaleconomics.atfreeweb.com/Anno/Heidegger%20The%20Question%201954.htm for more indepth discussion of technology.

[2]http://www.stats.govt.nz/analytical-reports/digital-divide/default.htm

[3] For more information about this amazing programme see:http://laptop.org/

[4] http://www.newzealandatoz.com/index.php?pageid=598

[5] http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Generations_Memo.pdf

[6] http://www.cfcclabs.org/

[7] http://www.squidoo.com/org20

[8] www.secondlife.com

[9] www.lindenlabs.com

[10] For more information on the Community check out its blog at:https://slangcath.wordpress.com/

Author: Mark Brown

CEO of The Bible Society in New Zealand.

2 thoughts on “Anglican Ministry in a Technological Age

  1. Greetings Helen! I am working towards making available the audio and text from last sunday’s sermon, ‘The future of Virtual Anglicanism.’ Hopefully deliver that over the next week.

  2. I was wondering if you had a text version of what you spoke on in the cathedral on Sunday available for reposting, as well. I see some elements of it here, but I missed some of it and not sure how much overlap there is.

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