The internet has changed and is still changing the world as we speak. But the church is getting left behind. Throughout history the church dominated the spread and assimilation of society throughout the known world. But in my lifetime the church where I live has slowly and successfully declined. I’m 60 next year and there are not too many younger than me at Sunday Mass.
When I went to church in China I was one of the oldest. People would stand to give me a seat, as there was standing room only when the service started. To get a seat you had to go half an hour early. They used to bring out stools so people could sit down. You couldn’t move. There were big screen TV broadcasting the service around the church, as you couldn’t always see the alter.
At Communion it was organized chaos with about 6 different Communion stations to go to. There were line of people snaking around the church. It was simply amazing I had seen nothing like it for many years. Anyway not since I was a kid going to my school church. On the way out of the church grounds, we had to walk the gauntlet of beggars lined up on both sides of the church gate. But that is China.
Internet is very cheap in China so if I couldn’t make it to church, I used to go online to ustream.tv to try and join a Mass. That was quite good but there was no interaction. It was like just watching TV. Anyway I settled in secondlife.com at the Anglican Cathedral. That was interactive and I met lots of people there.
As I am quite involved with the internet I started looking to cyberspace. I’ve been involved in education for many years and in the past I have used the internet to teach and learn. We taught kindergarten kids off the internet as well as primary school kids. The internet is the future, or it is my future. I started doing MOOCs last year. And was very impressed. To me that is the future of education. Most of the MOOCs I participated in where education related or a topic I am interested in.
In my little village in little old NZ, the people who go to church have settled into their respective churches. But there is a small number who change churches. A couple of kids who come into my shop have started going to the Salvation Army, whereas before they went to a different church. They changed from a night church to a day church. I think mummy didn’t want them walking home at night by themselves. A lot of the kids and street kids alternate between the Salvation Army and another, I think it is a Brethren Church. They have lots going on for the kids.
The old fashioned, established religions that most of the older people go to, do not seem to be attracting new people. But then again rural New Zealand is dying a slow and unnatural death. New people are few and far between and a lot of people in our town just sleep here. They work, shop and do everything in the big city about 25 to 30 kilometers away. They drive back home from the big city, sleep here and drive back to the big city next day. They are not really a part of the village. Their home is here and that is it. They do nothing in the village outside of their house.
It is often said that online communities could be the future, but in the present form I don’t think so. Forums and blogs from 5 or 6 years ago were, in my opinion, more active that they are nowadays. I made virtual friends, I’d never met, in some forums, but that has all died now.
But in the complete reversal of that, one church in secondlife grew out of nothing to be the church to go to in secondlife. At their Sunday service there were people everywhere. I could honestly say that would have been the most popular place in secondlife. They ended up starting a real life church outside of secondlife. Their growth was simply amazing. They put in a lot of effort and they took a lot of abuse. At the church there was always somebody to talk to around the campfire, 24/7, so people gravitated there to be around other people. In my humble opinion I think people escape to secondlife, as they can hide behind their avatars. There are a lot of lonely people in secondlife and that church just brought them together.
When I was on ustream.tv at church there were very few other people online in the same church. So I assume going to church online is not the thing to do. Also I was expecting an upsurge in children going to school in virtual classrooms. Instead of going to a physical classroom the children would just go online to go to school. But not so, so far. The virtual classroom has not taken off. Homeschooling has not merged with the virtual classroom yet. I thought with religious homeschooling that would have joined them together in the virtual world, but not so, so far. When the attitude towards home school changes, then we might see a surge in virtual classroom use. And also along those lines virtual worlds could be a part of the future, if they survive that long.
The church in the past has always been at the forefront of change, but with the internet and the cyberspace world, they have not changed fast enough. The church in secondlife that grew from nothing just showed the church could still dominate cyberspace, but the church model would need to change. The internet model of survival is ‘the money is in the list’. You need to capture the email address of your visitors to build your list. But most of secondlife do not use lists. When you visit a new site your presence is acknowledged, but I have never been sent a follow up email from anybody on secondlife yet. And that church completely took the church model in secondlife to new heights, and their model I think was word of mouth or f2f as they say on the internet.