Press the Button

Networks

One of the most valuable resources I have found on my computer has been the reset button! When everything freezes on the screen and nothing appears to work, I hit reset and all is well. If only we could do that with life.

It is possible that the consequences of this global pandemic will have lifelong implications. We are witnessing perhaps the dawning of a new age, in which the psychological, economic and spiritual aftermath has yet to be comprehended. The likelihood is we will continue to live with a Covid season each year, as we have learned to lived with the flu season.

While much of this is speculation, what is certain is that we find ourselves in a digital age. The Digital Age is simply the time period starting in the 1970s when the personal computer became available. In the 1980s, greater computer access combined with the internet in the 1990s facilitated the dramatic proliferation of digital devices. In the 2010s, the smartphone revolution essentially placed a supercomputer into the pockets of billions of human beings, creating a new social web and hyper-connected mobile technology. It’s also called the Information Age because the emerging computer technologies introduced the ability to collect and transfer information freely and rapidly.

I find it ironic that at he beginning of my ministry I was talking at a circuit event about the church needing to move from a community model to a network model, and here we are still having the same conversation. The big difference is that 25 years ago most people could ignore me. Now thanks to a pandemic and an ageing church membership profile, the emergence of a ‘Network Church’ is much harder to ignore. To be honest all that is happening is the move for one model to a new model of Church is just accelerating. In many ways we have been becoming a Network Church for a number of years. How many church members reading this will on a normal Sunday drive past a Methodist Church to attend the church they chose. We have expanded the geographical space of our churches and now in the digital age, we must consider a new kind of space.

This “cyberspace” is an expression of the nodes, hubs and flows of the network. In other words, the digital space of bits and bytes is the result of the machinic infrastructure of servers and routers, boxes and wires, cables and satellites, of the network society. 

So, in the same way that cities provided opportunity for encounter in physical space, the digital ecosystem facilitates distanced contact in the space of flows. A city is a built environment that both facilitates and limits the movement of people through a space. The web is similar to a city — it is a digitally built environment that facilitates and limits the movement of people through a virtual ecosystem. Connections, passions and relationships are formed in the built environment of a city and are equally facilitated with others in cyberscape.

This has given us an appreciation for technological advances and personal connections. For instance, how many grandparents have experienced their grandchildren’s “firsts” through Zoom? How many of us have celebrated a friend’s birthday party via Skype? Even if you claim to have never done this how many people us a bank card rather than cash to pay for your shopping?

“Virtual reality” is not virtual as in not real, it is real virtuality. Just ask any church that had to survive 2020 by going digital if their online worship, sermons, prayers and donations were real or not. In some way we are all citizens of this new age, but COVID-19 made us more aware of this truth. 

In the Fresh Expressions movement, we have prayerfully sought to discover ways to form church with people who don’t go to church in this emerging social milieu. 

Many of us are rushing to put 2020 behind us and venture optimistically into 2021, but what have we learned that might help us thrive? The saddest tragedy of all could be that we waste this moment of reset. 

We had all hoped things would go “back to normal” but find ourselves in a new normal. 

Both digital natives and digital immigrants alike are familiar with video games. Many of us have experienced a time when our system froze up or got stuck in a loop. Whenever that anxiety inducing moment occurred — whether we grew up on Pong, Super Mario Brothers or Fortnite — when all else failed… we hit the reset button! 

This is also an approach we employ frequently with the plethora of our digital tools. When our laptop overheats, our PC crashes, or our phone is glitching… we turn it off and turn it back on. When our devices become bogged down with cookies, are maxed with data, or contract viruses the manual reset is a built-in mechanism to optimize and make the system work again.

The church has become bogged down, loaded with unnecessary clutter and infected with many viruses. The virus of imperialism, racism, classism, consumerism, sexism, homophobia and so on. The British church has been in a state of plummeting decline for over 50 years. We have needed a reset for a long time. 

The future of the church in the West is not analog, nor is it digital, it is hybridity… a blended ecology of analog, digital and hybrid expressions of church for a post-Christendom world. 

A central but radical idea for the future church is that –

Any Christian with internet access and a device can be a missionary in the Digital Age. 

Furthermore, evangelism, discipleship and church planting should not be programs, departments or the expertise of specialists. They are a single move of the Spirit that flows through the life of every Jesus follower. When we do this in community with others, we are the fullness of the “priesthood of all believers” (1 Peter 2:5-9). On the digital frontier, the playing field has been leveled. Every believer can play a part in God’s ever-expanding kingdom.

God bless,

Alan.

2 thoughts on “Press the Button

  1. malcolmoliver54

    Brilliant Alan.. As always thank you so much ..for putting in a coherent way, my sort of thinking. and I suspect that of many others. Also very importantly for inviting and challenging us to press ‘reset’. I would agree with you Alan ‘Any Christian with internet access and a device can be a missionary in the Digital Age.’ This immediately raises the question: What about those who do not have internet access? Yet in my experience whilst people may decide that e-mails, ZOOM, YouTube and such like is not for them… I do sense that even with poverty, future generations will increasingly embrace and depend on the internet for communication. I am in regular contact with people (who often struggle for what many would consider basic necessities) in a variety of rural areas in Moçambique and Zambia. People, many of whom are struggling financially, cannot afford to phone each other by traditional means BUT are adept and use ‘WhatsApp’ or similar* This was beyond my wildest dreams when I was a mission parter in Zambia in the 1980’s. Then we were truly blessed when we spoke of under 5 minutes on a ‘landline’ with my mum and dad!
    I do so hope that we will be open to developing Alan’s thinking as congregations and as a Circuit as a whole. THANK YOU Alan.
    *sometimes even for interactive worship… not something we have done yet in this Circuit?

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  2. Diana Bosman

    Thank you, Alan, once again for such a thought provking piece. Being someone who had never heard of Zoom back in February and now tomorrow, Wednesday, have 5 Zoom meetings and enjoy Zoom worship plus then catching up on the You Tube and Face Book services while preparing lunch or the 9.30a.m. before I join my regular Zoom service. Your words are so appreciated and enjoyed b someone with no technology who loves reading what both you and Stephen’s ‘Words on the word’ when it happened so an extra for some.

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