You OK, hun? The Church and Digitality
We're starting to think seriously about how the Church is feeling about all things digital - about digital culture, digital church, digital engagement.
One of the effects of a global pandemic is extreme exhaustion. For some, that is a symptom of long COVID, but for all it is a symptom of living through a global pandemic with all the existential angst surrounding the core illness but also the gradual lessening of life itself.
And now we have a cost of living crisis and a fuel crisis.
Why are we so tired? Perhaps because life is actually quite complex right now.
But many people, especially in the Global North, are reporting less people coming back to church. There seems to be a suggestion of some churches being down to 1/3rd of their former onsite congregation with another 1/3rd remaining online and another 1/3rd who may simply have drifted away from church altogether.
Read through to the end because we'd love to hear from you directly on this.
What's going on?
Premier Digital's Head of Digital Theology, Pete Phillips, had a conversation with some key digital practitioners: Bryony Taylor, Ben Hollebon, Hannah Fleming-Hill and Christian Sterzik. We're going to release the video in four parts over the coming weeks but need to get it all processed and captioned before we release part one.
We'd love to see your reactions to the videos but also to the core question itself: Has the Church fallen out of love with the digital?
I'm not sure it has.
It may be that what we are witnessing is "the trough of disillusionment".
Gartner, a tech analysis/news company in the States, releases something called the Hype Cycle Analysis for different industries on a regular basis. The idea of the Hype Cycle is that ideas kick off really quickly, often fuelled by venture capitalism and entrepreneurial excitement (the innovation triggers). However, they then quickly hit a peak (of inflated expectations) before falling rapidly into decline. The depths of that decline are this trough of disillusionment or "the valley of despond". But that's actually a place of hope because from there surviving technologies (not all technologies even reach the peak! Many remain mired in the trough - for example, Twitter!) climb the slope of enlightenment to the plateau of productivity.
Here's a Hype Cycle for last summer's state of emergent Digital Technology. You might recognise some of the technologies around the Metaverse, Bitcoin, NFTs, Digital Indepedency and so on. There are even a few here that we can see in action in the Ukraine conflict (e.g instantaneous reporting of missile strikes).
Did the Digital Church experience the same kind of Hype Cycle during the pandemic? So the COVID outbreaks and lockdowns caused the innovation trigger (note it was not the financial impact which is the normal trigger but a stressful emergency reaction) and after reaching a peak (around Easter 2021?), are we currently wallowing in the trough of disillusionment? And if so, where next?
Pete goes through his thinking on this in the first of the videos...coming soon!
But note for now the growing importance of discipleship rather than church services. In fact, the team conversation focussed on how this was essential for contemporary Christianity. Discipleship is where we learn how to be Christians in today's world.
Hearing from you!
But how is your church managing the crisis?
If you'd like to feedback your response, then send a paragraph or two to Pete:
Where are you on the hype cycle?
What are your numbers looking like?
Are you continuing with online ministry?
What platform are you using for online ministry?
Where next with digital?
We'd love to hear from you.