Social Media has regularly made the headlines in 2010, even if sometimes for the wrong reasons. Looking back over the last twelve months, perhaps we might say that in 2010, the church has at least tried to be sociable. Of course I speak from experience of living in the UK and I recognize that our brothers and sisters across the pond tend to be further down the line with this stuff. But, in 2010 the church has definitely been seen exercising its social media muscles.
Social media has been around a while now and for many it is has become an integral part of life. With smarter phones, tablets and even the odd watch that will present you with your life stream, there is no escaping your friends. Social Media will never replace face-to-face communication, but its ability to aid the building of community and relationships means churches must be fully engaged with this world.
2010 news bulletins have been awash with facebook and twitter indiscretions on the part of various public figures and the church has been no exception. Earlier in the year one bishop got into trouble for his opinions about the forthcoming Royal Wedding when he posted them on facebook. The bishops’ story highlights the truth that whether on-line or off-line, the boundaries and safety checks are just the same. People used to brag about how many facebook friends they had, but just because facebook calls them friends doesn’t mean they are. Public figures who fail to recognize this are unbelievably common and the bishop learnt the hard way.
On a more positive note though, I get a great deal of encouragement from reading the regular tweets of another bishiop, John Sentamu, as he shares a little more appropriately from his life as Archbishop of York. I find myself praying with him for issues like the situation in Zimbabwe – that it will change in 2011 to allow him to replace the dog collar he cut up on national TV. He makes being a bishop kind of cool.
Good or bad, the use of twitter and facebook by bishops highlights the increasing importance of social media for the church. It is possible though that we need a new idiom for “putting your foot in it”.
2010 has also seen the church try to use the new medium in more imaginative and creative ways. As 2010 came to a close, the UK based Share Creative gave us the Natwivity, a re-telling of the Christmas story rolled out in 140 character chunks on twitter. I’m sure projects like this will become increasingly common as the church tries to communicate and engage in the 21st century.
Then there was Cape Town 2010. No not the football but Lusanne III, a gathering of 4000 church leaders in Cape Town to discuss the issues of our time. This was a highly significant event for many reasons but especially for its use of technology, since for the first time Christians from across the globe were invited to join the conversation through the use of social media. What impact the congress has on the church and the world, and the part social media played, is yet to be seen, but this level of involvement of the worldwide church in a conversation has never been possible before. You can certainly expect any Christian conferences or events you attend in 2011 to be using social media in some form or other.
Even Bible reading has started to become a more social activity. The cross-platform Bible App YouVersion saw some significant developments in 2010, providing a platform for the sharing of bible reading experiences. It is a long way from being truly social but it is heading in interesting directions and now with versions for desktop/web, Android and iPhone/iPad. With 2011 marking the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, this App could be an important tool for putting the bible back into the pockets, bags and lives of the people. (Though hopefully not in seventeenth century English! The App has many more appropriate contemporary translations.)
And so 2010 was the year that the church became sociable.