On Monday David and I took part in the digital church conference. There were about 65 participants and it was also very interesting with time for breakout rooms to chat in small groups.
The speakers were Rev. Albert Bogle, a former Moderator of the General Assembly, Dr. Peter Phillips, professor of Digital Theology at Durham University, Neil MacLennan a tech person, and Laura Digan, a very charismatic and bubbly trainee minister.
Dr Peter Phillips explained that the church has always mediated religion with e.g. icons, religious paintings. Now we are mediating religion digitally.
Church is a community expression of our faith – online or offline – or should we just call it “church”?
Dr. Phillips then went on to explain the three uses of technology in church:
1. To enable offline church – like having a website to engage with members and invite non members to attend traditional church – “come to our building”. The focus is “bums on seats”
2. To extend offline church into online activities – first week of lockdown some churches broadcast a service from an empty church. We the congregation were spectators rather than participants.
3. Disrupting offline church through online church – second week of lockdown – interactive service broadcast eg leaving a space for silent prayer so the spectators can feel connected and participate. Using zoom or Facebook live the spectators can truly participate. Not only is God present in each physical location He is also present “online”.
Sanctuary First is an expression of online church. (They even have on online cafe running 10-12 every weekday. Go on their website and have a look).
We then had break out groups where we talked about what we were already doing.
The main issues were:
digital availability ie poor internet connections in rural places
no Internet access for majority of elderly members.
God is in the digital space as well as the physical locations
God can and does make things Holy on line.
After lunch we reconvened with Neil MacLennan speaking about the technical issues.
He talked about zoom being a very useful platform for meetings and that the congregations should keep going with their functional meetings. He referred to property committees and finance committees etc but we don’t do so much of that. He did say that on line kirk session meetings are fully legal.
Doing large tech is a team game where one person looks after the tech side of the meeting while others run the talking side.
He suggested three different ways of doing online church:
One to many ie live streaming a service, like watching tv.
Some to some ie a few people meeting together as church on the zoom platform.
Some to many ie the leaders using zoom and live-streaming that to many. After the livestream everyone can have their own coffee and chat on zoom.
For all this to work he says it is necessary to get help and pay money!
He had some tips on what to do which were helpful:
Take it easy
Get young people to help
Pick the low hanging fruit
If all you do is phone 2 people a day that is good.
Next speaker was Rev Albert Bogle on Rebooting the church
“A new kind of networked congregation may well emerge, one no longer defined by location”
Our immediate challenge is:
Grieving for what has been lost
Pastoral burden of ministry
Reluctantly embracing technology
The financial challenge
Reconnecting to our core calling.
He said if all we do is try to keep the institution afloat we have missed the point. John ch4v23 “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” This is what Jesus said when the woman at the well wanted to know where the correct place to worship is. The physical location is not important!
There have been discussions on the legality of communion taken on line. Alberts view is that actual physical communion – is it even authentic – communion is only a foretaste.
He said “How many buildings are going to survive the virus?
We need to think about networking with other churches and non church organisations. Think about how the early church worked. The network has to be bigger – worldwide.
We then had another breakout group where we were to discuss the question:
How then would thinking like a “Networking Church” begin to change the way we approach mission and the gifting of the churches at the moment as well as looking to the future?
This was a difficult question for the ministers in the group to answer as all they seemed to be thinking about was how to keep their own congregation gathered. They didn’t quite grasp the networking idea.
I’ve got loads of ideas running around my head but I won’t explain them just now!
The last speaker was Laura Digan who was filled with enthusiasm and talked about how the Holy Spirit was just as active online as anywhere else.
We were absolutely exhausted after the conference just because it was online for 4 hours including a lunch break. Apparently it gets easier the more you do.