Category Archives: CNMAC11

Why Should We Embrace New Media?

One of the questions some of the attendees at the Christian New Media conference on Saturday from more traditional churches were asking, was why should their church be embracing new media?

If you look at the web presence of our two churches in the Finchampstead and California parish, we have pretty traditional web sites – the site for St James being more developed than St Mary and St John. Both are feeding to twitter (@stjfinch and @smsjcalifornia) and both also have Facebook fan pages, but I had to push quite hard to get the social media links on the front page of the St James site. At St James we do record and video occasional services and events copies of which are posted onto a resources page and also come through on iTunes, whilst St Mary and St John record their sermons onto CD to distribute on an ad hoc basis within the congregation, but not online. Therefore it was pretty interesting to hear what other churches were doing and why.

Certainly from our experience the reason for recording sermons and services is primarily for existing members who maybe wanted to hear a sermon again, or who perhaps were unable to attend an event. Whilst there maybe is a thought that other people outside the church might listen or watch, the general expectation is that people outside wouldn’t really be that interested. That idea seemed to be mirrored by some of the examples given in sessions at the conference, but then in a couple of cases churches have discovered that their videos and audio recordings have found a much larger audience. One church found that their sermons were being downloaded a lot in China, whilst another heard from a church in one of the former Soviet republics that were downloading their weekly sermons and then showing them to the entire church. Certainly that shows that embracing new media gives a church an opportunity to reach many more people than it could otherwise – although if you’re a small church community struggling to make ends meet in the physical world, you’ll certainly get questions over how you convert hundreds of views on YouTube into money in the collection plate!

However Dave Roberts of Partakers presented a different idea. He offered a model of using new media to include the excluded – rather than just using new media to take the church out, using the new media to bring the housebound into the church community. For example if you have someone housebound who is good at reading, have them read for videos and audio recordings that are shared with others in the church. Dave has posted the content of his session onto his website, and it is certainly worth a look.

Tweeting in the Pews

Before I even get to talking about the sessions, one interesting point to discuss about the Christian New Media conference is that they actively encouraged people to tweet about the sessions and the conference.

This seemed pretty successful such that people unable to attend the conference could keep up with what was going on. Indeed given that they were using Twitterfall to show the traffic this produced a couple of amusing moments such as the point they switched the feed to the big screen just as Mum tweeted that she was going back to doing the ironing tagged with #CNNAC11!

However the encouragement to tweet was backed up with some grumbling from people about it being frowned upon tweeting in church – the implication being that it was fuddy-duddy type attitudes to object. But is it?

It’s useful to just revisit some of the reasons churches object to tech – the most common restrictions being please turn off your phone and please don’t take pictures during the service. Both have come about from experience, for example I can think of a number of occasions where times of silence and prayer have been interrupted by a mobile phone (on at least one occasion owned by the priest) and certainly several weddings that have ended up like paparazzi photo sessions with all the flash photography. From there we got to asking people to silence their phones and not use flash, but it was pretty quickly realised that many people struggle to understand their gadgets such that they don’t know how to silence them or disable the automatic flash. As a result it’s now all phones off and no photography at all.

I’d suggest that most techies can manage to enable silent mode and disable the flash – however given that we can do that should we then be live tweeting the sermon?

To be honest I’d say no. Part of the point of a service is to provide a separate space, away from the world outside to focus on the spiritual. Certainly you may consider outside through the sermon, or the prayers, but ultimately most people there are focusing on God. As was highlighted by some of the speakers the idea of a sabbath time away from work applies just as much as a time away from the noise of the online world.

As people who experience Taizé for the first time discover, silence is a very powerful way to focus, and it is something that is little used in many services, let alone in the Christian world online.

Christian New Media Conference

This is the first in a series of posts about the Christian New Media conference and some issues raised by it.

Last Saturday I headed off to the Christian New Media conference in London. The conference was held at City University, which sits on leafy Northampton Square in Islington. Normally it’s pretty well connected transport wise with Angel tube a short walk to the north, and Farringdon and Barbican stations on the Circle slightly further south. However on Saturday, Transport for London had the Angel branch of the Northern Line closed totally, and services on parts of the Circle curtailed significantly along with a number of other closures effectively making any of my options for getting there pretty slow. In the end having found an NCP car park a short walk away, totted up the relative costs and time it actually worked out cheaper and quicker to drive!

For further reference traffic in the early morning on a Saturday is pretty light – I made it door to door coming in along the M4, round Shepherd’s Bush and along past Baker Street, Euston and Kings Cross in about an hour. Heading home was rather slower, but still not massively long compared to some people’s rail journeys!

City University was pretty nice once you got there – the main lecture theatre had clearly just been refurbished. Things were slightly chaotic since they hadn’t actually finished refurbishing in places giving a rather long hike to a toilet, and also because the university had classes going on elsewhere in the building with students mingling with the conference attendees. The organisation did seem to struggle to cope with the size of the conference at key times such as registration and the coffee breaks, and although many had prebooked lunch those prebookings weren’t enforced leaving frustration for some on collection. Having said that it was nothing like the chaos that the free for all at the Microsoft Developer Days produces.

The presenters were all good – there was only one technical hiccup once again demonstrating that you should never rely on a venue PC and should always bring your own computer. Bringing just a memory stick always ends in frustration. Having sat through many corporate and computer industry “death by PowerPoint” presentations it was also refreshing to have all the speakers use their slides to support what they were saying rather than just reading their slides to the audience. Indeed one presenter didn’t even use PowerPoint, instead going for Prezi – liable to induce motion sickness I suspect, but certainly makes a change.

The conference was also a chance to meet people I’d thus far only ‘met’ on Twitter. Needless to say I didn’t meet everyone, but then there is always next year!

All in all it was a good conference that gave me plenty to think about – more of which in subsequent posts. All of the issues are really growing pains as the conference, only in it’s second year, works out how to cope with the increasing interest in the topic.