The Emergent Church & New Media Technologies

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God’s Spirit is doing something that is springing up now; will we perceive it? He is making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:19

I have considered this passage from scripture many times in the last few years and cannot help but be struck by the times in which we live. The technological transformation of our society is taking place now on almost every level. Most social institutions are poised on the cusp of dramatic change. From science; medicine to business; agriculture, from politics; economics to education; the family, technology is redefining our world.

There is no doubt our faith communities will take new shape in the digital age. The tents & tabernacles of tomorrow will be different than in previous generations. As we become an increasingly media-centric, global community, the Church of Jesus Christ will be transformed in ways that are just now springing up. Not because Jesus changes, rather the opposite; His constancy gets translated into every tongue (and tribe), through every medium that can express it and to every generation who will declare it.

Whether we consider Emergent a church, a conversation, a meme or a movement, whether we agree with its leaders, can identify its hotspots or define its theology, the significance of an emergent mindset, broadly speaking, may lay not so much in its buzz factor nor in exactly how we define it. The Emerging Church is important rather for what it heralds. The notable thing about Emergent is that it signals a next wave.

The same way punk music challenged the traditional music industry hegemony, causing a revolution within a revolution, the emergent mindset challenges a top-down command and control approach to church, and instead emphasizes a decentralized, cooperative approach to sharing/expressing faith. Emergent values a participatory Christianity rather than a proprietary one and welcomes the priesthood of every believer in a way we may not have seen since Luther had a few challenging observations and set off a Reformation.

Furthermore, it embraces conversation to the point of prioritizing it. And therein lies the dynamic that Marshall McLuhan expressed as the ‘medium is the message’ – an expression of synergy that occurs when a particular message is amplified by the medium used to deliver it. Interactive conversation is not only an Emergent value – it is becoming one of the key attributes of what may be a dramatic move of God. For the Internet in all its ubiquity, allows for a globally, interactive (come let us reason together) conversation.

New media technologies will soon press traditional institutions (the Church) like never before. The rapid diffusion of Web 2.0 including blogs, social networking sites, wikis, etc., all operating in an interactive/organic/constantly changing/open dialog of ideas/ inspirations/ revisions/etc. is spurring change. The new media, as our electronic extensions, are enabling us to organize collective action in new ways, in places and on scales we have not seen before. Multimedia enabled, powerful wireless, devices that billions of people will soon possess will foster new social, cultural, economic, and political forms of collective action. It has been said that when communication technologies enable people to organize collective action on this kind of scale, civilizations change. This means the Church.

Quite obviously, the Internet has the power to extend social networks and create common experiences, like we’re doing here. Additionally, it can foster new and sustain existing communities. The group formations enabled by the new media make it possible for people who are located in different parts of the world to connect with each other instantly and this facilitates new options for viral communication about Christ.

So, I guess my question, to steal a phrase, is: “The new media, what’s the big idea?”

Is the Emergent Church an expression of the Spirit of God manifested as a response to the global transformation that is sweeping our world?

Do we have specific examples of indicators that we are moving towards, for lack of a better analogy, an open source flow of Christianity?

Does a democratization of the Church threaten or empower our theology?

Will Emergent make a long term difference or is it a blip?

Does it create a new stability and or invite discord?

Cynthia Ware The Digital Sanctuary