Since the beginning of time, humans have explored the idea of a supernatural, eternal being. Orality gave way to discussion of thoughts, hence thoughts on a creator God were presented. Subsequently, the arise of literacy brought about religious manuscripts derived from oral tradition. Scribes took on the role of copying religious texts, which were mainly held by members of the clergy. The invention of the printing press revolutionized literacy by Johannes Gutenberg with the first print of the Bible completed in 1456. The Christian Bible contains 66 books, written by about 40 different authors over a period of some 1600 years. It is also arguably the most printed book throughout history. Undoubtedly, the Bible has had a massive impact on many societies and people over the years. Currently, roughly 1/3 of the world's population claims belief in Christianity.
Now with the widespread availability of the internet, literacy and communication has taken a immense turn. The Bible is now fully published online in multiple versions such as the King James Version, New King James Version, New International Version, English Standard Version, New American Standard Version, and many more including differing languages. Accessibility to a religious text such as the Bible is at an all time high. There is no doubt that the world wide web is transforming the mediation of the Bible and the Christian Church. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Myspace are starting to play a significant role in current churches. In a recent study, it is reported that about half (47%) of Protestant churches use Facebook in their ministry. 40% of churches do not use any sort of social networking aids. The use of social networking tools online is showing an increased progression. Churches are attempting to use social networking to enhance communication, connection and relationships.
The Roman Catholic Church is attempting to enhance connections with people and bring members back to the Church. As of February 2011 in the 45th World Communications Day, Pope Benedict XVI supports the use of social networking saying,"I invite young people above all to make good use of their presence in the digital world." Shorty after, an iPhone Confession app went on sale on iTunes. The Catholic Church is encouraging the use of this app to enhance and prepare members of the church for live confession at their local churches. It gives users a way to keep track of their sins, with the intent that they will be better prepared when they go in for actual confession with their priest. The Pope also warns of the perceived down-side to social networking saying "It is important always to remember that virtual contact cannot and must not take the place of direct human contact with people at every level of our lives." The Roman Catholic Church's embrace of digital media has significant social, cultural, structural, and religious implications.
On the Protestant side of things, churches such as LifeChurch.tv (Oklahoma) and Mars Hill Church (Washington) are promoting church online. They post weekly video and audio podcasts of sermon messages, accompanied by blogs used for discussion between church attendees. These churches are another example of the pursuit to use social networking and media as a means to enhance human relationships. The churches urge attenders to join real life community groups and events. Mars Hill Church in Seattle also makes use of an online Christian networking system called The City. Members can update personal information, engage in discussion, schedule events, and even check in their kids for Sunday day care! Mars Hill continues to expand into new campus locations and increase in members every year. There must be a certain extent of relation between the use of social networking in this particular church and the receptivity of users.
Over the next month or so, I will be conducting a project to explore the implications of social networking within the modern Christian Church. How does this digital age affect social and cultural structures within the Christian Church? Why are Christians starting to use social networking? I'm sure some interesting results will ensue!