Big Bibles? Bigger conversations?

A new multi-media online initiative is encouraging Christians and church members to engage with the Bible online and offline. After the success of the Big Read 2010 when several thousand people in the North-East participated in a Lent-course based on Tom Wright’s Lent for Everyone: Luke, the Big Read 2011 is going national, offering online and offline opportunities aimed at encouraging thoughtful engagement with the Bible individually, in home study groups, corporately as a region, and (inter)nationally online.

What is the Big Read 2011?
The Big Read 2011 is part of the Big Bible Project, a new project tying in with the larger Biblefresh initiative for 2011. Biblefresh emerged from plans to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible (the most familiar and widely read Bible translation in the world). Biblefresh is a movement of hundreds of churches, agencies, organisations, colleges and festivals, which has a vision to re-ignite and re-enthuse the church in its passion for the Bible. Both Biblefresh and the Methodist Church are already encouraging people to take part in the #BigRead2011 over Lent 2011.

Feast or Famine: Time to Party?
The Big Read 2011 will be launched on Shrove Tuesday, with locally organised Mardi Gras events, for which an online ‘party pack’ will be provided. Mardi Gras refers to “farewell to the flesh”, a ‘last fling’ before entering Lent, a period of forty days of penitence and purification celebrated between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, when, historically, ‘the religiously faithful would refrain from a number of indulgences of the “flesh”, including eating meat.’ At the core of this event will be the ‘Fair Feast’ organised by the Methodist Relief and Development Fund, expected to involve multiple pancakes … a great opportunity to invite people to a Fair Trade themed event.

What material will participants have access to?
The following materials will be available on this course:

  • Participants will need to purchase the book Lent for Everyone: Matthew, either in paper or digital format (available from January 2011). Organisations will be able to purchase bulk copies from SPCK and selected bookshops (£315 for 100 copies, listed on the Big Bible website). The book will use Tom Wright’s modern translation of the Bible.

  • With the purchase of the text, a code gives participants access to daily downloads of the material via 12Baskets (accessible via your mobile if desired), and a series of newsletters giving insight into the best of the discussions. A variety of free resources will also be made available on 12Baskets.

  • In early 2011, all home study materials (developed by a cross-denominational team) will be provided for free online in the form of downloadable PDFs and You Tube videos. Churches are encouraged to print and distribute the material, and videos will also be available in downloadable format via 12Baskets.

  • A “Seeker Study” based upon a study of Matthew, but not specifically linked to the themes of the book, will also be available in PDF format. This has been developed by Russell Gant from St John’s College.

What should participants do?
There are several things that participants can do before time:

  • Add dates for the Big Read into your diary. Mardi Gras is on Shrove Tuesday, which falls on 8th March this year.

  • Talk to your church leader/church meeting about adopting The Big Read 2011 as your church’s Lent home group programme.

  • Advertise your home groups in your church and neighbourhood, and encourage people to join, just for this project in the first instance.

  • Keep an eye out on bigbible.org.uk for updates and materials, including the launch of the online forum.

Will I have to join in every part of the programme?
The course is aimed at both online and offline users and looks to encourage users to gain confidence in new media, offering inspiring ideas, interviews, tips, tricks and training to enable you to engage with the Bible online. Participants, however, have choices as to how far to partake: they can just read the book, download the study materials, or come and join The Big Read online.

As Biblefresh says: “For many in our churches the Bible has become tedious and toxic rather than treasured, trusted and true.” The aim of the Biblefresh initiative is to encourage a greater confidence and passion for Scripture across the Church.” The overall aim of the Lent Course is to help people reengage with the Bible, preferably within the setting of a house group, but where possible, engaging with those conversations with a wider audience.

So is this what the forum is for?
Yes. Those working through the material in study groups are encouraged to continue discussions online. You may have been in the same house group for years and it can become an echo chamber. If you go online you can engage with wider debates and viewpoints, and bring the debates back into the house group.

The core discussions on the forum will be built around the themes for the weeks (God’s People, God’s Promises, God’s Provision, God’s Parables, God’s Purpose), but there will also be opportunities to share tips and tricks and raise wider questions, although bigger debates regarding, for example, God’s existence, are already well catered for on sites such as Premier Community.

I’m confused, what’s the difference between The Big Bible Project and The Big Read?
The Big Bible Project was created to allow people to engage with the Bible on a bigger scale, particularly through the use of digital tools. It encourages people to come into bigger online conversations but we realised a lot of people are not familiar with the possibilities of new media, have a negative perception of what is online, or are unconfident in using the tools, so we’re seeking to address those issues and demonstrate the more positive uses of Christian material online and via mobile devices, thus allowing people to participate fully in The Big Read.

If further funding could be secured, the Big Bible Project will continue, providing inspiring interviews, reviews of what’s online and further tips and tricks in the ever-changing digital world, and further house group materials could be developed.

So is this all about online media then?
NO! This project is very much built around helping people engage more fully with the Bible, especially within house groups. With the project created by CODEC (Christian Communication in a Digital Age), however, we wanted to use material that is familiar to many (the Bible) to allow them to take their first steps, or go deeper, into engaging with others online.

What can I do to help?
There’s plenty you can do to help:

  • Encourage your church to participate and let us know that you’re joining in.

  • Provide content for blog posts. We are keen to interview people who are just about to have a go, are just ‘getting it’ with why they should bother with either the Bible, house group or social media, or have lots of experience in those fields.

  • Join in the variety of social media www.bit.ly/bigbiblesm, using the hash tags #bigbible, #bigread2011 and #biblefresh

  • We will be looking for moderators and encouragers for the forum, and for those who can seed creative resource material onto 12baskets.

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