Digital Media and the Bible

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1). At the recent Methodist City Centre Network (#mccn) it was noted that churches used to be the multi-media centres of the world. We have, however, replaced the visual with words. God speaks in many different languages, and it doesn’t all have to be text.

24/7 Disciples

As the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC) declares, we “believe that every part of our lives comes under the Lordship of Christ and that all of life is a context for worship, mission, ministry and active Christian engagement twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week”. As they ask us to imagine what the world would look like if it was full of twenty-four seven disciples, we respond to that call as we think, what is our mission field? For some of us, our talent lies in the world of digital media, but this is not an exclusive field!

Just Imagine if we all blogged about our lives…

Just imagine… if we are living for God 24/7, and we’re blogging about our everyday lives, how much will he be reflected in what we write about? As our Biblical principles affect how we live, we can make a difference through, for example, social justice campaigns (as many already have). Rather than Christian content being contained within the walls of a church building, we can record our own views, discuss and debate in the public arena. As with all God-given skills, this may not be for all.

How can Christians get their voices heard?

If we search for terms such as “Bible” in Digg (a social bookmarking site), we are returned largely negative material. This is what others will see first too, so how do we change this. There’s no magic bullet, but if Christians aren’t online, then we have no voice online. As was said at the Church and Media Network conference in 2007, when the Chief Executive of Channel 4 was asked why he didn’t ‘make’ more ‘Christian’ programmes… Channel 4 doesn’t make programmes, it commissions them. If good Christian programmes are out there, they may get commissioned. If good Christian content is available in the digital world, it may get picked up by other users, including search engines.

The Value of Crowdsourcing

Wikinomics (2008) indicates that businesses have traditionally been built upon models where companies innovate, differentiate, and compete, demonstrating superiority. Mass collaboration, however, made particularly possible through digital media, is changing, producing businesses which co-innovate with everyone (especially customers), share resources and harness the power of mass collaboration – sharing knowledge globally.

Churches, as part of the 21st Century world, have tended to absorb some of the principles of business modelling. We can, however, lead the way in the crowdsourcing revolution. We don’t all know everything, so the digital world offers us an excellent opportunity to share and bring materials together from across the churches, across the denominations, and from those who are currently not affiliated to a church. Organisations such as Like Minds offer a platform where users can inspire one another and make ideas happen, making connection with other users with shared interests.

New Fears? Old Fears?

Like any new technology, there is a lot of negative press about the internet and various new websites on it, with the dangers of social media often quoted: harassment, cyberbullying, defamation, information leaks, misinformation and loss of intellectual property. There are concerns about security, privacy, stolen IDs, the permanency of information on the web (if you’re not prepared to see it on the front page of a newspaper, don’t post it). It is good to be aware of these issues and build them into social media policies and practices. In a recent blog post, Bryony Taylor wrote:

Cast your mind back about 10-15 years. Did you have a mobile phone then? What did you think of people that had mobile phones? I can remember how it was seen to be pretty cool to say ‘I’ll never get a mobile phone, they’re for idiot yuppies’. Now even my grandmother has one and I don’t think there are many people left who don’t use one every day.

The internet and social media sites such as Facebook are simply another communication tool, just like mobile phones. Saying the internet is evil is like saying all phones are evil – it’s a nonsense. The internet can be used for good purposes and bad, just as phones can be.

Don’t write off the internet as a tool just because of negative things you’ve heard about it. It is simply another tool that can be used very powerfully to communicate and one that you should be aware of, even if you don’t wish to use it.

New Tools? New Benefits?

The benefits, however, are recognised by many. Regular users of social media, especially those who concentrate on one or two networks at a time, find it a great place to find others working in the field, to share and build on information, rather than multiple users reinventing the wheel. With an increased focus on authenticity, trust and relationships are built through regular interaction, whether that is with new external contacts, or for internal communications, and users become adept at adapting to each new system.

Those who spend their time zooming around attached to their smartphones can take opportunities to interact with the many online tools available [See below].

The Big Bible Project seeks to allow users to engage with a range of viewpoints outside of those possible within their geographical distance, whilst encouraging them to see the benefits of being online, and inspire with stories of what others are doing. It seeks to promote digital literacy and to aid the reduction of the digital divide.

Most of the programmes we now take for granted didn’t exist ten years ago, so as new platforms continue to develop, there is a concern for the portability of data between different applications… and watch out for Augmented Reality.

Some of the Current Top Social Media Networks

There are hundreds of other options, so do not try to join them all. Know what you need to achieve, and find a platform that allows you to do it.

Blogs: Regular online entries, generally displayed in reverse-chronological order. Core to almost any social media strategy. Typically 500-800 words and can include text, image, video, and audio. Popular software includes WordPress, Posterous and Blogger.

Twitter: The most famous form of micro-blogging. Tweets are limited to 140 characters and shared amongst followers. Few rules, but a clear user-defined etiquette. Raise public profile, through making and maintaining contacts with others with similar interests, particularly around #hashtags, and at conferences. Particularly effective if the ‘Twitterer’ has access to a smartphone.

Facebook: The most well-known social networking site, with over 500 million users since its creation in 2004. Interest groups can create Group Pages (similar functionality to Ning), whilst fan-pages offer more marketing potential. Facebook is typically used to maintain friendships with people already known in the ‘offline world’, making viral campaigns successful.

LinkedIn has the strongest reputation in the business world, so is particularly good for head-hunters, job-hunters and entrepreneurs. . Users can import their CV, link to Twitter, blogs, and Slideshare. Users can host readings lists and join groups with similar interests. Recommendations can be offered on connections. Companies can create an online portfolio.

YouTube, created in 2005, is a video sharing website on which users can upload and share videos, and create themed playlists of favourite saved videos. In March 2008 it was estimated that it would take 412.3 years to view all YouTube content. A more professional version is Vimeo.

Flickr, created in 2004, is an image and video hosting website, widely used by bloggers to host images that they embed in blogs and social media. Hosting over 4 billion images in October 2009, the site offers photo storage, tagging, photo-favouriting, group photo pools, and rating by level of ‘interestingness’. Requires a Yahoo login. Picasa is a similar site.

Skype is a software application that allows users to make voice calls over the Internet (VOIP), whilst also allowing instant messaging, file transfer and video conferencing. Calls to other users of the service are free, while calls to other landlines and mobile phones can be made for a fee. Software such as ‘Pamela’ is required for recording, although a simple cut & paste can save written chats.

Wikis tend to be used to create collaborative websites, the most famous of which is Wikipedia, created in 2001, offering 13 million articles in more than 200 languages by September 2009. Wikis do not offer static content, but actively seek to involve the visitor in an on-going process of creation and collaboration. Changes can usually be made without review, although entries can be post-moderated, with a record kept of page changes. Wiki platforms include WikiSpaces and PBWorks.

Digg, Delicious, Reddit and Stumbleupon are social bookmarking sites. Users submit links and stories to share with others. Users can vote and comment on submitted links and stories, popular stories rise up, other stories are ‘buried’. Note that if you currently put a topic such as ‘Bible’ into Digg, stories are largely negative.

Friendfeed is a real-time feed aggregator consolidating updates from social media and social networking websites, social bookmarking websites, blogs and micro-blogging updates, or any other RSS/ Atom feed. Friendfeed provides the facility to track activities across social media networks.

A Few Bible Specific Tools

Bible Gateway: First formed in 1993, the Bible Gateway is a tool for reading and researching scripture online in multiple languages and translations. It provides advanced searching capabilities, which allow readers to find and compare particular passages in scripture based on keywords, phrases, or scripture reference.

BibleSummarySummarising the Bible on Twitter - one tweet per chapter, one chapter per day.

BibliaBible study software online, including Bibles and reference works. Produced by Logos Bible Software.

Biblos: Provides free access to Bible study tools in many languages. It seeks to ‘promote the Gospel of Christ through the learning, study and application of God’s word’, whilst seeking to increase the visibility and accessibility of the Scriptures online.

Holy Roller AppHeard the phrase “there’s an app for that”, with this iPhone application – there’s a verse for that. Frustrated? Doubting? Happy? Shake and be provided with an appropriate verse whilst on the move.

Olive TreeBible Study software, available on multiple mobile devices and via the website.

Red Letter DaysAn iPhone application giving daily access only to the words that Jesus spoke…and nothing else, allowing you to become familiar with those words, letting them impact your life all day, every day.  

YouVersionDownloadable to a number of different mobile platforms, in multiple translations, and with a strong community. The app currently gets downloaded at the rate of over 1 million new users every month (without advertising)

For further information contact Bex Lewis at bex.lewis@durham.ac.uk.

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