Lori Passmore writes
For better or worse many of us have been forced into the online space as our mixed economy of churches seek to connect with congregations in a virtual way because of social distancing. But what will happen to these digital spaces as we move out of lockdown?
According to a poll conducted by Tearfund, a quarter of adults in the UK have watched or listened to a religious service since the coronavirus lockdown began1 giving the church an unprecedented opportunity to reach beyond its usual contact. People are able to be curious, seek comfort in a time of uncertainty, make a faith re-connection, be globally connected…but whatever the reason for this increase, there is a hunger to connect. You can find everything from prayer meetings, to messy church, to worship, to interactive experiences being streamlined through social media. As Richard has previously spoken about we are invited from our private spaces into a.n.others private space, there is an intimacy in that connection. With a collective online community we can listen, interact and contribute with one another and the facilitator/leader.
So what happens next? We don’t know what the next months, year(s) will bring, but if we want to continue to ‘be’ in the digital space – what could/will this look like? We could, for example, streamline church or other services – as many churches did pre-lockdown. But suddenly this intimate collective online connection becomes something else. I wonder if something will be lost in that connection as we move from the private into the public space and there is a risk of excluding those who are wanting to be part of an online community, rather than just spectators.
A form of ‘digital’ church is not new and there are many who already inhabit this space such as Disability Jesus who found there emerging community online on twitter @DisabilityJ2 or d-church who are ‘’exploring spirituality, creating community in an online world’3. But for those of us seeing a new uptake in interaction and thinking about what we can do next, what could that look like? I think there will be a natural drop in demand as life get’s back to ‘normal’ but I do think there will be a group of people for whom connecting in this way is meaningful. Therefore I ask – how can we create a digital community as part of our church life and what could this look like? I’d be interested to know if anyone has been asking these questions of those who’ve connected with them online. There is an opportunity to create something that’s digitally experimental, creative, accessible and not geographically constricted. As someone involved in Fresh Expressions and pioneering I’m excited by the opportunity this gives us and hope that there will be those willing to take the leap.