Faith communities and their leaders need help navigating the changing landscape of communication in America today. What’s the latest social media trend? Will it last? How do I use YouTube? Should I podcast or not? What does it all mean?
Some pastors blog, and use Facebook and Twitter extensively, while others avoid the Internet out of caution for the unintended complications that sometimes accompany social media—like the post-worship parking lot gossip that used to dissipate by noon, but now zips through cyber-space for weeks! Some pastors would rather rely on print newsletters to keep people informed, while others are tweeting prayer requests to ever-larger circles. Is it all for better or for worse?
There is no consensus about how to—or whether to—use new digital tools for communication in the church. But everyone is talking about it. Social media workshops populate church meetings. Website templates are cheap and easy to use. Today, a church without a website is as invisible as a church without a yellow pages listing was 20 years ago. Pastors must have some technological savvy to be effective. And they are getting it, thanks to high quality offerings across the country. (For example, see Insights into Religion:Technology Resources.)
But we don’t think that’s enough.
At the New Media Project we think religious leaders need more than primers in building websites and using social media. We believe that leaders of faith communities also need a larger interpretive framework for recognizing and evaluating what’s happening in communication today. Even though this major shift in patterns and tools of communication will have a lasting effect on the church, compelling theological interpretations of the shift have not yet been adequately developed. Nor do sufficient strategic frameworks yet exist to help faith communities move forward using technology in theologically responsible ways.
In short, we want to help religious leaders be theologically savvy about technology.
What we’re doing
The New Media Project was founded at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York in 2010 as a two-year research oriented project involving research fellows who conducted case studies; wrote theological reflection essays; and commented regularly via blog posts. You can access most of this from the Findings tab. The videos from the February 8, 2013 conference, Digital Church: Theology and New Media also give an excellent overview of the worl.
The project is generously supported by a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. In 2012, the project began a second phase and moved to Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana to become part of the Center for Pastoral Excellence.
Our purpose is to help the church interpret theologically the massive changes in communication and technology occurring today, and to create a constructive framework to help pastors and religious leaders employ new digital media in ways that strengthen faith communities. Read the blog posts and our theological essays for more of our hunches and ideas about all of this.
We hope you will join us in this endeavor. Become part of the community talking about these issues. Share your thoughts and insights, questions and ponderings through comments on pages and blog posts. Join our Facebook page or Twitter feed.