For many the idea of community is limited by geography, with the online world defined as a ‘virtual world’. But online we have real people partaking in real relationships....
‘Virtual’ however, can be somewhat of a misnomer, as online we have real people partaking in real relationships. The essential elements of community – beliefs, identity, giving to/receiving from the group – go far beyond ‘the physical’. Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, emphasised that communities already exist, so we’re not looking to replace those, but to enhance them through the use of social media.
Adding technology into the mix does not mean that things will not change – every new technology offers new possibilities, whilst potentially closing down previous opportunities and practices. Social media is often blamed for damaging relationships, but simply offers a space for ‘human nature amplified’, and extremely supportive relationships are demonstrated online. Social media tools allow us to connect with each other more frequently, more immediately, and more at ‘the point of need’ (to borrow supermarket terminology).
The Big Bible Project has emerged as an online community using everyday social media platforms. The site itself aims to involve its community not only in Biblical engagement, but also to consider what it means to be a disciple in the digital age (and the digital culture). With a particular emphasis upon whole-life discipleship, what kind of values do we encourage Christians to demonstrate online? This is a question often asked in workshops, and answers include: authenticity, accountability, traceability, honesty, support, inclusiveness, and pastoral care.
Moving beyond our own community, how do encourage #digidisciple(s) to become part of the world’s conversations. Many of us do this everyday in our face-to-face lives, and online is truly about focusing upon the conversations – changing mindsets from broadcasting (as we do in sermons) to engagement - although we need some understanding of the technology to be able to engage. There is no such ‘thing’ as ‘social media’, it’s a collective term for a range of tools, which allow you to have different types of conversations with different people. .. some will be deep and meaningful, and some will simply be enjoying each others company.
As we engage in online communities, remember that we are part of God’s community, that we may be the only representation of God that some ever see. Always remember, in all communications, that there is a human being at the other end of the keyboard - each uniquely created by God.