20 June 2001

The challenge of Information Technology

The Information Technology revolution can be compared to the Reformation, due to the challenges it presents to the Christian Church. 

A paper to be presented to the Methodist Conference says that I.T. for the Church is "transforming our ability to communicate the Good News", "changing the nature of our mission field" and "placing our theology under renewed scrutiny". The discussion paper, by Dr David Welbourn, a Methodist working in the telecommunications industry, asks for Methodists to consider practical ways to ensure churches are not left behind in the IT revolution.

IT changes offer new opportunities for the Church in worship, learning & caring, service and evangelism. In worship, for example, "professional use of technology as a medium should be integrated", while preaching can reflect technological issues facing society. Other developments might include:

  • Junior churches and youth groups equipped with modern technology to excite and stimulate young people. 
  • The internet can be tapped for new opportunities for personal and group study. 
  • Community webcasting to housebound members could help to integrate them back into the worshipping life of the church. 
  • The Church could host ethical debate on websites, run technology workshops or cybercaf├ęs in their local communities. 
  • Larger churches might become a "community portal", as a front door onto local organisations and aid groups. 
  • The development of "Internet Chaplains" could bring a moral and spiritual dimension to chat-room debates.

The paper suggests that the internet and other new forms of communication enable wide access to information that challenges traditional forms of authority, including "the well-being and stability of those in power". There is a danger of creating "a new illiterate underclass" of those that cannot or will not access new technology. This is similar to the Reformation and its printing revolution, argues the paper. It was a time "in which the church chose to be an early adoptor [of printing] making God's word readily accessible through the Bible, rather than in the privileged hands of the priests. New leaders emerged with a message relevant to the times, and others cut-off from the new spirit withered on the vine".

A further Conference paper, Information Technology and the Methodist Church, will set goals for IT development, including providing efficient IT systems for all the servicing functions provided by Connexional structures by September 2002, and developing coherent IT links throughout the Connexion by August 2003. This will include email provision and the gathering of statistical, resourcing and ministerial information using online forms.

The Methodist Conference 2001 takes place at Ipswich Town Hall from 23-29 June.

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