The challenge of Information Technology

The Information Technology revolution can be compared to theReformation, due to the challenges it presents to the ChristianChurch. 

A paper to be presented to the Methodist Conference says thatI.T. for the Church is "transforming our ability to communicate theGood News", "changing the nature of our mission field" and "placingour theology under renewed scrutiny". The discussion paper, by DrDavid Welbourn, a Methodist working in the telecommunicationsindustry, asks for Methodists to consider practical ways to ensurechurches 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, forexample, "professional use of technology as a medium should beintegrated", while preaching can reflect technological issuesfacing society. Other developments might include:

  • Junior churches and youth groups equipped with moderntechnology to excite and stimulate young people. 
  • The internet can be tapped for new opportunities for personaland group study. 
  • Community webcasting to housebound members could help tointegrate them back into the worshipping life of thechurch. 
  • The Church could host ethical debate on websites, runtechnology workshops or cybercafés in their localcommunities. 
  • Larger churches might become a "community portal", as a frontdoor onto local organisations and aid groups. 
  • The development of "Internet Chaplains" could bring a moral andspiritual dimension to chat-room debates.

The paper suggests that the internet and other new forms ofcommunication enable wide access to information that challengestraditional forms of authority, including "the well-being andstability of those in power". There is a danger of creating "a newilliterate underclass" of those that cannot or will not access newtechnology. This is similar to the Reformation and its printingrevolution, argues the paper. It was a time "in which the churchchose to be an early adoptor [of printing] making God's wordreadily accessible through the Bible, rather than in the privilegedhands of the priests. New leaders emerged with a message relevantto the times, and others cut-off from the new spirit withered onthe vine".

A further Conference paper, Information Technology and theMethodist Church, will set goals for IT development, includingproviding efficient IT systems for all the servicing functionsprovided by Connexional structures by September 2002, anddeveloping coherent IT links throughout the Connexion by August2003. This will include email provision and the gathering ofstatistical, resourcing and ministerial information using onlineforms.

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