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Religion Meets New Media at Chicago Congress – Adventists Included

Does your youth group have a Facebook page? Does your church pastor Twitter? Have you read the Bible on your iPhone? Have you ever attended a service on Second Life? How do you use Gowalla to create a local Bible study group? or Twestival to raise money? or crowdsourcing to get volunteers for a project? or Skype to provide personal support to international aid workers? Is your Sabbath school using webinars to include distant members?

A decade ago, when the Religion and Communication Congress (RCC) last met, Google, Facebook and Twitter did not exist. Religion was usually relegated to the middle pages of newspapers and rarely on the lips of television reporters or treated in depth by film makers. Now the rapid evolution of the internet and new media is exciting religious communicators and secular journalists everywhere. Religion is in the news almost everyday. Media literacy has become essential to education and the workplace.

So, how can churches better use web 2.0 and web 3.0 media? What new stories are being told in the religion and cultures of the world? How does social media change the meaning of the term congregation? Will the congregation of the future need bricks and mortar at all?

The recent RCC event in Chicago, with participants from as far as China, Argentina, and the west African nation of Togo, celebrated the emerging possibilities of the new media for church growth, inter-religious dialogue, and responses to disasters. Representatives from the media departments of major Christian denominations, as well as the World Council of Churches, and Jewish and Islamic organizations, were introduced to the latest strategies and solutions for their communication needs. Sponsoring organizations included World Association for Christian Communication, an activist organization promoting the use of media for social change, and the Religion Communicators Council, “an interfaith association of more than 500 religion communicators working in print and electronic communication, advertising and public relations.”

Attendees were also reminded that much of the world, including almost the whole continent of Africa, lacks any internet service at all. Digital walls separate North from South and westernized from under-developed countries. While children in wealthy countries will not know life without the internet, many of the elderly everywhere will never learn basic computing skills in their remaining lifetime. Women lacking opportunities in the traditional media, however, will use their digital designs, blogs, and networking skills to create change.

  • Watch and use the videos and slideshows from RCC 2010, “Embracing Change: Communicating Faith in Today’s World.”
  • Join Craig Groeschel’s internet congregation (conservative), or Koinonia Fellowship on Second Life (progressive), or watch the videos at Theology after Google.
  • Use Globalgiving to raise money for your own community project.

Author Mitch Albom (Tuesdays with Morrie) shares his personal journey from indifference activism. He won a Wilbur Award for his new book Have a Little Faith, which recounts the regeneration of faith and community in downtown Detroit.

Bob Abernethy won a Lifetime Achievement award for the excellent coverage of religion through his ongoing PBS series, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, now in its 12th year.

Sr. Rose Pacatte, founder of the Pauline Center for Media Studies (Culver City, CA), and a WordPress fan, pauses for a photograph before she begins her seminar.

Adventist Review editor Roy Adams asks a question during an evening plenary session.

Frank Singh, author of interfaith media, and Lesley Crosson, Media Relations Officer for the Church World Service, converse between sessions.

Creative musician Ken Medema entertained the appreciative audience with his impromptu compositions that referenced the new media and a heartfelt memorial to the victims of the Polish air disaster that struck on the Friday morning of the Congress.

Adventist Media Center employees Chauncey Smith, Linda Walter and Casey Tom represented SDA television and radio programs: Breath of Life, Faith For Today, It Is Written, La Voz de la Esperanza, LifeTalk Radio, and Voice of Prophecy.

Rev. Wang Ronwei, editor of TianFeng (“Heavenly Wind”) the official state magazine for Protestants in China, based in Shanghai, receives Mandarin translation from his wife Yi.

Kim Lawton (correspondent) and Judy Reynolds (producer) from the PBS program Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, receive a Wilbur Award from Doug Cannon for “Wintley Phipps,” a story about Phipps and the US Dream Academy.

Graeme Sharrock and Ken Medema are now friends.


Graeme Sharrock is owner of Parliament Media, a new interfaith media company.

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