A year ago, as the pandemic accelerated, we had to make the choice between being connected digitally or not being connected at all – screens and video calls quickly replaced pubs and coffee shops.
The Christian Unions faced the same difficult choices.
Could their vision of giving every student on campus the opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel of Jesus be fulfilled via Facebook, Instagram and Zoom? Could mission be digitised? The answer this past year, through prayer, reflection on Scripture and student-led enterprise, has been a resounding 'yes'!
Yet as restrictions ease, we are faced with a new question. A question none of us would’ve been asking a year ago: is digital mission, in the CU and beyond, here to stay?
I believe we should pray that it is.
One damaging misstep is considering digital mission less ‘real’ than the forms of mission we are accustomed to.
As Kutter Callaway questions in his short essay, ‘Interface is Reality’, we should consider seeing our interaction in the digital world not as an escape from our bodies, but an expansion of what it means to be a fully embodied human in a digital age.
One implication of this is that we ought to make space in our understanding for the possibilities of digital mission as well as it’s more often cited inadequacies. Digital mission is by no means a replacement of CUs traditional method, but it can augment ‘analog’ mission.
One advantage I've witnessed, is that it allows students to explore the gospel at their own pace. Students want relational exploration and at the same time, for many reasons, anonymity. In one sense, that is a contradiction but unlike walking into a room, joining a Zoom call can offer relationship and distance simultaneously.
Nottingham CU, for example, began using Zoom calls to slowly integrate new people into the CU, and this proved to be effective in a way attending a large public event couldn't be. They invited students to join online events where they explored meaningful subjects, but at the pace and level of engagement controlled by the guest.
'Students often want relational exploration and at the same time, anonymity. And unlike walking into a room, joining a Zoom call can offer relationship and distance simultaneously.'
Sally (name changed) joined these events and at first attended with her camera and microphone turned off for the entire session. By mid-week, she unmuted her mic on a couple of occasions to add her thoughts to the discussion on justice and Jesus. By the final day, Sally entered the Zoom call with her camera on, ready to engage in whatever the conversation was. Sally isn’t Christian, but over the week she was not only able to hear the gospel explained, but was able to slowly grow in willingness to share her own views and ask questions that began to bring the good news of Jesus home to her.
As the CUs transition back to in-person ministry, let's pray that all they've learnt about the digital sphere this year will stay with them, and enhance their mission on campus.
Father, help the CUs continue to use digital tools and online spaces well to make you known. We pray you will extend the reach of the gospel through your good gift of digital technology. We pray students have clear and wise thinking surrounding faithful life in a digital-analogue hybrid world and as they step out in digital-analogue hybrid mission.
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