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The New Media Project is a research endeavor funded by the Lilly Endowment aimed at helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology.

 



What churches do

November 13, 2012
By Monica A. Coleman

“Can your church help out with that? Isn’t this what churches do?”

I heard that question on two separate occasions as I planned for the arrival of my firstborn child.

Could church members bring me meals for the first week home after surgery?
Do any church members have used baby stuff I can borrow or buy?
Can’t someone come by and take my teen shopping for school supplies?

There was a time in my life where my church would have done all this. It’s one of the many reasons I like small churches. (By “small,” I mean membership of 20-120 people). We know each other well. We support the minutiae of each others’ lives. We’re invested in each person’s well-being. We become family to each other.

But I now live in a larger city; I attend a larger church. Geographical proximity comes in tens of miles, and I couldn’t imagine asking anyone to get on a busy freeway during rush hour.

As I explained this to my inquiring friends, they declared, “No problem,” and took off to their computers.

  • They suggested I email a small group of friends with young children to get a list of baby stuff needs.
  • I did a baby registry online.
  • I supplied email addresses and a friend used an online invitation website for the baby shower.
  • I joined a mommy listserv where I met other moms selling used infant belongings at a discount.
  • One friend texted pictures of her adorable infant upon request to remind me that the discomfort of the third trimester would soon become a cuddly little person.
  • One friend organized my friends into meal drop-offs through a website made just for this.
  • Another friend sent a gift certificate for a week of vegan meal delivery.
  • The teen’s school supplies were ordered online with two-day delivery.

With the help of social media and phone technology, friends and strangers became my church.

There’s nothing explicitly religious about this. A social organization, cadre of friends, or nearby family can be supportive community. But this is one way church has functioned in my life, and I’ve always seen it as an extension of our understanding of Jesus’ teachings to be neighbors and family to one another.

I told them as much. Sometimes, the new media communication facilitated face-to-face encounters: Picking up the stroller set from someone I’d only emailed twice. Shaking hands with the representative from the diaper service who did the demonstration. Eating snacks together at the baby shower held at a friend’s house. When I had the chance, I told this online web of friends, strangers, and services: “You are church to me.”

Has new media helped you find church in ways you used to find it in person?

Monica A. Coleman, a research fellow for the New Media Project, serves as Associate Professor of Constructive Theology and African American Religions and Co-Director of the Center for Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology and Associate Professor of Religion at Claremont Graduate University in southern California.

The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmediaproject@cts.edu.


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