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New Media's Challenge to Mainline Protestantism

Today, everyone is a journalist, yet "many in the [mainline Protestant] church still presume that people connect only, or at least primarily, through face-to-face interactions and that organizational communications happen only through centralized public relations efforts." That fact shows how out of touch some in mainline churches are about the communications revolution. The power of social media was apparent, for example, in the rise of the Arab Spring, and can be seen whenever some leader or high profile person discovers that words she or he thought were privately spoken have been tweeted and re-tweeted tens of thousands of times — sometimes becoming a major news event.

"For decades, mainline Protestants successfully traded on the free publicity of being, well, the mainline," write Kenneth H. Carter Jr., L. Gregory Jones, and Susan Pendleton Jones in the last article of a series that explores the implications of disruptive innovation for the church for Faith & Leadership, an online offering of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School. As a consequence, far from being leaders in adopting new technology and in thinking theologically about how tech is revolutionizing life and culture, the mainline churches have tended to bring up the "late adopter" rear, often resisting rather than embracing the emerging world of technology and communication.

That orientation has to change because the simple reality is that the "denominations and churches most likely to survive, much less thrive, in the 21st century will be those that adapt to the digital revolution in faithful and creative ways." Rather than lagging behind, these authors say, mainline churches "ought to be providing insight about rhythms of work, rest and play that help people embrace technology faithfully." They are nicely situated to do so, because after all, Protestants "are committed to decentralized decision-making, rooted in our convictions about 'the priesthood of all believers' and the high calling of daily life."

To take a leadership role, church thinkers, leaders and congregants must "embrace even the loss of control that has perplexed so many," and ask crucial questions about how new technologies "enhance our capacities for relationships and sharing the gospel," as well as "how they distort or undermine them."  For more, see our feature articles, "Best Resources for Using Technology Resources in Congregations," and "Social Media Goes Spiritual." Also explore our resource page, "Why You Need Social Media and How to Get Started."

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