Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Re-forming Christians Online; Models of Authority and Participation

Hi Ann Hardy, Screen and Media Studies Waikato University here. My colleague Mary Griffiths and myself have decided to collaborate, both on the presentation for the colloquium, and for later work on the same topic. We are media studies scholars rather than theologians, but are both interested in how conservative and evangelical Christians in particular, are mobilising to make effective use of online communication.

This is the abstract we have worked out and we'll be doing what we (practically) can on it what with Christmas and holidays intervening.

"This paper outlines preliminary research into the connections between new media and ministry. Widespread public access to information through new media, such as the Internet, has encouraged Christian churches in New Zealand to develop organisational websites. These promote knowledge about the church and its stance on theological issues but also encourage various degrees of interaction from users. They offer traditional ministry and e-ministry, and use new media (streamed TV, mail lists, chat groups) to service existing communities and possibly expand them.

Internet protocols and practices typically encourage horizontal rather than top-down relationships. We are interested in exploring the technology's impact on changing social and pastoral power relationships, possibly their democratisation, through a developing analysis of the representation of activities on four NZ church websites: the Presbyterian church, Kahui Rangitahi (Maori youth division of Anglican church), the Destiny Church and New Life (NZ).

Our aim is to identify the various models of relationships between conceptions of godly and bliblical authority, church organisation, and cyber-communicants/congregants.

Our research at Stage 1 will focus on:
- the model of church governance each representation offers:
- the audience positions they construct:
- the level of interactivity and empowerment provided
- the degree of mobilisation implied;
- intended audiences and outcomes;
- responsiveness of the church community to user feedback

Summary of Method

We use a combination of comparative textual and media discourse analysis, key informant interviews, and selected user feedback to work towards a typology of church website communications."

Dr Ann Hardy and Assoc. Prof. Mary Griffiths
Department of Screen and Media Studies
University of Waikato
New Zealand