Digital Britain, Analogue Church

The Evangelical Alliance recently published some statistics about what it calls Digital Britain. They make fascinating reading. Here are some highlights. You won’t find all of it surprising, but what is clear is just how much our culture is shifting in a digital direction.

* There is a trend away from social letter-writing in favour of email, texting and IM. Only 10% of letters now delivered by the Royal Mail are now ‘social mail’. Although 72% of over-70s write such letters, it decreases to 47% of over-50s, and there is a 1-3% annual shift.

* The use of landline telephones is in sharp decline, too. In 2007, we spent only an average of 5 minutes a month making calls from fixed lines, but a staggering 136 minutes on mobiles. (I know, I find that hard to believe.) In a population of 60 million there are 74 million mobile phones in use (how many people really need more than one?) and 89% of over-14s have at least one.

* The use of email is increasing. Although it was falling out of favour with younger generations, who preferred texting, the arrival of smartphones such as the iPhone and the Blackberry have rejuvenated email among the young. Perhaps it is the mobility and that the common theme to texting and the increase again in email is the use of the mobile phone.

* Social networking is extraordinarily popular. 25% of British adults use social networking sites – a higher percentage than the Germans, French and Italians.

* Yet it’s not an interest in technology per se that is driving these increases, at least among the young. Rather, it seems they use technology to continue doing the things they were always doing: listening to music, watching TV or films, and contacting friends. Technology becomes a supplementary way of carrying out these activities, not a replacement.

The contrast with anecdotal evidence in the typical traditional church is huge. You can’t send an email late at night to someone if you suddenly think of something, because they may not be online. They might have a mobile phone, but they may not use it often, so texting is less viable, too. As for a church website, well that’s nice and they may want the church to have one but it won’t be any practical use for them, even if they realise it is a good way of getting known today.

That we do certain things differently in the church is, in my opinion, both partly right and partly wrong. It is partly right because we need to minister to and with the digital poor. Sorry if that’s an ugly or patronising expression, I don’t mean it to be, but I need to make a contrast with the digital natives and digital immigrants who are comfortable learning and using new technology.

Yet it is also partly wrong, because it concentrates on maintenance rather than mission. It preserves existing ways but does not pioneer the Gospel into the ways in which our culture is developing. Therefore the church needs continually to find new ways into the digital culture.

In one respect, such a missionary thrust is tailored to introverts like me, who by nature are drawn to the written (or typed) word. Past models of evangelism have been throughly based around extraverted approaches – think about how the word ‘evangelism’ is conceived by many Christians and they think of crusade meetings and door-to-door work. I mean no disparagement of them, nor of the many other gifts extraverts offer, but might it just be that introverts could be on the cutting edge of new approaches to mission?

If so, that will mean a complete rethink of some of the attitudes and prejudices that prevail in many churches, alongside the ‘big ask’ of adjusting to the new digital culture.


  1. Hi Dave
    The internet has certainly revolutionised communication. It would have been inconceivable not so long ago for someone like me (in Australia) to be talking to you in Britain so easily. The ramifications for the church can be huge – no longer are we restricted to our own sometimes insular church community – we can share ideas and find “kindred spirits” so far from our own circle. Needs to be used with responsibility though – especially email written at speed can easily be misinterpreted. On balance, I think it’s great – I work in a school library and would be lost without my two computers!!


    1. Yes, I’m with you on that, Pam. I have made friends over the Internet but also know how easy it is to dash off an angry email in haste. There is a problem, though, in convincing some churches that this is a major part of the direction in which communication is heading. And since Christian faith involves communication, that poses a big problem in some quarters.


  2. Interesting. But I wonder if this “analogue church” thing is really true. It certainly isn’t at my church, Meadgate, which is quite firmly in the digital age. If it is true anywhere, it is among traditional churches which are dominated by the over-70 generation who still write personal letters. So the real gap I see is one of age. Churches that do things for over-70s and run services and other activities in ways which appeal primarily to that generation are never going to reach the young. I’m not sure what can be done, as the words about new wine and old wineskins come to mind.


    1. I think that is the distinction. I quite imagine Meadgate is exactly as you describe it Peter. On the other hand, I largely serve ‘analogue churches’, even though one of them has digital projection. The wine and wineskins comment is pertinent. There are difficult choices for many churches between embracing painful change to transition into a missionary form for today, and dying via a protracted period of terminal care while looking to God to raise up something new and fresh.


  3. Well, all I can say is, this is why I am not a Methodist, and not a typical Anglican either. I prefer to let the dead bury their own dead (well, perhaps I need to modify that to stop it sounding callous – some people are called to a valid ministry to senior citizens, but I am not) and work with something fresh to evangelise a new generation.


    1. It is a particular problem for Methodists, given that we have the most elderly age demographic of all the major denominations in this country.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s