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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.

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Introverts In Leadership And Ministry

Earlier this year, I chronicled as part of my sabbatical my investigations into ministry and personality type. My current reading is Adam McHugh‘s book Introverts In The Church, which Scot McKnight has picked up on.

Now I find I’m by no means the only Methodist minister interested in this topic. American minister Beth Quick posted an article last week entitled Introverts Can Make The Best Leaders, in which she cited an article from Forbes Magazine entitled Why Introverts Can Make The Best Leaders.

By way of a quick exercise, I thought I would take the five characteristics that the Forbes author and muse briefly on them.

1. Introverts think first and speak later. Well, sometimes a calm, measured approach is welcomed. When life is complex (and it is), careful reflection should be valued. I’m not sure it always is, especially in an always-on, text-sending, 24-hour-news-channel world.

2. Introverts focus on depth. I like this and I think it’s important. However, some people want ministers who are strong on chit-chat. They think it is a sign the minister is interested in people. It can be, but it can also be about a church that can’t get beyond superficiality.

3. Introverts exude calm. I haven’t often been told this! Although when I worked in an office and someone phoned in with a complaint, I was often the person who dealt with it. Many outwardly calm introverts are paddling furiously beneath the waves. There may be a genuine air of calm about a lot of introverts, but a lot of us have coping strategies, especially when calm is required in a group setting. The article quotes some examples. I rehearse conversations before I have them.

4. Introverts let their fingers do the talking. Yes. I love preaching, but I love writing. Given time, I can order my thoughts better that way.

5. Introverts embrace solitude. Please stop pejoratively calling the introvert a ‘loner’ and the extravert a ‘people-person’. You know the prejudice: serial killers turn out to be loners. When we withdraw from the exhausting task of being with people, we reflect and think.

None of this is meant to demean extravert leaders, but it is designed as a plea for people to widen their vision about the people who can lead and appropriate styles of leadership.

What do you think? What is your experience?

Golf

Golf is one of those sports I find thoroughly boring. (Unlike cricket, which is subtle, tactical, and brain-engaging. Really.)

But crazy golf is different, and little Mark discovered a love for it on our summer holiday. So today – while his sister got taken to Colchester Zoo by friends – we took him to a nine-hole crazy golf course in Chelmsford. Somebody on another website had labelled it ‘the world’s least crazy crazy golf course’, but were we deterred? No!

It was less fun to arrive and find the entrance to the free car park blocked by a tractor and some traffic cones. That meant parking across the other side of Waterhouse Lane in Meteor Way, a cost of three pounds. Thankfully, when Debbie told the guy at the course our story he knocked that off our charges.

Then we set off to find the course. As soon as we found it, we had to agree with the other website: it is the world’s least crazy crazy golf course. I managed a couple of rough pictures on my phone. Here’s one: 

It shows Mark in action, and what you see corresponds with the photo on the other site. It’s the – er, exciting hole. For a little lad like him, the lack of windmills, houses and other obstructions didn’t matter. He was a picture of happiness as he took his child-sized putter and tapped his ball from start to finish of each hole. Well, almost to the finish. After about half a dozen ‘shots’, he generally picked up the ball and threw it in the hole. We let him play on his own – he is an introvert like his Dad – and it wasn’t long before he was lapping his parents as if he were not Padraig Harrington but Lewis Hamilton.

So is a little four-year-old boy easily pleased? Maybe. But isn’t it also a lesson in simplicity? Like some drug addiction, we adults want more, bigger, better, faster. Yet a small boy can take a simple pleasure and find great joy. I think it’s something for us to chew on, when we talk about simple lifestyle.

Introverts

So true – An Introvert’s Lexicon. Via Brother Maynard.