by Kurtis Doering
Reverend Claude Schroeder of Regina’s Saint Mary’s Anglican Church says he is working on a new website intended to “put a gentle, (more) public face on the church.”
Schroeder admits that church can intimidate people. The website, he says, is meant to build a bridge between Saint Mary’s and the wider culture.
“For us, we realize (that) the world is wired.” By building the website, “(we are) trying to acknowledge the reality in which we find ourselves.”
It’s no secret that the church is not the cultural institution it once was.
A 1946 Gallup poll reported that 67 percent of Canadian adults attended church during a typical week. By 1998, that number had dropped to 22 percent.
Since then, church attendance has remained fairly consistent, with Canadian churches experiencing only minor surges and drops in patronage.
Pastor Tyson Liske of Regina’s Faith Baptist Church says that disillusionment, a change in culture, or a difference in the priorities of church-goers may all be possible reasons for declining attendance.
But like Saint Mary’s, Faith Baptist is beginning to turn to technology in an effort to reach wider audiences and re-forge a sense of religious community.
“Churches need to be able to adapt to changing times and changing cultures” says Liske. His church posts podcasts of sermons online, and uses social networking features to bring worshippers together in a virtual setting.
Several other churches around Regina are also experimenting with technology. But Central Lutheran’s Reverend Dr. Sid Haugen emphasizes that technological advances can only aid the church in spreading its message.
“I don’t think technology is an answer… or a magic pill that we can use to get the numbers back.” Haugen says.
Claude Schroeder is cautious that by having an online presence, the cultural lines between the church and the rest of society can be blurred.
The danger, he says, is that the teachings of the church can be deluded by the new medium, and thus, lose much of their meaning.
Take for example the church’s teachings of brotherhood and community.
Schroeder argues that the Internet, which is largely anonymous and lacks any real face-to-face interaction, is at odds with this message of community-building.
Ironically, a technological tool that churches are using to reach out to people may be one of the things that lured them away in the first place.
William Stahl, a sociology professor at the University of Regina, has written several books and essays on the topic of technology and community.
“The Internet is a medium which only allows pseudo-individuality,” he writes, “…so, even as we fled community for individualism, yet again, we got what we wanted, and lost what we had.”
However, Stahl says that many of the technologies the church has adopted serve as supplements to traditional services rather than replacements for them. With the exception of some fringe religions, no religion exists solely online. Stahl thinks that such a transition is unlikely to happen any time soon.