The tenth anniversary of the introduction of the Apple iPhone was celebrated on January 9.
In retrospect, the birth of the iPhone was a historic moment. The iPhone popularised smart phones and revolutionised the way we communicate and engage with our world. Ten years later, most people walk around with one of them in their pocket — or some sort of similar supercomputer.
Surveys show that approximately 80% of Australians own a smart phone. We use these devices to communicate on email, text, and social media; keep tabs on health; shop, work and create; capture photo and video; listen to music and podcasts; and much more. When you step back, it is amazing just how much these devices have changed our everyday lives.
Today, people take some of the important things in their lives with them on their phones when they leave the house. But what about their faith?
Do we make faith and faith formation as portable as everything else in our lives?
John Roberto, an advocate for using digital technology to help families form and transmit faith, asks “What if we reimagined congregational faith formation as a network of relationships, content, experiences, and resources—in physical places and online spaces? This networked model of faith formation is lifelong…and life-wide—everywhere, anytime learning within a network of mentors, teachers, and peers.” Today, he argues, churches need to find new ways to spiritually nourish our people and transmit faith using the digital devices and networks that have become such an integral part of our lives.
Inspired by Roberto’s vision, this month our congregation started a new monthly email campaign for young families simply called, “Faith at Home,” with a focus on spiritually supporting parents, suggestions for practicing faith at home, and some bit-sized wisdom. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with reply emails saying “thank you,” and “love this,” from parents and grandparents (who saw it on Facebook!) alike.
The response to this simple relatively low-tech (and free) gesture was telling. Parents are longing for encouragement and support that meets them where there are, which, of course, is on their smart phones. “Faith at Home” works because the content is portable. They can read it now or flag it and save it for later. They can read one of the short quotes we included from each blog posts we linked to, or click through and read the entire post. The email also included a short quote we called “simple wisdom” and a couple upcoming church events.
We kept it short, simple, and focused on the spiritual needs of our audience rather than overwhelming them with lots of links and information. And it worked! It has encouraged us to consider additional ways we can support the spiritual lives of our families using digital tools and in-person gatherings.
Curate Then Create
If you are considering this kind of project, remember that you don’t have to create all this content yourself. We didn’t. Just be on the lookout for great resources—videos, podcast episodes, blog posts, quotes—and save them as you go along. Most of the resources for “Faith at Home” actually came from the list of links I had saved on Facebook over the last couple of months. Simply “curating” good and worthwhile content in this way is a service to your audience, who just doesn’t have the time to sort through the firehouse of information we are exposed to everyday. If you want to create your own content, hey, all the better, but don’t let that be a barrier to getting started.
Providing this kind of resource, this portable faith, has an additional benefit beyond simply the content you provide. It helps people make the connection between God and their everyday lives. When they are reading your email as they sit in the carpool line waiting to pick up their kids, they are reminded that God is there even in that most mundane of activities. When they are having a tough day and their kids are pushing them to the limit, they can go back to that blog post of a single dad saying, “If I can do it, you can do it,” and know they are loved, supported, and understood. Short quotes and prayers remind them that you can pray anytime and anywhere.
It Was Just a Memo
In all of this, I’ve been reminded of the movie Jerry Maguire, in which Tom Cruise plays a sports agent, who stays up late into the light and writes a memo, really a visionary manifesto about the way the sports industry should do business. It turns his life upside down, and in his disorientation he mutters again and again, “It was just a memo. It was just memo.” In the same way, we might look at Faith at Home as “just an email,” but in the responses from our families we have seen that its much more than that. It is a glimpse of the future of faith formation in our digitally integrated world.
Pastor Keith Anderson