New media and new technologies in mission
|From the net.|
A similar paper was submitted as part of the academic requirements of the Missiology course of Inter-Congregational Theological Center under Fr. Oscar Ante, ofm.
With the fast changing role of media in the lives of many who have access to it, especially with new media (e.g. internet and social media), we are now faced with the challenge of redefining or expanding the role of media in the mission of the church.
Is media simply a medium for evangelization or is it now also a new avenue for the mission of the church, to bring the mission of Christ – that is to proclaim God’s kingdom – to the millions of netizens who spend a substantial amount of their time in the virtual world?
With new media changing its role as a virtual community that is as real as our actual communities (and even more real as more and more people tend to withdraw and spend more time in the net than with actual socialization), we now face the challenge of actually bringing the mission to the net, proclaiming God’s kingdom to the many people whose lives are spent more in virtual reality than in our physical reality.
This actually expands our scope as the mission goes beyond borders, being able to reach people even in the most remote areas without even having to be physically present. But how can we bring the Good News to them?
Communication expert, Fr. Franz-Josef Eilers, SVD defines social communication as “the communication of and in human society, thus comprising all ways and means of communication in human society. It means that it refers to interpersonal as well as group communication and all cultural expressions of and for communication.”
According to Eilers, this is not limited to media and technology as it goes beyond all forms of communication in society.
This paper, however, focuses on social communication as used in the context of new media and new technology, and its role in the church’s missionary mandate, which is, to make disciples of all nations.
Social communications play a vital role in the church’s mission of spreading the Gospel of salvation. It is in this regard that we will try to examine the current trends of social communications, particularly that which uses the internet as media, and with the assistance of various magisterial teachings and theological reflections of recognized church theologians we will inquire into its significance in the Church’s mission.
In view of this, this paper aims to seek an answer to the following questions:
How can communication and advances in technology be effectively used in mission?
How are advances in communication, in terms of trends and technology, changing mission trends worldwide?
What are the theological basis for the use of communication technology in mission?
Is new media simply a tool for mission or is it also a new avenue for mission? If so how can this enrich the church’s mission?
This paper uses SEE-JUDGE-ACT as a means of understanding the interconnection between new media, new technologies, and the Church in bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to all nations.
First, we will look into the current trends of social communication, with particular interest on internet-based social media platforms. We will look into the current situation through data and statistics and its current use as we examine several challenges that this new medium poses on mission and the Church.
Next we will look into some teachings of the Church starting from the root, Inter Mirifica, followed by Communio et Progressio, Redemptoris Missio, and other church documents. From here we will try to examine the direction that the Church is taking us in terms of the use of new media and new technologies for mission.
Lastly, based on these two inquiries, we will try to formulate how new media and new technologies can be used to help spread the Good News and create communities that would embody the teachings of Christ and the Church.
New media and new technologies
The internet started from the vision of J.C.R. Licklider of Massachusetts Institute of Technology for two computers to communicate with each other. Meaning to share programs and files remotely. That was in 1962.
Since then the internet has changed the way people communicate and the delivery of information. It has democratized, information, so to speak.
One of the most recent development in the internet is social media, which Meriam-Webster defines as “forms of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos).”
Of this the most famous social media site, at least in the Philippines, is Facebook. In its Digital in 2016 report, We Are Social, a social media research and consultancy firm, revealed that as of January 2016, of the 7.395 billion people globally, 3.419 billion are internet users, 2.307 billion are active social media users, 3.790 billion are unique mobile users, and 1.968 billion are active mobile social media users.
Globally internet access has reached an average of 46 percent, with North America having more access to the web with an average 88 percent of its population. In Southeast Asia, internet is accessible to 41 percent of the population. In the Philippines, the internet is accessible to 46 percent of the population, similar to the global average.
The study also revealed that on average, Filipinos spend the most number of hours on the web at 5.2 hours on average for personal computers (PC) and laptops, and 3.2 hours for mobile devices. Brazil shares the distinction.
With internet now accessible through mobile devices, it is not surprising that there would be an increase in internet access, most especially since, like in the Philippines, almost every corner of the country has mobile access.
The same study revealed that on average, global web access from mobile devices accounts for 39 percent of web traffic. Nigeria accounts for 82 percent web traffic through mobile devices, while in the Philippines, web access through mobile devices accounts for 29 percent of web traffic, similar to Hong Kong and several points higher than the UK, USA, Australia, and South Korea.
But what do people do on the web?
The study revealed that the most activity on the net includes social media access most especially Facebook (47%), e-commerce that includes e-banking and the buying and selling of items like in Lazada (29%), video streaming (19%), and gaming (15%).
What does all these data mean?
We Are Social came up with three conclusions and forecasts as follows:
Mobile is dramatically changing everything.
Mobile phones aren't just a more convenient way to access the internet; they’re changing people’s fundamental connected behavior, whether it’s shifting our social media habits to a more one-to-one, private conversation context, to accessing M-commerce whilst we’re at physical world stores, to paying for things directly in those physical stores and on public transport using mobile wallet…. success tomorrow won’t just be about a mobile web presence, but about optimizing your entire organization for a mobile-centric world.
Connectivity is becoming the norm.
More than half of the world’s adult population now uses the internet, and well over one-third of the adult population uses social media at least once a month. Our study of the Key 30 economies – which account for 70% of the world’s population – shows that nearly three-quarters of internet users access the net every single day, and this is still increasing at an impressive rate. People now expect everything to be connected, from their real-time public transport schedule, to the voting system, to real-time stock availability in physical world stores. The internet is no longer just an information portal; it’s the ‘electricity’ of modern society and commerce connecting us to the people and things we care about most. As a result, businesses and brands need to explore how connectivity can improve every element of their business, not just their advertising.
For most people, social is (once again) about conversations
For a few years – namely 2007 to 2014 – social media was largely about sharing our lives publicly with the world. That behavior still exists, but we’re becoming more selective about what we share, and whom we share it with. For everyone except marketers, social media is quickly returning to what ‘social’ has always been for human beings: connecting on a personal basis with the people we care about most.
In addition, it is also worth considering the following challenges posed by Eilers in terms of media and mission, which he considered to be mission fields:
1. The ‘new culture’ and reality of modern communication is more determined by emotions than rationality, is more heart than head.
2. The world of modern communications is without borders…. The arrival of DTH (“Direct to Home”) television in more and more countries in Asia brings this new communications world into the furthest corner of our countries up to the last and most remote village.
3. The ‘new culture’ further lives on new Rituals which challenge the impact of traditional and especially religious rituals…. These rituals also seem to substitute rituals of religious life in a growing way…. ‘A ritual is not something one is mere audience to but rather something where one is participant in’…. Such ritual communication is concerned about the communicative ways and means which maintain the fiber of society, to share, participate, associate, create fellowship and enjoy common faith and convictions. Such experiences used to come in a special way from religion. But now this seems to be taken over by the modern means of communication which determine and dominate the life of people more than any religious commitment.
4. Modern communication culture is entertainment oriented.
5. Todays world of social communication is further strongly determined by commercialization… ‘the media constrict our experience and substitute media world for real world so that we become less and less able to make the fine value-judgements that living in such a complex world requires.’
6. The new Information and Communication technologies (ICT) bring an additional dimension into the “new culture” which not only extends our communication possibilities over time and space. They also open new dimensions and challenges for a missionary approach to communication. It is not enough to just put “Religion online”, without at least some interactivity. There is a growing number of especially young people who try to express and try to live “online Religion”. How does virtual reality change people, answer to their deeper needs and give them an opportunity to express their religious desires?
Mission and communication
Since the Second Vatican Council (VC II), the Church continues to recognize the role of media, and social communications, for that matter, in the fulfillment of its mission, which Ad Gentes has reduced (but expanded in essence and meaning) into one word – evangelization.
The Inter Mirifica, VC II’s decree on the media and social communications was promulgated on December 4, 1963 for the intention of enjoining the Catholic faithful to responsibly use media as a means of communication, as well as to use it for the apostolic ministry of the Church. It is a very short document composed of two chapters.
It discussed the different forms of media, sans the internet since it was not yet existing at the time, and its use in spreading the good news. The universal character of the internet, covering multiple platforms – audio and video streaming, the written word, etc. – would, in effect be covered by the principles and policies set by Inter Mirifica. In a way, it reveals the universal applicability of the decree when it comes to social communications. But one would ask, is the decree still relevant today?
As for using social media in mission, the guidelines set by Inter Mirifica is very relevant.
In the introduction of the document it recognized the formidability of media to communicate effectively to a vast number of people, actually influencing them when it comes to the opinion they form on certain issues.
“The Church recognizes that these media, if properly utilized, can be of great service to mankind, since they greatly contribute to men's entertainment and instruction as well as to the spread and support of the Kingdom of God,” it said.
It says: “All the children of the Church should join, without delay and with the greatest effort in a common work to make effective use of the media of social communication in various apostolic endeavors, as circumstances and conditions demand.”
It adds: “The laity, too, who have something to do with the use of these media, should endeavor to bear witness to Christ, first of all by carrying out their individual duties or office expertly and with an apostolic spirit, and, further, by being of direct help in the pastoral activity of the Church-to the best of their ability-through their technical, economic, cultural and artistic talents.”
The complementary document, Communio et Progressio, puts into detail the different roles played by all actors of social communication, including the clergy, religious, the faithful, and the media practitioners and producers themselves.
“The unity and advancement of men living in society: these are the chief aims of social communication and of all the means it uses…. The constant improvement in the media puts them at the disposal of more and more people who in their daily lives make increasing use of them. More than ever before, the way men live and think is profoundly affected by the means of communication.”
Here we can posit the value that the Church has put on media and recognize its realization that the current forms of media may not be the ultimate form, as it continues to evolve, making social communication more relevant to those who use them.
“The Church sees these media as "gifts of God" which, in accordance with His providential design, unite men in brotherhood and so help them to cooperate with His plan for their salvation.”
It states that the nature of media, which is the fast delivery of information whether opinion, news, or general information, helps in the creation of an ideal society by allowing people to share in each others fears and hopes. At the same time, this also allows man to share in Gods task of creation, calling on the to cooperate with each other in “building the earthly city.”
At the same time, it recognized the power of media to either unite or divide society. But more importantly, it is the unifying factor of the media that helps humanity to recognize its interconnectivity, building communities that may not actually be physically possible, and providing an avenue for people to share themselves to others that may be physically distant to them.
It said: “The tools of communication… provide some of the most effective means for the cultivation of that charity among men which is at once the cause and the expression of fellowship.”
“The swift advances of the means of social communication tear down the barriers that time and space have erected between men. They can make for greater understanding and closer unity. A mass of information is continually on the move to and from all parts of the world and, as a result, men can learn what goes on and how other men live… These media play their part in eliminating illiteracy and in providing both basic and further education. They can, very effectively, help people in developing countries to achieve progress and freedom. They can establish a measure of universal equality in which all men, whatever their place in society can enjoy the delights of culture and leisure. They enrich men's minds. They help them to keep in touch with reality by providing the sights and sounds which are the very stuff of life. They bring far away times and places within their grasp. And when illiteracy is rife and this is not in any way to question the validity of traditional cultures - citizens can quickly be brought in touch with recent developments in modern ways of life.”
It states that in this regard, social communication can be of use in three ways, namely: “They help the Church reveal herself to the modern world. They foster dialogue within the Church. They make clear to the Church contemporary opinions and attitudes. For the Church has been ordered by God to give men the message of salvation in a language they can understand and to concern herself with the concerns of man.”
“The modern media offer new ways of confronting people with the message of the Gospel, of allowing Christians even when they are far away to share in sacred rites, worship and ecclesiastical functions. In this way they can bind the Christian community closer together and invite everyone to participate in the intimate life of the Church.”
But perhaps, what we could consider relevant to mission in this document is the recognition of the ability of media to reach people right in their homes, whether the message is welcome or not. It said that with the increasing number of people, who has no religious affiliation, seeking spiritual nourishment, this would be the opportunity to bring the Gospel to them, allowing it to enrich their lives.
Another document relevant to our study is John Paul II’II Redemptoris Missio which expressed the urgency of mission since “missionary activity specifically directed "to the nations" (ad gentes) appears to be waning” and that “both internal and external have weakened the Church's missionary thrust toward non-Christians, a fact which must arouse concern among all who believe in Christ… (since) missionary drive has always been a sign of vitality, just as its lessening is a sign of a crisis of faith.”
He also recognized the role of social communication in this missionary activity, saying that “the opening of frontiers and the formation of a more united world due to an increase in communications” and such other factors have opened new frontiers for mission.
He also made mention of the purpose of mission, as follows:
“One of the central purposes of mission is to bring people together in hearing the Gospel, in fraternal communion, in prayer and in the Eucharist. To live in "fraternal communion" (koinonia) means to be "of one heart and soul" (Acts 4:32), establishing fellowship from every point of view: human, spiritual and material.”
He said that mission is really about witnessing and “a way of life that shines out to others.”
He adds that social communications, media, is the new center of culture, where information are exchanged, opinions are formed, and decisions made. It is a new community that would benefit and merit the church’s missionary activity. He said:
“The first Areopagus of the modern age is the world of communications, which is unifying humanity and turning it into what is known as a "global village." The means of social communication have become so important as to be for many the chief means of information and education, of guidance and inspiration in their behavior as individuals, families and within society at large. In particular, the younger generation is growing up in a world conditioned by the mass media.”
Media indeed is not just a tool for mission. The development of new technologies in communication has made it a center where social communication becomes active and interactive. It has developed a community of its own that is beyond borders.
For this, media, or social media, particularly, has now become a new “mission field”. However, in considering social media as a mission avenue, we must first put it into context by putting into consideration the mission of the church today.
While we seek for the conversion of sinners, new concepts have emerged since Vatican II, enriching the missions and making it more credible and alive.
Mission, now is more than just proselytization through catechetical work, now it is about witnessing through one’s very life. It is by making people see the good ness of Christ in one’s life that one is to bring conversion to others.
John Paul II said, “The Church contributes to mankind's pilgrimage of conversion to God's plan through her witness and through such activities as dialogue, human promotion, commitment to justice and peace, education and the care of the sick, and aid to the poor and to children. In carrying on these activities, however, she never loses sight of the priority of the transcendent and spiritual realities which are premises of eschatological salvation.”
Indeed, since Vatican II there has been a shift in the mission paradigm, from proselytization or the conversion of “pagans” or “barbarians” to the more civilized and morally right “Christian religion,” particularly Catholicism, to the building of the Kingdom of God through the promotion of peace, harmony and a pluralistic society that tolerates, respects, and accepts other cultures, people, beliefs, and practices.
This is where social communications through new media would come in in the work of the Church’s mission.
The increasing number of people engaged who have access to the internet and social media, it is but unforgiveable if we miss out in this opportunity of witnessing to these people.
Social media, like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, which has provided an avenue for social communications to flourish, has also created an environment where virtual communities would flourish. People gain friends in the net, they meet people (virtually and eventually physically), built relationships, and formed groups. They get to embrace an advocacy and participate in its promotion through various other platforms like participating in signature campaigns, starting a fund raising campaign, or by simply talking about it and sharing posts of it on one’s timeline.
Facebook alone provides for various ways of interaction and mission avenues. The constant evolution of group chats allows for the interaction of many individuals, and the formation of groups or the creation of pages keeps people up to date on activities and events. Indeed social media has made media more personal, interactive, and participative. And should it be used creatively, could help in the church’s mission of evangelizing all corners of the globe, even in places that are remote.
However, more work has to be done in order to make mission through and in social media effective.
While already there are many pages, groups and accounts ran by religious congregations, many of these do not seem to minister to non-Catholics or non-Christians, even, mostly limiting its audience to its already existing circles of influence in the real world. What about those in virtual reality who may not be aware of Christ’s message?
Many of these pages are also archaic, lacking creativity and thus unattractive.
Communio et Progressio states: “If the media of social communication are to give their best service to mankind, the importance of the human element must be recognized. This element plays a more decisive role than the most marvelous electronic and mechanical instruments by themselves.”
“A training that grounds a man in the basic principles governing the working of the media in human society, as explained above, is nowadays clearly necessary for all. The means of communication genuinely enrich men's minds if their character and function is understood. On the other hand, men who do not sufficiently appreciate their importance, may find their liberty diminished. Training should include a practical consideration of the special nature of each medium and of its status in the local community and how it can best be utilized. And this should be done with special reference to man and society.”
That is why, for the Church to truly maximize this gift of social media, proper training and updating of the people involved, call them virtual missionaries or e-missionaries, should be given. They be kept updated on the trends of the medium and they should be active and dedicated in its interaction in the virtual world.
Truly a mountain of mission opportunities exist in virtual reality, it is just a matter of utilizing this tool properly so that the best harvest from this new mission field can be taken advantaged of.
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____________________. Mission in Social Communication: Challenges for the Church in Asia, retrieved on October 17, 2016.
John Paul II. Redemptoris Missio [Encyclical Letter on The Mission of Christ, the Redeemer]. December 7, 1990. Retrieved on October 4, 2016.
Mirus, Jeff. (February 18, 2010). Vatican II on Social Communication. Retrieved on October 23, 2016.
Moore, Joy Jittaun. Social Media and the Church: Communication among the Masses. Catalyst. USA (April 22, 2015): A Foundation for Theological Education (AFTE).
Pontifical Commission for Social Communications. Communio et Progressio [Pastoral Instruction on the Means of Social Communication]. May 23, 1971. Retrieved on October 4, 2016.
Vatican Council II. Ad Gentes [Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church]. Retrieved on October 4, 2016
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