Letter from South Africa: Will digital ministry help faith development?
Letter from South Africa: Will digital ministry help faith development?

Learning in South Africa

We seem to be facing many of the same issues in Christian formation in South Africa as in the United States. Students at the College of the Transfiguration tell me congregations are desperate to keep youth in the church, and yet they ignore the young people in their midst. Children and youth are not really welcomed in worship services—everyone seems to be waiting for the “future of the church” to grow up.

Leaders for children and youth ministries are hard to find, and training is nonexistent. Even if training is offered by a dioceses or the province, attendance is poor because of busy schedules and poor communications.

Except for the largest churches, adult education is usually a Bible study offered on a weekday or Sunday morning. Adults rarely have an opportunity to explore their faith and beliefs within the church.

How do we address these issues? On both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, many are wondering if digital ministry might help us address faith development of our congregations. I think most of us know that technology is not going to solve our problems, but we also realize that we need to embrace the culture of our congregations.

Even in remote areas in South Africa, many people have cell phones and a surprising number have some access to the internet. The Province of Southern Africa offers to create a website for any parish and to support it for a modest fee. In less than two hours, a parishioner can learn how to update and maintain a website that is attractive and informative.

In class we have just begun to talk about such sites as Facebook and Twitter, widely used here by people of all ages, and how we can use social media to communicate not only with youth, but also their parents and older members of the congregation. Our entry into this discussion has included safety guidelines and limits of media use.

In the next few classes students are going to explore Julie Lytle’s book, Faith Formation 4.0: Introducing an Ecology of Faith for a Digital Age (Morehouse Publishing, 2013), about message, method and media. Julie firmly believes that we must be clear about our message before we attempt to share it face-to-face or through various media. We will be talking about ways that churches can identify and define their messages before they unleash them in their communities.

Although our cultures and contexts vary widely, our passion for making disciples and sharing the Good News is the same. In this place at this time we believe that God will guide us to new heights.

Dorothy Linthicum (@dslinthicum) is Program Coordinator of the Center for the Ministry of Teaching at Virginia Theological Seminary. This year, she is teaching at the College of the Transfiguration in South Africa. Her experience there is partially funded by the Evangelical Education Society of the Episcopal Church

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