Recently I have had quite a few people interested in reading the dissertation I wrote during my Ministerial training, so I thought I would post the introduction. The dissertation focuses on the issue of not being able to meet with others of a similar age from a rural church aspect being dispersed over a large rural area, though it can be used in a variety of other situations. For example, single people who because of working hours struggle to meet with others their own age, parents with young families who struggle to find time or someone to look after the kids, for young people in cities who want to keep connected, for those in ministry who need a place where they can refil their own reservoir when they have such a busy life and meeting with others becomes impossible to fit in the diary, this was an aspect I hadn’t imagined coming out of the questionnaire research that it would be of interest to those in ministry lay or ordained. (If there is an interest I may post more of the dissertation)
This dissertation will seek to explore the potential there may be in using Social Media as a tool for enabling discipleship in the form of a Digital Class Meeting. This is aimed at 20-40 year olds who live in rural communities where others their own age are scarce, or because of location and working hours find it increasingly difficult in today’s society to meet in person to nurture and develop their faith in God.
This examination is developed from my own personal experience of growing up in a village church in rural North Yorkshire. Being a rural church there were few my own age by the time I reached my teens throughout the circuit. There was a gap of nearly ten years in either direction in my own church. Those throughout the circuit who were near my age rarely got to meet together, the times we did were normally through worship groups or occasional circuit events. Bazin and Cottin state that one of the biggest challenges the church faces today is ‘living as a community and developing a sense of community among believers who are increasingly isolated, geographically and spiritually. The internet can help to enhance – or to inhabit – a sense of community and to strengthen existing communities, perhaps even create new ones.’
In my twenties and thirties, I was using social media more and more to keep in contact with not just friends and family, but Christian friends as well. It was a place where I could find out about things going on around the connexion. Seeing where my friends ministries were leading them, it also provided a place where I could make prayer requests, discuss relevant faith issues, read the thoughts of others and interact with them regarding theology. It provided a place where I could ask questions, debate theology and feel a part of the Methodist Church for my age group.
This study is split into four main sections. The importance of discipleship, some of the issues rural living faces, the way in which social media is being used more readily in society and how combining all these issues and the missing generation, and exploring how this might be addressed through a digital class meeting.
Chapter 1 looks at the importance of discipleship and the form that has taken in the Methodist Church. I then look at how early in Methodism the class meeting became a place of nurturing discipleship, fellowship and pastoral care. Through the development and use of class meetings, Methodism grew rapidly, the methodical approach of prayer, bible study and a time to discuss and share what was happening in each other’s lives in small groups met a spiritual, moral and physical need of each person as it helped them to deepen their discipleship.
In chapter 2, I explore what rural life can be like. I look briefly at the different types of rural living from the urban shadow countryside to the remote or marginal countryside. I show that for many years the church has been an important part of local community life, though today in many places this is no longer the case. Throughout the connexion of the Methodist Church in the UK, I show that many of the types of rural living can often be found within individual circuits. In turn I will show that has led to young people moving towards more urban areas where there are more people their own age, better public services and more job opportunities, drawing on my own experiences.
I then consider how the literature around the rural church that came out of the 1990s highlighted some of the issues the rural church faces, though there has been little literature on the subject since from what I have found. I then look at what is ‘being church.’ There is a traditional view that many still have of the place church should hold in rural life. I look at how that view in many places no longer fits, particularly with the increasing size of circuits and districts and how they communicate predominantly in forms other than in person, which is becoming rare as larger areas are being covered and work and social patterns are changing.
In chapter 3, I move into more detail as to how society as a whole is using social media and technology to communicate more widely. I suggest for the church that this is an area which could be utilised more for connecting church people. I show it is already engrained in society, so for me it makes sense to enable those who are limited in meeting others either because of location or working hours, who are comfortable using this format to connect, creating online communities which could provide the support that they may not find available at their local church.
One of the biggest hurdles to this happening in rural areas is the potential lack of internet and mobile phone services. I look at the expectations set by the government and how likely they are to be achieved and why there is seemingly such a big gap between the services provided in urban compared to rural environments.
In Chapter 4, I bring together the issue of the missing generation within the church. The church recognises that people aged 25-40 are largely missing from its church communities. This is where I bring in the idea that a digital class meeting could potentially be a way in which to create communities that enable discipleship with others of a similar age or living in similar situation from local circuits, districts or from the wider connexion. To develop an online environment that nurtures and feeds each person, which in turn will help strengthen their faith and interaction within their local church. I then look at the research I undertook to explore if this would be something of interest to those who do predominantly use social media aged 20-40.