New Media Project examines church’s use of emerging technologies
Written by Jeff Woodard
September 16, 2011

Just three months into its launch, the New Media Project at Union Theological Seminary has already gained footing in exploring improved ways in which pastors and lay leaders might use new technologies to strengthen their communities. 

“This increasingly rich theological discussion seems to be striking a chord of interest among religious leaders who are thinking about the impact of technology on religious life,” said the Rev. Verity A. Jones, project director and former publisher and editor of DisciplesWorld magazine. “I am encouraged that the discussion is getting some traction.”

UCC-related Union Theological Seminary in New York City announced in June the launch of the project’s web site and blog. A generous grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc., made the project possible, said Jones.

“We're discovering that clergy under the age of 40 use social media in ways consistent with their millennial generation,” she said. “In their personal life, 97 percent of the young clergy we surveyed use Facebook, while 31 percent use Twitter. Eighty-three percent use Facebook for ministry and 46 percent use text messaging in their ministry.”

Jones said an inventory of clergy networks that use social media is being compiled. “No such listing yet exists of which we are aware,” she said. “We wanted to see how widespread such practices are and the role the networks play in the flourishing of pastoral ministry today.”

Jones emphasized that pastors need more than the technical know-how required to build web sites and use social media. They also need broader, theologically grounded reflection on the lasting effect these technologies will have on the church and its global ministries, she said.

Six research fellows are immersed in case studies, visiting sites and working on their essays and reports.

In addition to Jones, the website and blog feature the work of the project’s research fellows:

Jason Byassee, research fellow in Theology and Leadership Education at Duke Divinity; Monica A. Coleman, associate professor of Constructive Theology and African American Religions at Claremont School of Theology; Lerone A. Martin, assistant professor of American Religious History and Culture at Eden Theological Seminary; Kathryn Reklis, executive director of the Institute for Art, Religion and Social Justice at Union and outgoing director of Theological Initiatives there; and Jim Rice, editor of Sojourners magazine.

“What a wealth of knowledge, experience, and insight we are discovering in the churches and institutions we are studying,” said Jones. “The first of the case studies will be posted by September 25, with the remaining following soon thereafter.”

To follow the project please visit <facebook.com/NewMediaProjectAtUnion> or Twitter <@NewMediaAtUnion>. Sign-up for bi-weekly updates via the e-newsletter is available via the web site.

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