Interview for Research Paper: Blogging and the American Restoration Movement

Last week CBT received an email from a Graduate Student from Harding University Graduate School of Religion. He wrote:

For my History of the American Restoration Movement class, I am writing a term paper that will deal with the introduction of the internet, particularly blogs, to the restoration movement. Would you be willing to answer a few questions in a semi-formal interview? The questions are as follows:

With his permission I have included my answers below.  What are your thoughts on blogging, social media and the American Restoration Movement?  I would enjoy your comments and feedback. 

1. In his book, Saddlebags, City Streets, & Cyberspace, Michael Casey describes how “the concept of Restorationism fit print culture” (179). In what way does cyberspace appeal to the 21st century person interested in some kind of “restoration” ideal?

Casey goes on to say that the people of those times “needed permanent, immutable knowledge and print culture provided the means to do it” (181).  However, today’s culture is screaming for more than mere knowledge, but for a relationship with a tangible restored church.  Blogging and other social media facilitate an initiation of or maintenance of that relationship and offer transparency and authenticity while developing trust within that relationship.

Unfortunately, the church is grossly behind in engaging “cyberspace.”  This is evident in the fact that more than 65% of all churches are NOT using any form of social media according to a survey conducted by Church Blog Theory earlier this year.

“Cyberspace” appeals to both the churched and un-churched 21st century person interested in some kind of “restoration” ideal.  First, the emergence of social media, including blogs, allows for audio, video and print media to be used, thus offering a better teaching tool to speak to a wider audience about the restoration movement through a variety of learning modalities.  Second, social media offers a forum for conversation once only known by staying after a tent meeting to speak with the preacher. Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics, says “social media isn’t a fad, it’s a fundamental shift in the way we communicate”  (http://socialnomics.net/).  Unlike print, radio and television mediums, social media offers the ability for interested seekers to participate in a two-way conversation that is not bound by borders or time.

2. In 1909, W. T. Moore said, “The Disciples have no Diocesan Bishops, and consequently their leading religious periodicals have practically occupied that place.” Assuming some validity to Moore’s statement, do bishop-editor’s retain the power and influence today as they have in the past?

No.  See #3

3. Have blogs created (or contributed to) a democratization of power, giving anyone with computer and internet access the same ability to influence people or the restoration movement at large? Why or why not?

Experts agree that blogs have contributed significantly to the democratization of mass communication.  Lee LeFever in his short educational video about blogging says, “people like you have been given the power of the media” (http://www.commoncraft.com/blogs).  On the other hand, the pluralistic mentality of the 21st century culture paired with the church’s long standing view of congregational autonomy and the under utilization of online social media has diminished the effectiveness of all forms of media to influence people or the restoration movement as a whole.  I am inclined to agree with Moore when he says “A well-established and widely circulated journal is undoubtedly a great power.  This position is not easily reached, but when it is reached it is an influence which can stand against the most determined opposition” (History of the Disciples of Christ, 698).  Blogging and social media utilized for the restoration movement can have great potential to influence (See #5).  However, in my observation, I have not encountered any Church of Christ bloggers who are outwardly, consistently and specifically using this platform for focused influence primarily for the express advancement of the restoration movement.  I’m sure that there are some who may, but they have not yet reached the position that Moore is talking about in regards to power and influence.  However, I believe the number of successful and influential Christian bloggers who embrace restoration ideals are communicating a message that is in support of it.

4. Tell me a little bit about Church Blog Theory and any relationship it might have to the restoration movement.

Church Blog Theory was developed out of 4-5 years of experience in internet/social media ministry.  It functions to equip members of the Church of Christ to utilize blogs integrated with other social media to accomplish three goals.

1. Improve the church’s standing online so that those looking for truth will be able to find it.
2. Promote and facilitate one-to-one personal evangelism
3. Encourage and build unity among brothers and sisters in Christ

Like many other blogs, it is not designed for the express purpose of promoting the restoration movement but restoration ideals are very much embedded into its message.

5. What does the restoration movement have to gain from blogs and other online media.

If used effectively, blogging and other social media offer several advantages to the restoration movement.  There are four primary benefits.

  1. Trust – The business community has determined that social media develops trust.  Surprisingly, people in today’s culture place a high value on the relationships developed online.  If the restoration movement desires to gain the trust of the Christian community worldwide, social media would go a long way to help
  2. Conversation.  In line with trust, social media creates a conversation.  If there exists a lack of understanding among today’s global community as to what the restoration movement is, it is a direct result of failed communication.  Social media provides the platform for a two-sided conversation that hopefully will bless all involved.
  3. Relevance – It has been observed that many within the Churches of Christ have heard of the restoration movement, but believe it to be a static moment in history rather than a dynamic movement still in progress.  Social media offers the ability for restorationists to communicate within the culture.  If the restoration movement’s ideals are indeed relevant, then the movement itself will communicate its relevance by using a medium that the culture defines as relevant.
  4. Conduit – The instant global reach of the Internet paired with the effectiveness of social media to relevantly communicate ideals and trust opens a doorway to hundreds of millions of people.  This number is expanding within the US at about 50% each year.  Online social media opens a conduit that doesn’t rival mediums used in the past, but supersedes them far beyond our imagination.

Ryan Parsons

Church Blog Theory

http://churchblogtheory.org

churchblogtheory@gmail.com

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