by Rosie Schefe

An eight-year-old child has not known life before the iPhone; an 18-year-old has not known life before the internet. People communicate in ways not even imagined a few decades ago. Some congregations find all this new technology a hindrance to ministry, but could it be a blessing?

In a series of workshops held across Australia this year, Roman Catholic educator John Roberto argues that churches have been slow to adapt to the digital environment, viewing it as a place filled with threats rather than as a landscape of opportunity. While mobile devices might seem like a distraction, what they can do is open up new pathways of learning and of faith formation.

Mobile devices have fundamentally changed the relationship between information, time and space, John Roberto says. This is paralleled by the rise of social networks, fuelled by social media phenomena, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Linkedin, Pinterest and Instagram. Rather than looking to authoritative sources, technology-savvy people now filter and evaluate news and other information through social networks.

‘People have become content curators; when they discover content they will share it with their broad network’,

‘Reciprocal sharing is the way in which people build their own social capital and reputations.’ Similar shifts are occurring in education, where digital media is allowing learning to happen anywhere and anytime, where learners become active participants rather than just consumers of information, and where people access material from a range of places rather than from one single institution. By re-imagining faith formation programs to suit this landscape, churches could better deliver lifelong learning and help to maintain connections with families and individuals, John maintains.

He uses the idea of ‘faith formation networks’ to explain how this might be done. A faith formation network brings people of different generations together, and supplies them with programs, activities, faith formation experiences and other resources that are tailored to match their needs and lifestyles.

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