What Is Digital Pluralism? Come and See on Sept 17

Don’t worry, if you’re not familiar with the term “digital pluralism” you’re not behind the times, out of touch, or manifestly uncultured. Trust me, I should know, as I made this term up! ūüôā

What I mean by talking of digital pluralism is to recognize that we live in an era when multiple stories, worldviews, traditions, convictions, and versions of reality now circulate, and even compete, with each other largely because of the advent of digital communication.

Think about it in terms of this analogy: a generation ago we had “the Big Three” in television which, truth be told, mostly featured all the same stuff: local and national news after supper, sitcoms in the early evening, dramas at night, and then more local news before bed. Three stations, more or less the same stories. Now, of course, there are literally hundreds of channels to choose from (and I know, I know, still nothing good to watch!) offering up hundred of different stories for our consumption.

And then there’s the internet and social media, where you can find more news, entertainment, political and religious information, and more than you can possibly imagine or consume. Where are, in short, awash in a sea of information representing tons of different perspectives on reality.

What this means for the church is simple: we have a lot of competition these days when it comes to offering significant¬†stories that help people craft their identity and navigate the world meaningfully. And just as the market share of the NBC went down with the advent of HBO, AMC, FX, and all the rest, so also has the church¬†seen a dramatic “market share” loss as more and more people are opting to spend their Sunday mornings relating to other narratives that help shape their lives.

Moreover, awash in a variety of stories and meaningful narratives, the culture no longer privileges the Christian story. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the culture is “hostile” to religious faith – we are blessed to live a country and culture that values religious freedom. But I want simply to point out that where for generations leaders in the U.S.¬†culture encouraged church attendance and schools and media outlets helped tell the story, the larger culture¬†is now far more neutral if not indifferent.

Given these changes, I think the pressing question is simple: what are we doing differently? More often than not, most congregations I know are not that different from the way they were in the 70s, or even the 50s – whether in terms of worship, preaching, Sunday school, confirmation, etc. – doing what they’ve pretty much always done (and sometimes taking great pride in not changing) with smaller and older groups of folks attending.

Well, that’s not all I mean by “digital pluralism,” but it’s a start. And while I’ll write more about all this¬†in future posts, I wanted to let you that at LTSP we are again having a free Ministry Resource Day on Thursday, September 17, when I will make two presentations on “Digital Pluralism and the Death and Resurrection of the Church.” We’ll also worship and have time for¬†lunch together. You can find registration information here. If you’re anywhere near Philly on the 17th, I hope you will join us! (And did I mention it’s free.) I hope to see you there, but if not, I’ll be curious about your own sense of how the world is changing and what this means for how we “do church” (not to mention “are church”!).


Note: While we often stream our presentations on the web, we’ve been having difficulty of late with our equipment and so I can’t promise we’ll be able to make that happen.