Zoomed Out? Report

Dave Lovell

When the pandemic began, the church was required to react. New uses of digital technology were constructed in response to urgent questions needing fast answers. How could pastoral support continue? Who would care for those on the margins of society? What did we expect people to do with themselves at 10 am on a Sunday morning? Because the situation was urgent, reactivity was the right response. It would be a misguided minister who in that context prioritised a careful study of communication theory over the pressing needs of the people around her.

The pandemic is not over, and it has already left many in positions of pastoral and practical need. But a great deal of that original urgency has gone. We have found new ways of doing, and we have to some extent settled in to them. Many of us have returned to a modified version of our old practices, perhaps supplemented by new rhythms we’ve adopted over the last two years. At this juncture, the church is equipped and (dare I say it?) called to reflect.

It’s into this context that Church Army are pleased to release Zoomed Out: a new report that combines quantitative and qualitative methods to make sense of Anglican experiences of church during the pandemic. Read it here, and find out what real Anglicans have to say about:

  • What online can and can’t do
  • What digital forms of holy communion really felt like
  • The “lifelines” of good practice that many depended upon
  • The groups who are still in danger of marginalisation

Digital done right

If you’re already sceptical of online expressions of church, there’s a danger that Zoomed Out might play into your existing biases and confirm your rejection of new-fangled digital forms. If you fall into that category, please consider carefully the idea that a sudden, worldwide pandemic is probably not a fair test of the merits of digital communication.

In this research, Church Army have sought to understand and amplify personal experiences of church during the pandemic, which was a trying season of change, isolation, and grief. Being forced online in those circumstances did not feel like an exciting opportunity to try something new. It was thrust upon us at short notice and delivered by untrained facilitators who were doing the best they could with the little they had. No wonder then, that so many people found it difficult; we were still learning how to ‘do’ digital, as well as what digital could and could not do.

Zoomed Out is a historical document – albeit one that pertains to very recent history. At some stretch of the imagination, one might even think of it as an ‘evidenced lament’, that gives voice to the nuances of suffering and highlights bittersweet moments of surprise, drawing on both as opportunities to learn. We have not pulled punches in recounting the difficult stories that were shared with us, but like all experiences they must be interpreted in the light of their context. I hope that this report equips you to interpret your own experience alongside those of others, and then better understand how to serve the people around you (whether digitally or geographically) in the present.

There is nothing new under the sun

The apostle Paul recognised the utility of virtual communication. His letters to the churches comprise a substantial portion of our bibles. He devoted himself with great care and authenticity to that medium of communication. But nevertheless, he longed to see those to whom he wrote ‘face-to-face’ (1 Thessalonians 2:10). Let us take up that ancient mantle, and not shy away from using every piece of communications technology that God has given us to show His love to the people that he has put under out care.

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