Conference reimagines church in a digital world

The Christian New Media Conference was organised by Premier Christian Media

Over 500 Christians gathered in central London's The Brewery venue on Saturday for the fourth annual Christian New Media Conference and Awards.

Delegates were encouraged to "reimagine Church" by engaging in social media during the event organised by Premier Christian Media and CODEC.

The evening saw an awards ceremony during which websites including iBenedictines (Blogger of the Year), The Bridge (Multi-author Blog of the Year), and The Salvation Army International (Accessibility Award) were recognised for their achievements – see here for the full list of winners http://www.newmediacentreofexcellence.org.uk/cnmac/awards/shortlist

The 36 speakers at the day conference included Archbishop of Canterbury's daughter, Katharine Welby, the CODEC project's Dr Bex Lewis, and James Poulter of You Version, and presented 32 seminars on topics including 'Podcasting Without Tears', 'Raising Funds Online' and 'Apologetics Online: The Good The Bad & The Ugly'.

Reverend Dave Gilpin from Hope City Church in London opened the conference with the words: "There's a lot of boffins in the room, a lot of nerds, a lot of geeks.

"I want us to build a community today. Everyone is in their own bubble, let's explore each other's worlds. There's so many worlds in this room that are incredibly interesting."

In his address, the Bishop of London Right Reverend Richard Chartres argued for a better partnership between local churches and the worldwide web and said cyberspace was "the new town square".

The bishop praised the YesHeIs.com as a "remarkable site" that had "reached 42 million for the gospel".

Six streams of seminars titled Theology, Beginner, Communication, Nuts & Bolts, Church & Charity and Networking ran throughout the day.

The afternoon main session heard from Reverend Kate Bottley, who was catapulted to fame after the video of her leading a flash mob at a wedding went viral. She spoke on the abuse she had received from Christians who found the video offensive.

Katharine Welby, whose Twitter followers jumped from 40 to 4,000 after her father became Archbishop of Canterbury, also gave a speech.

Speaking of her own struggle with depression, which sparked controversy in the mainstream media, Welby encouraged people to write down their attitudes to mental health, then read them back and "reflect".

In a discussion session 'The Future of Social', Bryony Taylor predicted the "slow death" of email, as social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter increase in popularity. She cited Prezi, a virtual whiteboard company which stopped sending emails this year because "you're probably not reading them".

Rachel Barach, General Manager of Bible Gateway revealed in her short talk that 400,000,000 hours were spent reading the Bible digitally in 2012 and 41% of Americans read the Bible online this year. But she also warned: "Don't substitute a status update for engaging in a relationship…Don't just broadcast when you can disciple."

Pete Phillips from CODEC raised the question: "What do you do when a computer says 'I believe in God?' AIs could have freewill and be open to the spirit of God."

He ended with: "The future isn't mine to prophesy, the future is ours to create."

Sheridan Voysey shared his experiences of creating a Christian radio station in Australia that reaches out to those outside the church. Explaining his four values of being missional, credible, holistic and hospitable, he encouraged Christians to be more outward-looking in reaching the secular world.

The conference's closing reflection was given by David Adabale from New Life Church who shared, "We have all been equipped today for an assignment," before praying: "Father help us as we go from here to publish the good news, there are people out there who are waiting for an answer that you have."

Hundreds of delegates used the conference hashtag #cnmac13 to quote speakers and voice their own opinions.

@GabriellaRusso commented "Church always been at forefront of technology - printing press and first book published was the Bible. BUT are we keeping up now?"

@xiannewmedia tweeted "World population of 7bn, internet uses 2.4bn, 1/3 of people connected to the internet. On the rise in developed & developing world."

Organisers are already planning another conference and awards ceremony for next year.

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