Dignifying the Digital Ordinary
I love my church's building. Perhaps absence is indeed making the heart grow fonder because I've found myself thinking a lot about that building lately. In this time of isolation—as I'm stuck more-or-less inside the walls of my own house—I really miss my church and what the building evokes. Let me tell you a little bit about it.
First, I love the architectural design concept. A building facilitates activity, but it also communicates the values and vision of its users. Believing this, the building committee years ago adopted the concept of "dignifying the ordinary." This concept was expressed in the building's layout—the worship space evokes a town square, where all people can gather—as well as in its construction—simple, common materials come together with grace and care to glorify God and serve his people.
Second, I love its brightness. Our church's mission statement includes the phrase that we are "a prism for God's light." The building makes tangible this charge to be a prism of God's light by its many large windows and translucent dome above the worship space. Entering the church indeed feels like walking into the light.
Finally, and most importantly, I love that it points me to the cross. The entire complex follows a circular pattern. At the building's center is a structural, steel "tree" with a cross at the top. The tree is beautiful, but its presence isn't merely aesthetic. It's actually integral to the structure of the building. Remove that cross and the church building would literally fall apart. Even more, because of the circular pattern of the building, the cross remains always at the center. All entrances direct you toward the cross.
Applications in a digital setting
When I think about the church's digital presence, my mind returns to the same principles that guided the building committee years ago. I think about what it means to dignify the ordinary in a digital setting. What does it mean to be a prism of God's light on social media? In what ways do our digital "doors" point people to the cross?
The dynamic nature of digital media—and the speed with which change occurs—provide unique challenges to answering these questions. I can rebuild a website far more quickly and cheaply than I can rebuild our church building. That makes my work in digital communications particularly prone to dissatisfaction, envy, perfectionism, and mimicry—what I refer to in another article as "the chase."
The chase often manifests as a comparison: Why can't our church's Instagram feed look like…? It also comes through as wishful thinking: If only we had that church's budget… But mostly, the chase can lead to foolishness, and I think we're familiar with what happened to the foolish person who built a house on the sand. With all the challenges brought on by this chase, how should I, and others, approach the work of dignifying the digital ordinary?
Take particular care in choosing building materials
I believe that dignifying the digital ordinary includes choosing the right building materials. This means thoughtfully deciding which digital channels are worth pursuing—and which ones are not. It also means taking particular care in choosing messages that are right and fitting for their medium. This metaphor of building materials is somewhat difficult, given that so much of communication is done in a virtual setting. Digital media offers the opportunity to share words, images, videos, links, profiles, and interactive elements in ways previously unimaginable. Selecting these "materials" with a reverence for what is right and fitting is critical, not only in facilitating how the church interacts online but also in communicating our values and vision.
The "Chicanery of the chic"
I like the way Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrases this part of 1 Corinthians 3: "Don’t think that you can be wise merely by being up-to-date with the times." The passage goes on to say that God "exposes the chicanery of the chic." I find this passage convicting, particularly in my work in church communications. It is incredibly tempting to buy into the concept that everything has to look and feel a certain way, and that anything "dated" is therefore "wrong." It is tempting to look at another church's website, live stream setup, video promos, and landing pages, and think: Why can't we look like that? Of course, it is not wrong to produce high-quality content, nor is it wrong to be inspired by those who do. I hope, however, that we can let substance reign over style and not become enamored by flash.
A firm foundation
Just as the church building directs each person who enters toward the cross, I think it's wise to think about how our digital presence can do the same. Similarly, I remember that the church's cross isn't merely ornamental; it’s integral. Earlier in 1 Corinthians 3, we hear these words: "Let each carpenter who comes on the job take care to build on the foundation! Remember, there is only one foundation, the one already laid: Jesus Christ." Therefore, I want to view my church's digital presence not to be an ordinary arena, merely decorated with the trappings of Christianity. I want it to be a place fully dignified and redeemed by the love of Christ. I want it to help provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. This will look and feel different for different churches—and that's a good thing—but it's all built, of course, on the same foundation.
Editor’s Note: Dave serves as Communications Coordinator at Church of the Servant in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can learn more about the building’s architecture on their website.