Friday, November 11, 2011

Authority Online: Church Relevance

This week I have chosen to focus on the case study of Church Relevance and its connection with online religious authority. Kent Shaffer founded Church Relevance in March 2006 to help churches become more effective and efficient. He has also helped out with ministries such as and is opening a nonprofit this year called Open Church that will equip church leaders with free resources to download.

According to Cheong’s theory of "Logic of Continuity and Complementarity," Church Relevance is a vital resource that helps to “complement” offline churches and their authoritative figures within the church. Complementarity refers to “the acts of interrelation of socio-technical developments that co-constitute and augment authority….In this view, offline religious authority is reframed as shaping, sustaining and being sustained by online practices” (Cheong, 2011, pp. 12-13). Church Relevance’s mission is “understanding culture and responding to hurts and needs with the gospel, sacrificial love, and selfless ministering.” Through design, technology, leadership, management, marketing, and ministry Church Relevance has become a valuable resource for all church ministries.

Church Relevance provides church leaders with inspirational resources which include top church blogs, top churches to watch, and top church logos. These all serve as resources to complement authoritative offline figures that might be searching for new ways to keep up with a dynamic environment that could pose as a threat to their authoritative stance in the church. By looking at this case study, it is evident that some digital media resources such as Church Relevance are seeking to help churches grow and maintain authority in the church, online as well as offline.

Works cited: Cheong. (2011). Authority. Unpublished manuscript.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Case Study for Research Paper

Online and offline churches intend to maintain connection of the Christian community, but the question arises as to how the online communities within the Christian church are able to uphold engagement when the online realm is much more individualized compared to the traditional church.

I have chosen Saddleback Church as my research case study. Saddleback is a megachurch located in Southern California with eight satellite locations and an Internet campus. I will be focusing on the community aspects that the Internet Campus has to offer and how they encourage online community fellowship within the church. There are multiple service times that are streamed online on a daily basis as well as online small groups that are available for anyone that is interested in getting plugged in to the community without making the trip to an offline location. Saddleback Church is intent in reaching out to their community, keeping their members well informed about events that are occurring within the church as well as other outside projects.

I am interested in learning more about Saddleback and the effort the church makes to maintain an online community that might otherwise not be as promising as a traditional, offline church community. Furthermore, it will be interesting to discover how the members maintain a common ground without individualization overshadowing due to the flexible boundaries of an online community.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Identity Online

In Lovheim’s chapter, the question was raised about whether digital media strengthens or weakens and individual’s ability to construct or perform religious identity. In Lovheim’s text, identity is “the process where an individual develops the capacity to grasp the meaning of situations in everyday life and their own position in relation to them (Lovheim, 2011, pg. 2). Experiences and social interaction enable someone to create a unique identity and delve further into the discovery of the self.

The third wave of identity research on religion and the Internet is associated with religious identities online as integrated in everyday life. The development of social networks like Facebook and Twitter has become part of an individual’s identity. Lovheim’s research has shown that religious identity via the Internet is individualistic. This “disembedding of social life” from traditional offline religious engagement and the “constant influx of new information” via digital media creates a “coherent, yet continuously revised biography of self” (Lovheim, 2011, pg. 18).

Twitter is one example of social media online. Many people follow religious leaders and organizations on Twitter. By “following” these people, an individual is forming a religious identity. Thus, a person is able to strengthen his or her religious identity via this social media resource. It is also a way to gain followers that may have stumbled upon the individual because of their mutual association with that specific religious Twitter account.

A website known as is resource for finding people and organizations that have Twitter accounts. If an individual is interested in finding more religious organizations or people to follow on Twitter, there is a complete “Tag List” with various subjects to choose from. For example, one can search tags like “religion,” “Christianity,” or “Hinduism” and the results will list Twitter accounts related to that specific tag.

Identity is constantly strengthened and dynamically evolving through social media resources such as Twitter and It is something that can be changed, ensuring a constant “revised biography” of the self.

Works cited: Lovheim, M. (2011). Identity. Unpublished manuscript.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Community Online: Saddleback Church

The online church community that I have researched is Saddleback Church: Internet Campus. This is an online Christian community that is devoted to the Christian ministry and religious engagement with other members in the community. Saddleback Church was founded by Rick and Kay Warren and held its first public service at Lake Forest, California on Easter in 1980. Saddleback Church now has eight satellite campuses as well as an Internet location.
The Internet campus has live services that steam Monday through Friday at 12:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m., Saturdays at 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., and Sundays, which are available every two hours beginning at 1:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. Podcasts of services are available as well.
The church also provides Saddleback Online Small Groups that come together to grow spiritually. Each group has their own private page to share ideas, discussions, and prayer requests. Groups meet live via their Internet small group page to watch the lesson of the week and discuss the bible study.
Saddleback also engages in social media via Facebook, Twitter, and a blogging site. The Blog Center is unique because it provides multiple topics for members and can be personalized. There is also the option to delete a topic altogether if it is not applicable to someone’s life.
Saddleback Church: Internet Campus is similar to Church Online whose pastors emphasize “the importance of relationships” and is “well-suited to a preaching-oriented ecclesiology” (Hutchings, 2011). Like Church Online, Saddleback Church is more structured because it provides leader-based online small groups and scheduled online services.
In a way, Saddleback Church’s Internet campus could have a negative impact on the offline community. The Internet campus can be viewed as a replacement for the offline churches. If I were to be involved with the Saddleback Internet campus, I would have all of my resources available to me at the click of a button and wouldn’t see a reason why I should put miles on my car and drive to the nearest offline church campus.
The online presence of Saddleback Church can also have a positive impact on the offline community because people could possibly stumble upon Saddleback Church’s online website, which could lead to interest in learning more about the community and even result in becoming a member at an offline location.
Whether it is online small groups, local church events, online and offline sermons, or social media, Saddleback Church’s mission is to reach out to anyone who might be interested in engaging in its community.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ritual Online

In class, we addressed a number of questions regarding offline and online rituals in the Buddhist and Hindu communities. A couple of questions that I will be addressing include “what are the limits to online rituals?” and “can they have supernatural efficacy?”

In Connelly’s case study, she focuses on Buddhist ritual in Second Life, an online virtual world with avatars engaged in cyberspace activities. Second Life has an actual Buddhist Center for members to attend and participate in rituals. Human senses are vital when partaking in Buddhist ritual ceremonies in the physical environment. Because the online world can’t offer the sense of smell, taste, or touch, it is a challenge because the sensory experience is limited. In order to compensate for the loss, the Buddhist Center in Second Life provides a visual effect of incense and other physical artifacts like a Buddha statue and a scroll. It also provides auditory effects of a waterfall, a singing bowl, and wind chimes, all of which contribute to ambience.

In Scheifinger’s case study of Hindu worship, puja is a ritual practice that involves making offerings to a deity. Puja can be practiced both offline and online. In the online world, there are multiple websites available to perform puja. Although stimulation of the senses is limited online, it is more important to understand and partake in the core practice of darshan, or gazing into the eyes of the deity and vice-versa. If this is achieved, then the supernatural efficacy of during a puja ritual is possible.

Another online ritual that I’ve found via Radde-Antweiler’s article “Ritual is Becoming Digitalised” is the “prayer Gohonzon” affiliated with the American Independent Movement of the Nichiren Buddhist sect. This movement is unaffiliated to the Soka Gakkai Internaion (SGI). This prayer has been deemed extremely sacred. It is usually hung above a home altar, only to be displayed for private devotional chanting. However, the “prayer Gohonzon” is accessible at Nichiren’s Coffee House website ( This is a separate identity from the SGI community; thus, it has stirred different opinions regarding whether this online prayer is sacred and acceptable within the Nichiren Buddhist sect.

Additional outside resources:

Radde-Antweiler, K. (2006). Ritual is becoming digitalised: Introduction to the special issue on rituals on the internet. Journal of Religions on the Internet, 2(1), 1-5. Retrieved October 14, 2011, from

Friday, October 7, 2011

Digital Religion Symposium and Workshop: Pauline Cheong, Negotiating Religious Authority Online

Pauline Cheong touched on the subject of religious authority and how it has been framed in relation to digital media. Since media has been a major influence upon religious culture and values, authority figures have had to reevaluate how to enact with the growing online religious community.

When considering the timeline of religious authority, society has progressed from a static, traditional authority to a legal, rational charisma, and now authority figures have adapted to dynamic, mediated performances.

Cheong presented three merging logics connected to mediated religious authority:

1. Disjuncture and displacement

2. Continuity and complementary

3. Dialectics and paradox

The first logic between religious authority and the Internet is disjuncture and displacement. The Internet has created a sort of “utopian community” that disrupts the status quo, challenging authorities. The growing presence of online religion has opened up new spaces for opinion and persuasion. Non-professionals have easy access to online religion and are perceived as “information terrorists.”

Second, online media has brought about continuity as well as complementary ideas. There is a synergetic relationship between online and offline beliefs and practices. The Internet is a way to bridge and bond religious relationships and is not necessarily an inflammatory resource. Pastors have expanded roles via Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and the like. This is a way to gain or regain trust and credibility.

The last logic is in relation to dialectics and paradox. It is a circular theme that involves strategic management, endemic tensions, circulation of meaning, and competing knowledge that can enhance epistemic authority.

Cheong concluded by advising further research such as expanding data repertoire, going beyond researching observational data, and a triangulation of qualitative and quantitative methods.

Cheong’s research presented positive and negative aspects relating to religious authority and digital media. Her data brought about clarification of how to analyze authority figures and finding their method to engage in online religion. I appreciated her presentation as it helped me better understand the relationship of new media and religion.

Monday, October 3, 2011


Update: To clarify, I will be searching for current events associated with digital media and larger religions via online articles, text resources, news resources, etc. I will then post about the event and how it affects/changes the identity of that religion.

This blog will specifically focus on religions and their association with digital media. I am planning to specifically focus upon larger religions such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism.

Religion is one of the most important aspects that create our identity and define who we are as people. It is important to understand and be informed about issues within religious groups. Not only am I interested in learning about other religions, but I am hoping to strengthen my identity as well.

Since digital media is rapidly growing as well as constantly changing, it is guaranteed to be a current event within society. Digital media is prominent within most of the larger religions internationally. If a religion is associated with some sort of digital media, it is likely that the media is incorporated within religious contexts such as services, a source of communication within the community, used for outreach purposes, etc.

I am interested in knowing more about how religions tolerate digital media and what they consider to be acceptable and unacceptable. I am also interested in finding out how the media portrays these religions and their media use within their own societies.