E-Confessions On M-Church, the Gods Must Be Crazy
Nairobi — Why go to church when you can carry it in your pocket? In the amazing world of technology, devotions, sermons, blessings, rosaries, Bibles, and numerous faith-based phone applications are now available at the tap of a button... or a screen.
The latest fascinating application, perhaps, is "Confession", which was approved by the Vatican earlier this year. The application by Apple guides the users through the process of confession and allows them to keep track of their sins.
You can meet Pope Benedict XVI on Facebook, see his pictures, and receive messages from him. You can also keep abreast of news events about the life of the Catholic Church through the Vatican's page on YouTube.
And that is just a pinch of Church Online.
For a long time people have been shopping online and finding partners and jobs, but now many are finding spiritual nourishment there as well.
The wonderful worldwide web is gripping the Christian sphere like never before, and local churches have joined in the craze, too. Having a church website or a social networking site such as Facebook is now as common as having a church poster by the roadside.
Churches are hoisting themselves online with the aim of publicising themselves, gathering masses, creating communities, and fostering disciples. Their web pages have an array of "faith boosters" ranging from live-stream sermons, discussions, devotions, inspirational words, Bible verses, and pastors' blogs.
When Jesus commanded His disciples to "go and make disciples of all nations", did He have twittering vicars, Facebooking fathers, blogging bishops, and online fellowships in mind?
Today, fast and furiously, Christians are attempting anything and everything to establish their presence in the growing digital world. But this is not a new phenomenon for the Church. Christians' love affair with technology has a long history.
Jon Masso, a long-time missionary and currently deputy vice-chancellor of Daystar University, says: "The first major technological innovation was the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg, which led to the mass production of the Bible in different languages. For the first, time it was possible for Christians anywhere to read God's word in their own language."
Now that the printing press has been overtaken by digital technology and everything has gone "e" (e-mail, e-books, e-zines, e-government), could it be time for e-God?
Sam Gichuru, the founder of Nairobi-based Incubation Laboratory (Nailab) who describes himself as completely sold out on developing innovations in the ICT sector in Africa, says, "Religion is very much like most good businesses. It should have a social and economic impact, helping people break free of the shackles of poverty and attaining self-enlightenment".
The ICT opportunities waiting for churches to exploit are enormous.
"A church might have a small venue to accommodate people, but with ICT, they can scale up and reach people on a global scale. This also has the potential of ending the notion that religion is a one-day event for many people," says Mr Gichuru.
Gichuru, who has a Bible as part of his Android application, says he is happy to find local churches that use live streams to reach those in the office, bluetooth technology to share the sermon after service, and mobile phones to provide counselling and prayers and daily doses of inspirational words. "A small dose a day keeps the devil away," he says.
Evangelical Christians are doing all they can to be culturally relevant and share their faith. In this digital age where the culture of cyber-self is sweeping across the world, could the traditional churches be in danger of being replaced by complete online versions? Are we likely to see Christian online communities that never get to meet physically?
Moses Kariuki, a congregant at the Free Pentecostal Church, Eastleigh and who is currently a missionary to Chad, says: "Books didn't replace the traditional church, and neither will e-technology. Instead, books helped the church to grow exponentially and made it more relevant and effective. So will electronic technology."
Masso says the church is not a building. Biblically, the church is the ecclesia (Greek for "the called ones" -- the people of God, not the building of God).
"Church", therefore, has almost always meant the coming together of people to worship and hear the word of God. Usually, this is accompanied by the concept of community.
Mr Masso notes that other factors besides ICT have contributed to the degradation of the sense of community in the church.