Social Networks in the Age of Rapid Digitalisation (GS Letter May 2021)

FES and GCF had a combined Staff Conference on 5 and 6 May at The Rice in Orchard Central. There was almost a sense of déjà vu as COVID restrictions kept increasing that week leading to the start of Phase 2 all over again. This meant that we had to keep modifying the programme and logistics of the conference to keep in line with the daily change of restrictions. Most crucially, it also meant that we could not have all our staff meet together as a whole group and had to settle for a hybrid conference instead. In any case, the staff managed to accomplish the most important objective for this conference – that is to be familiar with the new plans and priorities as laid out in Fellowship 2030. In Fellowship 2030, we have three immediate priorities for the next three years: Digital Ministry, Wellbeing Ministry, and Graduates Ministry. I will find a better way to share more about these priorities and their implications for our fellowship soon, but allow me to at least begin by reflecting on the most urgent and important one for this year: Digital Ministry.

The priority of Digital Ministry is not simply about digitising our resources or making FES go online. More crucially, digital ministry involves understanding the impact that rapid digitalisation has made upon everyone who has now entered the digital space, forced or unforced. It involves recognising, adapting, and expanding our ministry and pedagogical approaches to embrace both the physical, digital, and even hybrid spaces.

One critical aspect of this priority is to acknowledge and explore how relationships take place now in the digital age. Stephen and Mary Lowe write In Ecologies of Faith in a Digital Age (IVP, 2018), that “social networks and relationships developed with others lend itself to whole-person development.” Specifically, we are called to pay more attention to the social networks and relationships that social media technology has allowed us to facilitate rather than the technology itself. It is a shift away from discussing the limitations of social media to exploring its capacity to enable and enlarge the social networks and relationships of the digitally connected. More importantly, Lowe and Lowe focus on three things that make for a strong social network:

    1. Interconnection: a network of people with a diversity of interests, backgrounds, and experiences.
    2. Interactivity: a network where there is reciprocity in the relationships, giving rise to an affirmation of relational activity.
    3. Mutual influence: a network where there is a chance for people to mutually affect and transform one another.

In this sense, part of what it means for FES to develop its Digital Ministry is to consider how our students and leaders build their social networks and relationships in this digital age, online and offline. Is there a healthy diversity in their network? Are they receiving reciprocity and affirmation in their relationships? Does their network allow for mutual influence? These are the relational questions to now consider as we have seen students spend the past year making friends primarily through the digital medium and being comfortable with it.

Digitialisation has affected lifestyle, work, and ministries for a long time. However, what is unique about this COVID situation is the speed at which many of us have been forced to adopt it and to adapt to it whether we like it or not. It is this rapid digitalisation within a year that has propelled us to look into what it means to do Digital Ministry and to consider its implications for the present and the future.

How has this period of rapid digitalisation affected you? I would like to leverage this diverse and interconnected social network of FES to learn more about its impact on you and be enriched by this community. Please share your experiences, comments, and insights with me at jeremiah@fellowship.sg. Please also continue to pray with us as we go through yet another round of campus and meeting restrictions in this critical period where many CFs have just changed their leadership and trying to prepare for the new academic year ahead.

Blessings,

Jeremiah Goh
General Secretary

 

 

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