Neil Mayne from the G21 project with Salvationist and Mr Peter Stephenson
One of the biggest challenges facing any Church today is figuring out how to make a 2000 year old text relevant in a world of tablet computers, smart phones and instant connectivity to the internet.
The Salvation Army's Neil Mayne explains how his work with Yorkshire Division is leading to an exciting new tool which may well revolutionise the way that the Church and Charity approaches evangelism in the future.
Saul Alinsky, the legendary Community Organiser whose Rules for Radicals inspired US President Barack Obama, has several rules of 'power tactics' which he claims are guidelines to winning campaigns. The second, "never go outside the experience of your people", exemplifies Neil's work trying to reach an evangelical audience via technology. It's based in the argument that many young people now are as likely to look at their iPhone or Blackberry than pick up a Bible.
To this end the G21 Mobile project seeks to use new forms of modern communication to connect with audiences who might not traditionally come into contact with Christianity, through a series of applications and text messages, which aim to support and nurture a developing faith.
Interactive screens help trainees deepen their understanding of the Bible
As Neil explains, "Technology in itself isn't special. But it does offer another tool we can draw upon to take the message of life, hope and love to those who are searching. It's part of a palette of opportunities that we need to draw upon prayerfully and with purpose."
A good example of the work undertaken by the G21 team can be seen within the Red Shield Defence Services centre at Catterick. Working in partnership with staff at the centre, RBC Ministries and the Chaplaincy team, G21 has helped to develop a system, which is currently being used to send out regular text messages with a passage from the Bible.
[Read more: 2013-2014 New Testament Bible Challenge]
This scriptural snapshot is an attempt to entice individuals to find out more, to dip in and delve deeper. Individuals can take the next step by popping along for weekly Christian fellowship or by using one of the interactive touch screen kiosks which have been developed as part of this initiative. These give access to an interactive version of the 'Our Daily Bread' weekly worship book, which is offered to all trainees.
"With the infantry at Catterick, it works because it's in small amounts." Neil explains. "The 'Our Daily Bread' e-book only has one reflection a day on each page, and we've looked to package this in such a way that it is easy to use. For example we have included a spoken version of each scriptural message and this has added a richness to the experience that seems to be working well. The text messages trigger interest, and the software which allows for further reading maintains it."
Daily Bible readings appearing on touch screen
The touch screen kiosk also provides a quick video introduction from the chaplaincy staff at Catterick, where each member introduces themselves and explains what their role is. "I can see real potential for this sort of development not only in the Red Shield, but across Employment Plus and Social Services, especially in Lifehouses (hostels)"says Neil.
The G21 Project, aiming to combine modern communications with Scripture to evangelise a new generation, isn't just based in new technologies however. It's also reaching out to University campuses and Mind, Body and Spirit fairs in order to try and reach those who may not normally come into contact with The Salvation Army where they are, rather than where the Church and Charity would usually meet them.
The use of text messages to engage with individuals has been very powerful. "People don't generally delete texts," explains Neil, "So they can come to the message and find a bank of very practical encouraging and challenging Biblical messages - They are always there on their phone, as a potential support."
Neil says, "Last year I had the opportunity to hear General Linda Bond speak of her vision for the Salvation Army. She called for us to be A God raised, Spirit filled army of the 21st Century convinced of its calling and moving forward together into the world of the hurting, the broken, the lonely, the dispossessed and the lost. Reaching them in love by all means with the transforming message of Jesus and hope and life."
"I have seen this lived out in action through the work of the team at Catterick and it has been a privilege to help technically with this development. Technology in itself does not transform, but it does have the capacity to open the door to new relationships."