The Glocal Church

by | Jun 17, 2016 | Theology and Technology

Note: This post is by Wil Ranney and originally appeared on

Glocal: The idea that something is both global and local on the internet.

“You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” Jesus said in Acts 1:8. The ends of the earth have gotten a lot closer since the dawn of the internet. My denomination, The United Methodist Church, has a massive SMS text network that expands into the most remote villages in Africa. When the Ebola epidemic of 2014 hit, they used that network to offer hope, education and coordinated medical assistance, saving countless lives in the name of God. Think about that. To do that work in the past, we’d spend years training, funding, and relocating missionaries into the field, so that they could have access to just one village at a time.

Witnessing to the ends of the earth was never meant to be the work of a few but was the modality of every disciple. We simply let it become the work of the few because of the logistical challenges, challenges that are being eroded by the proliferation of digital technologies. Yet our churches remain primarily local.

My wife is the daughter of a diplomat and grew up going to school with children of dozens of nationalities. On any given day, she could have five languages going through her facebook feed. My wife has instant access to people in several countries through a platform that 74% of Americans use, including members of our local congregations. Look no farther than your phone to answer the call, “Here I am Lord, send me.”

Virtual Reality (VR) and translation technologies, both soon to be a part of most households, have the potential to make individuals even more glocal. VR will allow people to walk virtually, in anyone’s shoes–even the poor and marginalized. And translation technologies will allow us to talk in real time with practically anyone, speaking any language.

Church can and should remain the local centers of worship and community, but to stop there would be a denial of Jesus’ call for us to witness across the Globe. Imagine if every church were a hub of peace and justice throughout the world.

In his book The Phenomenon of Man, published posthumously in 1955, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit Monk, took Vladimir Vernadsky’s idea of a noosphere (our biosphere) and adapted it to mean a “’thinking membrane covering the planet’ and unifying the human consciousness.” Teilhard de Chardin also coined the phrase, “the Omega point,” the point at which this global consciousness would evolve to fuse with God. Chardin is a modern prophet who not only predicted the nature of the internet, he understood it’s power to illuminate our global consciousness and align it with God’s will. The Arab Spring bared witness to the internet’s ability to spark and fuel a movement of global proportions. Could the internet do the same for God’s mission in the world?

A person’s ability to interact with this global conscious and thus get closer to God is labeled “Hyptertextuality” in the book Virtual Christianity by Bazin and Cottin. In simple terms, hypertext connects all pieces of information on the internet. No piece of information is without context when the next piece of information is a click away. In fact, text is devalued in favor of context, with interactive, hypertextual content being preferred over simple textual content.

Hypertext threatens–and indeed flattens–hierarchies. Social media allowed protesters in the Middle East to organize in a new way, thus enabling the Arab Spring. Hypertext is evolving through our very usage and freedom of preference, the largest piece of evidence being the prevalence of free and open source services on the internet. In most cases, if your service is not free, then it will become irrelevant. Philosopher Pierre Levy suggests that, “The individual both wants to help build cyberculture and to suggest it’s meaning.” Hypertext is expanding. Historical records remain accessible while new content is added every second. Hypertext short circuits time and space: accessing of information is nearly instantaneous regardless of where it originates on the globe.

Despite the fact that the internet can bring out some of the best traits in humanity, and despite the fact that individuals have the power to collectively influence the development of the internet, we are still a fallen people, and we can still collectively use it for misguided ends. In order to leverage the best that Hypertextuality has to offer, we need to concentrate our usage of the internet in ways that most represent the promise of God’s kin-dom. This is yet another reason for the church to engage in online ministry. The more people of faith that engage their faith online, the more the global consciousness will reflect that faith.

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