I launched my personal website in 1997 and my first Theology on the Web ministry website in 2001, so I guess that makes me somewhat of an Internet veteran. The Web has developed a great deal over the last 18 years and is now changing at an exponential rate. While it is impossible to know with certainty what the future holds, here are my predictions (or best guesses) for 2016, based on my own experience and observations.
A Further Growth in Mobile Access
April 2015 saw Google change its search algorithm to favour those websites that are accessible on mobile devices. This is hardly surprising, as the majority of new users of the Internet (particularly those in Africa) will be browsing using their phones. So, if you want to keep your ranking in the Search Engines, you will have no choice other than to make sure that your website is Mobile Friendly. If you are not sure if your website is mobile compliant, then Google offers a very helpful tool which you can use to find out.
A Decline in Free Services
The Internet is in a state of rapid transition from a time when many of the services and software offered were free, towards a paid or pay-per-view model. The reasons for this are many, but within my own field of Christian not-for-profit work I put this change down to:
- A decline in donations to Web ministries since the start of the last recession, which has not yet been reversed.
- A fall in income from advertising as visitors are increasingly choosing not to click on ads or are using software to block them.
An Increased Demand for Online Theological Journals
Many countries are now beginning to insist that Christian ministers get a recognised qualification before being allowed to lead a legally registered church. I know that this is happening in countries in Africa and I expect that this trend will continue. Governments will not be funding this training, obviously, but many churches will be unable to pay for it either. So, these new students will turn to the Web for free access to theological journals and articles to help them with their courses.
Restricted Access to Theological Journals
There has been a steady acquisition of independent theological journals by the large theological databases, which then restrict access to subscribing academic institutions. While these databases are offered on discounted terms to institutions in the Two-Thirds World, users still need to be registered at those institutions in order to access them. It does not take too much imagination to see how difficult it would be for Christian ministers to do this in countries where Christianity is actively being suppressed.
An Increase in Confessional Websites
There has been (and will increasing be, I predict), a growth in sites offering a subset of Evangelical Christian theology that agrees with a particular Confessional stance. Such sites are often closed (access only to subscribers) and offer students access to a pre-approved set of books and journal articles (with no off-site resources linked).
Why would an educational organisation want to do this?
- It may be easier to get permission for some material if access is restricted.
- It is easier to get funding from a particular denomination or confessional grouping if it can be demonstrated that students are being provided only with material that supports that denomination’s doctrinal position.
- It arises from the concern that exposing students to differing theological views will lead them into doctrinal error.
My own view is that theological education should seek to expose students to a wide range of opinions and give them the tools they need to discern for themselves which of these aligns most closely with Scripture. It is necessary to know both what you believe and also know the opposing view well enough to explain why it is wrong. This cannot be done simply by reading about opposing views second-hand. That is the broader model of theological education within evangelicalism that Theology on the Web is committed to, but in making this commitment I fully realise that I am going against the general trend.
What Do I Hope to See in 2016?
I look forward in 2016 to see the upward trend in visitor numbers and the amount of material downloaded to continue. I am also hoping to find more theological journals to host on the websites. It is always wonderful to get permission to place online a journal that has been out of print for some time, so that its resources can be used anew. I also want to provide a platform for new journals to start, or, like the Caribbean Journal of Evangelical Theology, give out-of-print print journals a chance to move to e-publication. With my new Webserver in place I look forward to the New Year with a sense of expectation and excitement.
What do You Think?
Do you agree with my assessment? What turns do you think the Internet will take next year? Join me in the comments below.
Every Blessing for Christmas and the New Year!