Traversing the Landscape of New Media: A Review of Always On by Angela Williams Gorrell

With new media’s presence in people’s daily lives continually expanding, Dr. Angela Williams Gorrell explores its capacity to aid Christian leaders in the outreach of their ministries throughout her new book, Always On: Practicing Faith in a New Media Landscape. Acknowledging that while the media can have a negative impact on users, the former research scholar for the Yale Center for Faith and Culture argues that maintaining a reflective awareness of media usage actually fosters its potential to minister to those in need. Gorrell acknowledges that new media’s increasing foothold in people’s lives creates new opportunities for evangelization in modern society. While she does note that the media can often perpetuate brokenness through promoting racism, sexism and other hateful content, she counters by arguing that a mindful usage of media presents “glorious possibilities” for Christianity online.

To tap into the opportunities Always On promotes, church leaders must understand how to navigate the new media landscape in ways that spark fruitful conversation and illustrate the Christian life. Written for those who are hesitant to take their faith online, Gorrell encourages leaders to embrace new media use in their ministries, suggesting that refraining from using new media would be detrimental to their church’s outreach. Following her call for ministries to move into the world of new media, Gorrell provides readers with a guide to navigating the constantly evolving landscape of digital communities through her research.

In the first pages of her book, Gorrell states, “New media is always changing, and Christian communities need lasting Christian visions of true life that will guide them well into the future” (p. 4). Throughout her book, readers will find reflections and examples that illustrate what Gorrell calls “hybrid faithful living,” or a way of life that allows people to integrate media use into their daily experiences. She writes that this hybrid lifestyle is essential for leaders to establish a stable image of Christian living among digital communities.

Always On recognizes modern society’s continual movement toward online interactions and presents this reality to Christian leaders. If Christians fail to build an online presence, they forgo the possibilities new media offers to extend faithful living beyond the walls of their churches. Gorrell presents a challenge to Christian communities by highlighting the reality of the media’s influence in people’s daily lives and calling Christians to respond accordingly. While her research lends itself to observation and reflection, it does not necessarily demonstrate a strong foundation in concurrent research on how social media can shape an individual’s life.

Gorrell’s book does, however, provide readers with clear instructions and tools to establish their ministry’s presence in the media. Her research demonstrates the possibilities for connection online communities provide and expands upon methods to live out the hybrid lifestyle she describes. Overall, Always On explores new media’s impact on Christianity and equips leaders to practice their faith in a space that may seem altogether unfamiliar as they traverse the landscape of new media.