Technology Today

  • The Internet became a mainstream medium around 1996. Those aged under about 25, who grew up with computers and mobile phones, were ‘born’ into this digital world. Those of us in older age groups are ‘immigrants’ to this new world, perhaps on occasional we become confused ‘tourists’.
     
    There are about 2.5 billion Internet users around the world. Even this number seems small when compared to the 3 billion mobile phone owners! Significantly, over half these people are in the non-western world, many in countries where it is difficult to share the Good News. Yet in some languages, there is little or no digital evangelism of any sort. Yet there are many open doors in this medium that can be used to spread the Lord's knowledge and wisdom.
     
    Mobile phones provide growing opportunities for evangelism and ministry. Increasingly, people use their mobiles to access the Web, download MP3 files or videos, receive messages, or interact with social networking sites like Facebook. Short-range broadcasts can be received by many mobiles. Bibles and books can be downloaded and read on a mobile.

    Portable electronic book readers are enabling people to store a library of books to read anywhere. This creates the opportunity to distribute free Christian books, Bibles or interactive presentations.
     
    Many believe that technical ability must be needed to do web outreach. This is completely untrue! There are many ways that you can share your faith online, including:
     
    1) start a blog (a sort of online diary-style site) or small website, using a ready-made site creation system that needs little technical knowledge
     
    2) ‘talk’ to people in online ‘chat rooms’
     
    3) volunteer as an email mentor for larger outreach ministries who need mature Christians to advise inquirers who have contacted them
     
    4) build relationships in social networking systems such as Facebook, discussion groups or bulletin boards
     
    Large online outreach ministries require teams of spare-time volunteers to mentor those who respond by email. The number of inquiries is too high for the full-time staff to handle. So they train volunteers, who give a few hours a week giving email counsel and encouragement to website contacts. Some inquirers may be almost ready to make a commitment. Others have many questions they need answered, or may be struggling with serious life issues.
     
    Some ministries need bilingual volunteers, both for mentoring in other languages and for translation.
     
    People relate differently online than they do in face-to-face interactions. Although online communication can be fleeting and ephemeral, people are often much less inhibited to share their inner feelings and needs in this relatively anonymous online environment. Internet users may ask questions or discuss needs that they would never be comfortable to do face-to-face.
     
    It is vital to understand the nature of the Web as a communication medium, otherwise we can’t use it effectively:
     
    1)  The web is not a ‘linear medium’, offering a sequential block of information or entertainment in the way that novels, videos or tracts do. It is ‘non-linear’, containing multiple blocks of material not linked together in a fixed order.
     
    2)  Neither is the Web a ‘push medium’. Radio, TV, literature distribution or billboard advertising are largely ‘push mediums’ – that is, they send out a single indiscriminate broadcast message to anyone within range. The Web however is a ‘pull medium’. People only visit a webpage if it draws them in because of something that interests them. The user is in complete control. A website therefore has no automatic audience. There is no magical ‘trickle-down’ effect whereby Christian websites will somehow be seen by non-Christians who have no wish to visit them.
     
    3)  ‘Broadcast media’ (radio, TV, newspapers) are not really interactive, except perhaps for phone-ins or letters to the editor. The Internet offers instant feedback, interaction and relationship-building. More than any other medium, it enables conversation, networking and relationships. Because the gospel flows most effectively through non-confrontational accepting relationships, two-way conversation and non-preachy open discussion, the Web fits very closely with evangelism.
     
    4)  Do not think of the Web as ‘tracts on a screen’, or a static brochure. For many years, Christian radio suffered because it was often ‘church services on the radio’ – hymns, prayers and sermons. By trying to transfer one form of proclamation (a face-to-face Christian meeting) to the very different medium of radio, effectiveness and potential audience were reduced.
     
    A church without a website is largely invisible to potential visitors, be they Christians moving into the area and needing a new fellowship, or outsiders in the community. And sadly, relatively few church websites are ‘outsider-friendly’ - they often use ‘insider’ jargon. A frequent problem is the tendency to present the fellowship as a building where meetings take place, rather than a relational family of people who are offering unconditional friendship for a journey.
     
    It is no exaggeration to say that millions of people have found God online in the last ten years.

    It is important to highlight that for most, there was a considerable time of mentoring and asking questions. Often the Internet was just one part of a long process, one of several influences that God used to bring people to Himself – books, films, TV, the Bible, but above all relationships.
     
    To harvest the relationship with God is to have faith in God and to help others in learning to believe in God.
     
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