Jesus said, “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations”…and to do so today, you don’t even have to leave your house. We can now begin to reach and teach the world through a device we hold in our hand, or a small computer that sits on our lap. The world has changed, and there are great opportunities for the church.
Throughout history, the method by which the church performed the Great Commission has been propelled by technology. For the Apostle Paul, it was the Roman road system. For the Reformation, it was the printing press. For us today, it is the power of the Internet in the palm of the hand of nearly all the members of your church, and certainly almost every man, woman, and child in your church’s vicinity.
In North America, church attendance is generally on the decline. Even for churches that do gain a large attendance, the local church only hosts a believer or seeker for 1-3 hours per week. Yet your congregation and everyone they know are spending increasingly significant amounts of their waking hours connected on the Internet.
How much time spent is on the Web?
Researcher Jason Mander at Global Web Index recently published that total hours spent online via PCs, laptops, mobiles, and tablets grew from 5.55 hours per day in 2012 to 6.15 hours per day in 2014. One of the main drivers of this online engagement is social networks. According to Mander’s research, the average person spends 1.72 hours every day on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram; and that number is increasing year over year.
People are connecting, making friends, dating, reading the news, celebrating life’s milestones, shopping, laughing, and learning online for more hours a day than almost any other activity. This is where our culture is spending its life, and this is the new frontier and opportunity for a life-changing presence of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Go where they are, not where you would like them to be
Vincent Donovan (Missionary to the Masai people of Tanzania, during the 60s and 70s) said, “Evangelization is a process of bringing the Gospel to people where they are, not where you would like them to be… When the Gospel reaches a people where they are, their response to the Gospel is the church in a new place”.
Whether we like it or not, the general trend is that even amongst the most committed members, fewer and fewer people are attending church regularly, and more and more people are spending their Sunday mornings and every other day on social networks. As Donovan reminds us, evangelism is about bringing Christ to the people exactly where they are; learning their language and culture in order to engage them in the life-changing message of God with us.
Reaching people in the Digital Age
There are many people who would never accept an invitation from a Christian friend to attend a church service or small group Bible study. However, that same person would click and watch a compelling video with a Christian message post by the same friend on Twitter. A person may never think to go to a church for help in a time of crisis, but they may discover a church’s grief support group when they search “funeral services” on Google. Old friends may never have face-to-face contact anymore, but a person may reach out to an old Christian friend who’s easy to reach through a private Facebook message to ask for prayer.
The beauty of the Digital Age, unlike so many technologies and advances of the past, is that the start up costs are quite low. Most social media accounts are entirely free to create. Blogs and website can be free or a few dollars a year to manage. Podcasting and video creation can be done by anyone with a smartphone. Gone are the days of needing a book publisher to spread an idea, or a production studio for filming, or a group of professionals to record your voice. The Internet is a democracy. People who have valuable or compelling content rise to the top, while boring or irrelevant content is never read. It’s not about the costs, it’s about engaging the world with an authentic voice that has something of value to say.
The church exists for nothing else but to draw people to Christ, and to make us like him. Let us go out with creativity, boldness, and these amazing new tools in our hands to share the best news in the world with more people than ever before. As Jesus did, let us become incarnational; finding ourselves with people wherever they are.
So what can you do as a leader or a church?
Here are a few good ideas:
- If you don’t already have one, start a Facebook or Instagram account for yourself, and definitely for your church community. If you don’t know how, this could be a great opportunity for a volunteer to serve in a way that they didn’t think would be valuable to a church community. A young person could set this up and teach you in a matter of 10 minutes.
- Share bits of your life, faith, and personality on social networks. Post a photo of your Sunday morning service, or piled in the car with your family on the way with coffee, or of a Bible scripture that stuck out to you that day.
- Post on Facebook that you’re going to be praying that week for anyone who asks for prayer. Tell them they can privately message you their request. Then, after praying, follow up with that person and continue the conversation about faith and life.
- If you’re a preacher, there’s always more to the sermon than you could say in the time allowed on a Sunday morning. On your personal or church social media, post links to interesting articles as follow up, or use the camera on your phone to record a short follow up on your message that could be posted on Monday morning as an encouragement for the week.
- Get creative with language on your church website (I assume you must have a website!). If someone is searching for kids activities, or divorce care, or financial help- if your website had some of those words key words included in the content, they could end up finding your church when they weren’t even looking!
- Join conversations, don’t just make declarations. As in real life, internet evangelism is done through building relationships of trust. If someone on your social network has just gone on vacation- ask what they enjoyed about the trip. If someone posts to ask for recommendations for restaurants, or a mechanic, or family activities in the city- you could suggest some to them. If someone links an article from the local news, join the comments to discuss with the group.
 Vincent Donovan, Christianity Rediscovered [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007], xii & xiii.