I was recently asked to speak at a men’s prayer breakfast and address what I felt was the future of ministry. In my short meditation (we did want time to eat breakfast after all) I shared a few words about why I felt that the future of ministry was on the Internet. Since this helps to explain why I invest my time and energy posting sermons online, worrying about office connectivity, podcasts and blogs, I thought that it was worth posting here. In this way, the folks who read this blog (which admittedly isn’t a lot) can understand a little better who I am and why I do what I do.
First of all, I admit that I’m a geek. I was the kid in school who was smallish, bookish, played in the band and tried the chess club for a while. I did eventually grow a few inches and put on a few pounds during college and ten years in the Army Reserve but with a degree in electrical engineering, my fondness for computers and electronic and science related toys remains obvious. Regardless, there are a few facts (statistics) that we all need to confront.
Ninety-Eight percent of all homes in the United States have a television but the television people are seeing a noticeable decline in television ratings as more and more of their audience members are leaving to spend time on the Internet or watch movies delivered in the mail or over the internet. Today, 35 percent of all adults in the US have a profile on Facebook, MySpace or LinkedIn. This is already a lot of people but also understand that this number has quadrupled in only three years. Nearly 90 percent of students access the Internet every single day and spend an average of 28 hours per week doing it. Of these, 65 percent (students aged 12-17) will log on to social networks such as Facebook and MySpace. While the younger age groups use social networking more and older Americans tend to use it less, these numbers are growing across the board. (See more of these statistics here: http://en.kioskea.net/news/11805-social-network-use-by-adult-americans-on-the-rise-survey)
Obviously, scripture doesn’t say anything specifically about television or the Internet but it does have something to say about where and how we do ministry. Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) and her entire village came to faith. Jesus met her where she lived because a Samaritan would have never been welcome in the Jewish Temple, the church of its day. In Acts 2, we read about the day of Pentecost when the Spirit of God came down from heaven and entered into the followers of Jesus Christ. What they did next is instructive. Instead of remaining where they were and celebrating the great gift that had been given to them, every one of them, both men and women, left the place where they had gathered and went out into the streets to tell others about Jesus. Because this happened on Jewish feast day, the streets were full of people from across the known world.
Throughout the span of the New Testament, Jesus and his followers preach the good news in synagogues, in marketplaces, in the temple courts, in the street and in the countryside. In Acts 17, Paul meets the men of Athens where they have gathered to discuss philosophy. In each case, Jesus and his followers demonstrate by their example that the good news should be taken to where the people are and not wait for unbelievers to come to them. Two hundred years ago, John Wesley (the founder of Methodism) broke from the tradition of the Church of England and dared to preach outside the four walls of the church. Wesley felt that the church had abandoned many who no longer felt comfortable or welcome in the church and so he went out and preached in the open air in parks, near coal mines, and anyplace where he could find people who were interested in hearing the words of God. The preaching of Wesley and his followers resulted in many thousands coming to Christ and was instrumental in launching the Great Awakening.
The common thread remains that the Gospel message was taken out of the church and out to where the people were. Today, the public gathering place is electronic. For our society, the place where people gather is no longer the synagogues, the markets and the temple courts but on the Internet.
If we are to be true to the example of Jesus and his followers, we need to be there too.