According to the Pew Research Center, three in every four persons in the United States are online at least once a day. Over 26% claim that they are constantly online. Those of us from the “analog” generation have seen this massive cultural shift in less than two decades. For the younger generation, life has always been digital. My five-year-old grandson doesn’t know a world without immediate, twenty-four hour Internet access. Of course, this new world presents challenges, but also tremendous opportunities for those who want to share the good news of hope in Jesus.
Since Mary Magdalene told the disciples that she had seen the risen Jesus, the Gospel has always spread person to person through social networks – our family, circle of friends, religion, or the marketplace. Even when it is preached from a public platform, like a church pulpit or on television, the final decision to follow Christ and the process of discipleship has to happen between two people in a social setting.
The Digital Marketplace
Social Media could be compared to the temple courts in Jesus’ time, or the city square and open market in many towns and cities of the world. It provides plenty of communication opportunities and enables engagement with individuals and groups in almost every corner of the world. Our challenge is to understand the culture of the online world so we can effectively make the Gospel known there and point people to the living God. Communication through the Internet and social networks has created a new kind of public space with four unique characteristics:
1. Real Time Access. Information travels much faster because it bypasses the usual gatekeepers (news outlets, preachers, even the institutional church).
2. Direct Connection. On social media, we can interact directly with individuals anywhere in the world. We are now able to listen to what our friends think of the news as much as the facts themselves.
3. Global Presence. We have access to the world on our smartphones or computers. It is amazing to think that 2.2 billion people interact on Facebook on a regular basis. That three times the population of Europe meeting in one “place.”
4. Amoral Character. Social media is neutral. It doesn’t take sides. As such, it can be leveraged for evil or godly purposes, depending on how we (and others) use it.
Missionaries are Needed in the Online Continent
In John’s vision of Revelation Angels we are singing praises to Jesus because He purchased “persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.” ILI leader and online evangelist Henryk Krol states that:
“The online world is the Eighth Continent.”
Social media gives us a platform to “go and make disciples of all nations” in this new continent. Through online social networks, we can be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judaea, Samaria, and the Ends of the world, all at the same time. Today, it is not so much a question of being on social media or not. If you are reading this post, you are already part of the online world. The question is: Will you be a witness for Christ here?