The gospel in the digital age
The world has rapidly changed in the past few years. In fact, it is said that in the last 20 years, there have been more advances in technology than the entire existence of the world in all of its history. We take for granted things like the cell phone and smart phone, sometimes not realizing that the smart phone that we feature today is only about 10 years old. The iPhone was released just in 2007, which means things that we take for granted like “apps”, and programs like WhatsApp are very new inventions.
We are rapidly moving toward a digital transformation that affects the way we live, the way we do business and the way we do church. The largest retailer in the world, Amazon, until recently, has not owned any physical retail stores. The largest single taxi service in the world, Uber, does not own any cars. One of the largest accommodation-sharing sites, Airbnb, does not own any hotels. Essentially, there has been a paradigm shift in the way we live, and the question is what this means for the church and the gospel today.
Another very interesting fact of life in the rapidly changing digital age is the emergence of what is known as big data. If you are not aware of what big data is, if you have been on the internet you have been a victim or beneficiary of big data. Essentially, what big data does is track the movements, personal preferences and activities of everyone on the internet. This collection of data is then sold to the highest bidders and you see the results every time you go on the internet. For example, if you go to Walmart and they ask for your email or you purchase something online, everything you do is recorded, and when you return to the internet all of a sudden you see ads popping up relating to your previous purchases or a preference you indicated when you filled out a form. If you go into a shoe store to buy shoes, then later that evening you go on the internet to use Facebook, you will find new ads for shoes that you never asked for. Big data now has you in its grips, and for the rest of your life whatever you do is recorded and distributed to those who are interested in your preferences.
There are new terminologies that massively affect our lives that we may miss. The most important space in the world is not physical space. The most important space in the world is what is called the “cloud” or cyber space. Instead of offices filled with paper or physical devices, most business today is done from the cloud. No one knows exactly where the cloud is but everyone and everything is there. We used to have smart people but now we have more smart phones than smart people. IQ (intelligence quota) used to be important but AI (artificial intelligence) is often more important. You type in a word and AI thinks for you by hinting to you what the next word should be. The list goes on of amazing inventions and advancements.
How does this relate to the church? The truth is the digital age is an age of great opportunity for the church and the gospel, but I wonder if churches are taking advantage of what’s available? The last few weeks I have travelled to a few countries and during my travels, I was reminded of the value of the digital age in distributing the good news. While in Amsterdam, I met a group of persons who know my wife and me by name, knew all about our church and indicated that they watch us every week, even though there is a six-hour time difference. They could quote things I have said and shared how much they were encouraged by some of my messages, and yet I had no idea how they knew me or that they even existed. This scenario was repeated in London, South Africa and even Paris.
When I asked most persons how they found out about us, they indicated that it was one of our YouTube channels. Some indicated that only recently, for the first time in their lives, they heard of Dr. Myles Munroe and got connected to his messages or were researching a topic and found a video I had done and they were so blessed that they decided to subscribe and follow us ever since. This represents a great opportunity for the church. Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel”. What is interesting is that he never told us how to do it in terms of methodology because he knew that there would be constant change and advancement that would impact the way information is delivered. He expected that we would figure it out.
This is a great opportunity for the church. For our church, we have a growing global congregation that we have never physically approached or even sought out. Many people pay their tithes online the same way they shop online. This means the gospel can spread beyond many of the recent barriers that have been set up. With growing hostility in the world toward the good news, many have been previously prevented from accessing it. The gospel is barred in schools, certain workplaces, certain countries and marketplaces, yet the digital arena allows for many of these barriers to be broken to the point where I get communications from places in Europe and Asia and countries like Iran, Iraq, and even Afghanistan of people wanting access to the Gospel. This is indeed an important development that the church needs to make sure it embraces rather than fights.
The digital cloud space is the new battleground for the minds and hearts of the world. Either we use it for good or the terrorists, porn industry, cyber criminals, sex traffickers and other persons with bad intentions will use it to spread hate, despair, suffering and bondage. What will the church do? What will the gospel messengers do? I know what I will do, what about you?
• Pastor Dave Burrows is senior pastor at Bahamas Faith Ministries International. Feel free to email comments, whether you agree or disagree, to firstname.lastname@example.org. I appreciate your input and dialogue. We become better when we discuss, examine and exchange.