The Mission Field Of the Future
This is the third and final post in our three part mini series on how to be a Christian on the internet. First, we covered the atmosphere (the internet is like a public space, a coffee shop where other people can see what you do, and overhear what you say.). Then last time we did a bit of a deep dive into troll farms and Christian Cringe, and how we should share things in person, or at the very least personally with a post of our own (rather than sharing something made by a troll farm). Today, to finish up I want to ask and answer the question – why on earth do we go thru all this trouble with technology, the internet and the social media world? I was in a Pastor’s meeting years ago – just a monthly gathering of local Pastors to pray and encourage one another. At my church in Flushing I had been trying to install some higher quality cameras and increase the audio quality as well. I had been fighting with the technology for weeks, and I was getting very frustrated. At the time (2018) nobody else was livestreaming that I knew of in our little group, and so I asked – “do any of you livestream? Do you think all that nonsense is worth it?” I was probably hoping that somebody would tell me it was a waste of time, and that I was allowed to give up on it. After a pause and a general shaking of heads one of my Pastor buddies said something that really stuck with me. “We don’t have it figured out yet, but we’re working on it. Whether we like it or not, I think it’s the mission field of the future.”
Whether we like it or not, it’s the mission field of the future.
In so many ways, all of us have started to realize the truth of this statement. We have grandparents who swore off the internet – but now they are working to figure out facebook so they can see pictures of their grandkids. Businesses that have found out that the most fertile soil for advertising is through social media. The digital world is where people are, and if we want to reach people for Jesus – it’s where we need to be ready to go. When it comes to social media – over and over I have promised myself “I will NOT get that new app. I will NOT create an account and waste a bunch of time trying to figure out how that one works.” But then I see that it’s where my Youth Group is spending a bunch of their time. Or that it’s the most effective way to get announcements out to my young adult leaders. Or that if I send a message through snapchat instead of email – more people actually get that message. The simple fact is, regardless of whether we like it or agree – the digital world is where the majority of people are gathering, and that seems only to be increasing in the future. The pandemic and related technology shifts are NOT temporary. They are simply accelerating trends that are already there. As Christians, we are called to GO to the people, and whether that brings a grin or a grimace to our face, they are here on the internet.
But I don’t want it to sound all doom and gloom. So let me end this post with a few stories of success with technology. Technology is amazing, when it works.
One time, during the pandemic, I was standing in line at the local coffee shop – picking up some coffee and treats for my wife and I. And at one point, the man in front of me turned around and said, “You’re Pastor JJ.” I was a little taken aback and said, “yes?” We were wearing masks, and so I thought perhaps I just didn’t recognize him. He said, “No, we’ve never met – but I’d like to buy your coffee. My wife and I have been watching your church services online – you all do really great work in our community.” Then three months later, we were doing a project in our church – helping impoverished folks, and the same guy comes in and drops off a check. “I’d like this to go to the fund y’all were talking about on Sunday.” The first time he had ever set foot in our building was to join us in a financial effort to help the community. He and his wife had been “connected” for months! He said he looked forward to joining us in person when the pandemic numbers got better. Another story comes with a bit of a backdrop. There’s a wonderful couple in our church, who had a daughter who grew up and fell in love with a man from Italy. When they married they decided to move to Italy – which was so wonderful, but also hard for that couple in our church. They miss their beloved daughter (and grandkids too!). During the pandemic, with our livestream quality dramatically improved – the daughter was able to join us in worship! I found out they had been watching our livestream, so when Advent came around, I reached out and asked if they would mind lighting the advent candle during one of our services. We kept it a secret and surprised the couple in our service with her daughter and her family lighting the advent candle on the big screen up front! Thousands of miles separated them, and yet that day we all worshipped together through the digital world. One of my favorite ways in which technology has been a blessing is to our shut-ins and home bound folks. Because of the pandemic, we have not been allowed to do a worship service at the Nursing Home in years. This was very frustrating to me personally, but then we created a program called the “Roku Worship Service” – basically, we gifted the local nursing homes with a Roku device, and came out and installed it on their TV’s. In exchange the staff agreed to tune in to our worship service once a week through the youtube app on the roku device. If we couldn’t come to them physically, we were going to make sure they could join us digitally! At one of the nursing facilities, because of our worship services, two ladies discovered that both of their children attend at our church. They had never met before – sort of a “friend of a friend” situation, but they started worshipping together in their new homes, and they struck up a friendship and even started having dinner together. So, if you’re ever feeling overwhelmed when it comes to technology. If the digital world feels huge and scary and full of too many potential pitfalls – remember: this is the mission field of the future. It can be really hard work, but it’s the very essence of meeting people where they are. Learning how to navigate in the digital world, and to do so with integrity and a positive Christian witness will be a very valuable skill for all who follow Jesus into the future. Simple, right?