Well, since you are reading this blog, you have embraced (to a degree at least) the digital world in which we live! The digital world presents both opportunities and threats to Christians. In my view, the opportunity to reach new audiences, enhance ‘in-reach’ within churches and church communities, access information to help us understand God’s word, educate our children more effectively, and make the most of global connectivity far outweighs the threats.
Outreach to a new audience
The way that we as a society access information has changed: whereas once the daily news would have come through the newspaper or the radio, now we mostly get our news online. It we want to learn about something, chances are we’ll ‘google’ it first before turning to a textbook. So, the traditional ways of spreading the gospel need to change to encompass these trends in accessing information. For example, whereas once an advertisement of a Bible talk in the local newspaper would have attracted a crowd, we now need to consider investing in building a church website and online advertising. Back in Bible times, Jesus was prepared to go and meet people where they were to share his message: he was criticised heavily for eating with ‘tax collectors and sinners’ (Matt 11:18-19), and yet felt justified in doing this. Similarly, Paul found common ground in preaching the gospel in Athens (Acts 17:23), and became ‘all things to all men’ to share the gospel (1 Cor 9:22). Paul wrote: ‘To those outside the law I became as one outside the law…that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak.’ I bet you he’d add ‘To a digital generation, I presented a digital gospel’ to the list if he was around today!
We can use digital resources to enhance our worship and fellowship together. For example, our services here at Newbury are live-streamed for those unable to be there in person, and we are planning to start recording some talks and sharing them on this site. We can also access, share, and enjoy a new range of songs and materials to enhance our worship (for example, the Worship series).
Access to information to help us understand God’s word
There are a whole range of aids available to us to help make God’s word more accessible. We have the full range of Bible translations available at the click of a button, from traditional, ‘formal equivalence’ translations through to paraphrase versions. There’s also a huge range of study aids, to allow us to compare different translations and get closer to the original languages, such as e-Sword. A good range of mobile apps are available, to put the Bible at our fingertips (competing for space on our phone homescreen!); I’ve just downloaded the YouVersion app, which I’m impressed with so far. Finally, some traditional magazines have ‘digitised’, and a range of online-only journals and magazines have emerged to help us understand God’s word and share our findings.
Educate our children
Our children just love The Bible App For Kids (by YouVersion) – take a look if you’ve not seen it before and you have young children. There’s also a great opportunity for Sunday School teachers to access excellent resources. And there’s plenty for older children (and grown up children) too, such as The Bible Project, which gives a fresh, thoughtful take on the Bible.
It’s an odd thought that I could be sitting here writing this in England, and you could be reading it on the other side of the world, the moment it is posted! The global connectivity of a digital world helps us to stay in close touch with friends and family around the world who would otherwise become disconnected from us over time and space. The gospel is inherently shared socially, as it was after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Having a digitally connected world allows us to share and spread the gospel beyond traditional borders of time and space.
What could go wrong…
With every opportunity seems to come a threat – and it’s no different for living faith in a digital world. There’s a host of unhelpful online interactions out there to avoid – my experience of Christian chat rooms is almost entirely negative, for example! For every vice in the real-world, there seems to be an online equivalent, some of which seem more suited to a digital world. There’s perhaps a risk of information overload; sometimes after hours of searching for information online, a concise summary in an actual book can be very helpful! Finally, we need to take new measures to ensure digital security for ourselves and our loved ones.
However, on balance, the opportunities presented by faith in a digital world far outweigh the potential threats. God’s message remains the same, but the ways of communicating it change over time. Let's embrace this digital world to reach out to all those who want to learn about God but who might not want to do so in a more traditional way.