I am grateful for the richness the Internet has brought to my life. I love being digitally connected at any moment to anyone I’ve ever met … or haven’t yet. I feel excited at the thought of someone reaching for his or her keyboard or Smartphone at the exact same moment as me. I am encouraged when my phone chimes that someone thought of me. I live my life enthusiastically online.
Please don’t get me wrong; I live off-line too. While I do sometimes have to remind myself to unplug or take a digital Sabbath, I also know how to be fully present with those around me. I do not, however, view my life as being in conflict with these two worlds. I have found a way to live on and off line, and it would seem that the 2 billion people connected to the Internet (or 30% of the world’s population) agree with me.
It is imperative that the Church find a significant way to be present online as well.
When the Internet was introduced to the general public in the early 90’s, we were at the height of living in an isolated society. Clive Thompson called it “the modern American disconnectedness that Robert Putnam explored in his book Bowling Alone.”
The Internet was initially released to the public as a way to share information – how we could move a document from point A to point B like a mail service. But now it is how people connect, collaborate and share life. It is interactive. It is community.
“If you look at human history, the idea that you would drift through life, going from new relation to new relation, that’s very new. It’s just the 20th century.
Psychologists and sociologists spent years wondering how humanity would adjust to the anonymity of life in the city, the wrenching upheavals of mobile immigrant labor — a world of lonely people ripped from their social ties. We now have precisely the opposite problem2.” The Internet provided a way for us to connect out of our isolation, from the convenience of our own homes.
The church must accept that interactive communication, especially through social media, is a foundational shift in the way we communicate and even form relationships. We now have the opportunity and resources to communicate with the world and interact with people in a unique and instant way.
“It would, quite literally, be impossible to exaggerate the central importance to the Great Emergence of the Internet and the World Wide Web. By the same token and in absolutely analogous ways, it would be impossible to overstate the importance to the Great Reformation of the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg in 1440 and his subsequent development of movable type and oil-based inks."
We should not and cannot avoid online platforms like websites, social media, blogs, podcasts, and videos. We can be a part of it. The world needs us to have an online presence. We can worship, minister, and live there.
Of course, we have some concerns about this digital world: privacy, security, being misrepresented or misunderstood, a loss of reality or connection to the physical world, bullying (from both children AND adults), predators, the need for discernment, moderation and accountability. We are all still working out this medium together, and there will be challenges, mistakes and pitfalls along the way.
However, they do not outweigh the requirement for us to be there. Your church needs to learn how to have an effective, engaging and welcoming website – a front door to the online world. Your church needs social media community. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest are about engagement, collaboration, activity, and connection. Your church should know about blogs, YouTube, and podcasts and determine which is most helpful for connecting with their community.
The world is still crying out for the truth we know. That has not changed through all the various ‘ages’ of society, nor is it any different now. People still hurt and need love. Through the Internet and social networks, we can make these connections faster, wider and deeper than ever before. Online connections allow for the leader to be amongst the people - Jesus in the crowd.
If you truly want to be the presence of Christ in the world, then you already know you should go where the people are and love them. The Internet will take you right inside their living rooms, messes and all, and let you hear their broken hearts, and let you share your hope and peace.
For this, I am grateful. I eagerly grab my laptop to reach out to my neighbors. I hope you will join me.
Natalie Aho is a communications specialist for the Center for Congregational Health. They are presenting a one-day conference on Communication is Key: Healthy church strategies for websites, social media and congregational communication (www.healthychurch.org). Natalie is also employed as a communications specialist for the Associated Baptist Press and Alabama CBF and is a coach for SocialPhonics, teaching social media to ministers. She is earning her Masters in Interactive Media through Quinnipiac University online from her home in Mobile, AL.
 InternetWorldStats.com [http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm]. In 2010, 1.8 billion people were connected to the Internet; the same amount of humans living on the planet in the 1920s. (Penn-Olson.com) [http://www.penn-olson.com/2010/09/09/google-interesting-facts/]
 Clive Thompson, A Brave New World, nytimes.com, 2008 [http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/07/magazine/07awareness-t.html?ex=1378440000&en=b87f67f56fa2fbe2&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink]
 Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why (2008)