Open Paris Session 3: Digital Media and Mission
Of all the messages the world has ever heard from politicians, story tellers, advertisers and more the gospel is still the stickiest. The good news is that God’s message is your message, which makes your presence and voice online wholly (and holy) indispensable!
I want to challenge you today as a Christ follower to change your mind-set of the way you spend your time online. I want to challenge you to forgo denomination, to sit in the same pew or row, and write this ongoing story together and share new ways to reach a fragmented world for Christ.
Together, as leaders we can light up the online space. We can “go” and we can “tell” as Jesus asked each of us to do. And we can change absolutely everything.
Throughout history, game changers have stepped forward in the faith to affect the way people communicate God’s truth in the culture in which they live.
As far back as 2002, Pope John Paul II got it. He understood the significance of the Internet and inspired Christians around the globe to embrace it as a way to share Christ with the world. Here’s what he said in a public speech:
“From this galaxy of sight and sound will the face of Christ emerge and the voice of Christ be heard? For it is only when His face is seen and His voice heard that the world will know the glad tidings of our redemption. This is the purpose of evangelisation. And this is what will make the Internet a genuinely human space, for if there is no room for Christ, there is no room for man … I dare to summon the whole Church bravely to cross this new threshold, to put out into the deep of the Net, so that now as in the past, the great engagement of the Gospel and culture may show to the world, ‘the glory of God on the face of Christ.”
Communication channels have changed radically since Moses walked down the mountain, stone tablets in hand. Old Testament scribes wrote on parchment made from treated skins of sheep or goats, and they used pens fashioned from reeds. The prophets preached in synagogues and countryside’s. Later, Paul wrote his letters on scrolls of papyrus and gave them to friends who would deliver them to the churches in other cities.
Little did Paul realise the frenzy that would kick up on the other side of his prison bars as game changers emerged, ready to take up the charge of the gospel. Generations of followers communicated the gospel with various tools. In 1440 the printing press changed everything as Bibles went from locked archives to retail.
In 1517 Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the University Church in Wittenberg and changed the game again. Religious tracts were used as major channels throughout the turbulence of the Protestant Reformation. John Calvin wrote, debated, and preached tirelessly during the Reformation. In the eighteenth century, John Wesley travelled 250,000 miles by horseback in his efforts to spread the Word, and he preached in open fields to as many as twenty thousand people at a time.
In 1922 Aimee Semple McPherson preached what is believed to be the first radio sermon. Christian writers such as A.W. Tozer and C.S. Lewis followed with critically important writings through World War II. Passionate game changers such as Dwight Moody and Billy Graham also shared the gospel over the radio waves. Television and revivals catapulted the reach of Billy Graham’s ministry. His first television crusade generated 1.5 million letters to the television station, confirming the power of that medium.
Bill Bright was another game changer when he wrote The Four Spiritual Laws, the most widely distributed religious booklet in history, and later commissioned The JESUS Film, one of the most influential films ever made. The renowned documentary on the life of Christ has reached more than 6 billion people in 234 countries and has been translated into one thousand languages.
But just because a technology evolves, there is no guarantee that a demand will support it. Remember the Microsoft Zune? The Apple Cube? Google Buzz? You don’t remember the technology failures because they failed. Multiple factors can be attributed to why social media has grown so rapidly, including cheaper broadband, a fire to innovate and the global economy shift. As unprecedented economic, political, and social factors continue to fragment continents, cities and even homes, words such as connection, community, and relationship increasingly dominate the conversation.
To explain this in statistics it took radio thirty-eight years to reach fifty million users; television, thirteen years; the Internet, four years; and the iPod, three years. In just a nine month period, Facebook added one hundred million users, and downloads of iPhone applications reached one billion.
Still think using social media is a passing fad or another waste of time? You may soon join the ranks of these leading, albeit well-meaning, thinkers:
- “Everyone acquainted with the subject will recognise it as a conspicuous failure.” Henry Morton, president of the Stevens Institute of Technology on Thomas Edison’s light bulb, 1880.
- “The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad” The president of the Michigan Savings Bank advising Henry Ford’s lawyer not to invest in the Ford Motor Company, 1903.
- “Remote shopping, while entirely feasible, will flop – because women like to get out of the house, like to handle merchandise, like to be able to change their minds.” Time, 1966
- “While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming.” Lee DeForest, American radio pioneer, and inventor of the vacuum tube, 1926.
- “Transmission of documents via telephone wires is possible in principle, but the apparatus required is so expensive that it will never become a practical proposition.” Dennis Gabor, British physicist, 1969.
Broadcast to Social Media
In the five hundred years or so between the inventions of the printing press and the Internet, we have lived in a broadcast media environment of books, radio, newspapers, and television. These media served as highly effective platforms for sending a single, well-crafted, attention-getting message out to as many people as possible. But broadcast media afforded little opportunity for feedback or discussion, except, perhaps, for letters to the editor. In the church, we have used this one-to-many broadcast communication model in sermons, printed newsletters, letters from the Rector, and broadcasting worship services on Radio 3 or Songs of Praise.
Social media represents a profound shift in this model. Today, almost anyone can publish a blog, have a YouTube channel, and host their own podcast – in effect an internet based radio station. Anyone can comment on, extend, qualify, discuss, and share a clergy’s sermons.
In the era of broadcast media, the most influential ministry platforms tended to be those of large cong