The future of missions cannot be considered separately from what is turning to be the phenomena of the 21st century – the Internet. The relationship was properly discussed in the third and more predicative part of MissionShift. Since our own paradigm of missions and ministry is heavily involved with internet technology, it is my desire to respond to this one particular point in a more holistic way.
The Internet is already turning into an unstoppable geyser of information, a source of data, news and opinions that flow freely around the world. My initial response comes from presupposition that churches, being networking community themselves, have not yet fully realized the power of social networking in the Internet model. Politicians, economical magnates and even social watchdogs have long surpassed the church in their social relationship through creating cloud blogging, social nets and Internet advertisements to serve the goals of their own ideology. And although it was through using the social networking and marketing of the first century that the Christian Church grew rapidly from the ashes of wars and persecution, in the postmodern era the Church has continually remained on the sidelines of the virtual (but quite real for many) social involvement. It is my desire then, to accent on this particular issue form a more practical standpoint of the ecclesial position and involvement in this very real process within postmodern society beginning with the good in them.
The Good …
Grant McClung postulated several of these principles a decade ago in his book: Globalbeliever.com: Connecting to God’s Work in Your World. However, things have changed a little since then, as the virtual world is becoming more and more real to many even within the Church. While a decade ago, churches were making first steps in designing their website presence on the internet, today every church staff member is wired with email, blog, social network updater and much more coming directly from his/her mobile device. My friend Antoine RJ Wright from the Mobile Ministry Magazine claims this is only the beginning and I have every reason to believe him.
How can a church make sense and utilize the available resources on the internet? Here are the basics:
1. Creating a network between church staff, volunteer team and congregation in one constant mode of working together toward the common goal of a church or a ministry’s vision
2. Improving communications which respond to the need for ever connectedness of the postmodern generation
3. Implementation through using the Internet network and communication as a testing ground
4. Keeping the score to improve effectives through comparing with other churches and ministry dealing with the same dilemmas or context of ministry
5. Round tables and discussion on various levels in search of more effective ministry paradigms and praxis
6. And last, but not least free media - what TV evangelist used to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars every year is now pretty much available on the internet for free with much more popularity and socialization ratio
These principles are already implemented in virtually hundreds of online networks around the world. The mobile ministry is one very vivid example that changes the way we do ministry as a whole. The process of digital discipline and the existence of an actual digital disciplining networks that bring about to reality strong and growing church communities. But there is even more beyond this point – the fact that a person can live an actual salvific experience on the Internet without a minister ever being physically present. Slowly but surely, the so called “virtual world” becomes very real even for the church and its’ mission.
… The Bad …
The bad related directly to any given web ministry today, is that everything good on the global network is surpassed in times by not so good, bad and even evil. And this is not only a talk against porn, sectarianism, racism and hatred, but a holistic overview of the anonymity and animosity of the internet that seem to draw in people of various personality types. The growing problem for us today is that the virtual world in fact can and does change one’s personality in a very real and personal way.
This should not scare the Church, for when Jesus said “Go to the ends of the world,” He meant the ends of the World Wide Web as well. Even on the contrary, it should motivate the search for new models of web ministry that not only draw in such people, but also ministers to them and disciples them for the Kingdom. In fact, this rather scary characteristic of the particular context of ministry could and should become an effective turnaround in the very idea for ministry on the web.
…And the Ugly
While the internet is an enormous mission field, we are limited on using this method exactly where it is needed the most. Over 20% of world’s population or one and a half billion people do not have access to the internet. Many more can access it only through government restrictions and regulations. Unfortunately, these are the exact people that need to be reached with the Gospel the most. The “ugly” here is that we can become so focused on ministering the virtual reality and stop paying attention to the more real and feasible reality. There is a real danger that eternal human souls simply go to hell while we tamper around with modern and postmodern models of ministry.
Our Web Ministry Efforts and Results
Cup & Cross Ministries International runs over a dozen of Bulgarian vernacular websites related to virtually every aspect of the ministry. Some of them are:
www.Bibliata.com – website devoted to the Bulgaria Bible
www.Bibliata.TV – a GodTube like website in the Bulgaria language
www.Protestantstvo.com – website dealing with Bulgarian Protestant history
www.Kapelanstvo.com – website dedicated to the ministry of the Bulgarian chaplain
www.Spasen.com – Bulgarian Christian web-mail
www.Evangelsko.info - Bulgarian evangelical news portal
www.Hvalenie.com –a website for Bulgarian praise and worship
www.Pastir.com – a website dedicated to the work and ministry of the Bulgarian pastor
www.Propoved.com – a dynamic web database with audio and video Bulgarian sermons
www.Lidersko.info – a resource for church leadership and Christian discipleship
www.Osveten.com – an online community round table for holiness and righteousness
www.Molitvata.com – a web-based prayer center
www.Savetvane.com – a website for Christian counseling
www.Evangelieto.com – dedicated to the new Bulgarian translation of the Bible
www.Kapelanstvo.com – an online resource for Christian chaplaincy
www.BulgarianChurches.com – a global web directory for Bulgarian evangelical churches