The Internet as a New Missionary Context
The evangelistic sharing of God’s message of light, life and reconciliation should not be limited by old forms and models of church life. The hope of the Gospel is not something we can choose to set aside or ignore. It is the responsibility of church leadership to find where God is moving and to join God’s work in that place and context.
The internet is a new missionary context. It is a shared space where real relationships are forged, and God is at work using social media, search engines and other online platforms to link people to the Gospel.
In the 8th chapter of the book of Acts, there is a story about a eunuch and one of the disciples, Philip. Philip is sent by God to go to a wilderness road where he encounters an Ethiopian eunuch, a God-fearing man who is reading the prophet Isaiah. This eunuch is searching and asking questions about God, and he turns to Philip for guidance. Philip is able to interpret his needs, and he provides aid for this eunuch’s journey.
As I ponder the church’s call to be faithfully present in an ever-widening digital and web-based context, this story often comes to mind. An increasing number of people are using search engines and social media platforms to find God and religious communities online, and the eunuch represents this group of people who are searching and asking questions about the God they believe in. Just as Philip was invited to go over to the eunuch, we are invited to enter the world of social media platforms and the internet to fulfill our purpose as apostles. Our job is to discover where people are already dwelling and learn what brought them there. The online world might feel like a wilderness road, but it is where the Spirit is drawing us to participate in meaningful conversations as we seek to embrace and learn from communities that already have an online presence.
There are many instances in which we can point to the Gospel at work in the stories and metaphors of the culture around us. From movies to news, we can speak a good word into these situations. “Shouting” at each other or sharing hateful words on Facebook or Twitter is not what I am talking about. But the idea of sharing, which social media encourages us to do, is one we can begin to implement.
This is our work within the context of doing evangelism with social media. Sometimes it may lead to a conversation about God or an invitation to attend church. Other times, the conversation will fade and perish. Our work is not to press and persist but to be present and willing to have a transparent presence online where community is being formed.
The prophet Isaiah writes: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Is 49:6). This verse had a profound impact on the authors of our four Gospels. In the wake of the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, they understood this passage to mean that the Good News of God in Christ Jesus was going to spread throughout the world. God’s light and God’s mission would reach to the ends of the earth – to any place, platform, or common space where people gathered to connect with each other and to discuss aspects of life they found meaningful.
My prayer remains that, in our commitment to creative forms of evangelism, we will seek to amplify and strengthen people’s connections and both share and discover the good news of salvation and reconciliation wherever we find it. That most definitely includes the wilderness road of the internet and that it entails.
A Generous Community: Being the Church in a New Missionary Age by C. Andrew Doyle
Christianity Rediscovered by Vincent J. Donovan