It’s hard for me to remember a time before the internet. I vividly recall my first foray into dial-up and our family’s shared AOL account when I was just starting middle school and it seems like the world has not been the same since. The Digital Age has transformed almost every aspect of our lives.
In order to get information on when the Digital Age began, can you guess where I went to look? Google, of course. How else do we find answers to our unending questions these days? (FYI - The Digital Age, aka Information Age, started in the early 90s when the internet became accessible to the average user.)
While we exist in a physical space day-in and day-out, the digital space is now part of our everyday life. According to Pew Research, an estimated 64% of American adults own a smartphone, which means over half of the adult population has the internet literally at their fingertips at any moment. Given that reality, what does it look like to be on mission in a digital sense? How do we live out our faith daily on social media, through emails and blogs and vlogs and a litany of digital interactions?
“Our Christian character, lifestyle, the way we speak and act, needs to line up in all spaces - physical and digital,” said Nate Merrill, pastor of Communications at Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall.
“The reality is we are all sinners, no one is perfect. But so often, because the digital space is removed from physical interaction and we find ourselves more apt to live hypocritically - acting in ways digitally that we never would physically,” he continued.
Responding quickly and harshly to a comment online may seem trivial. Posting a defamatory article about a celebrity may seem harmless. But, the implications could impact your witness long afterward.
Rather than mindlessly scrolling through endless newsfeed posts and occasionally liking a photo or inspirational quote, try to find ways to be uplifting and encouraging on these platforms we interact with daily.
Individually reaching out to a Facebook friend who is struggling by saying you will pray for them, or sending a private message on Twitter with an uplifting scripture verse, may be easy and fruitful ways to engage with your friends and followers. There are also many resources available digitally which can quickly be shared -- from a link to a sermon you heard on Sunday, to a post by your favorite blogger.
Be truthful and honest in your digital interactions, not portraying one aspect of your life online and another in person. As you consider posts and tweets, use Philippians 4:8 as a litmus test, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
While individually, each Christian should examine their witness online, it is also important to consider what it looks like for your church to engage and minister in the digital realm.
Nate oversees the Online Campus Ministry for Lake Pointe, a ministry that began thriving about four years ago. Now, each weekend, approximately 3,500 people join Lake Pointe via livestream services. Viewers range from homebound members of the church who are physically unable to attend services to international viewers in 60 countries around the world.
While the church’s online ministry reaches a broad audience, their goal is to touch every individual personally through the live chat rooms during each service.
“Our purpose as an internet campus is to build bridges to God and others,” Nate said.
Every visitor is welcomed within 60 seconds of entering the livestream web page. When iCampus volunteers engage visitors in a conversation, they quickly ask how they can pray for the person and begin a spiritual talk with them.
What Nate and their volunteers have found is that many people are currently in some state of isolation and interacting with a volunteer online allows a quick opportunity for ministry to occur. Volunteers seek to connect online viewers with biblical community, whether that is helping them plug into one of Lake Pointe’s campuses, or connecting them with a church in their area. After every meaningful conversation, a volunteer provides information to the Lake Pointe ministerial staff and a follow-up occurs later in the week.
“We are excited to get smaller as a ministry because if we transition people into physical churches, we know they are able to be cared for in a better way and care for others better than staying online with us,” Nate said. “Our viewers have total freedom to be with us for one week and then transition into a physical church or for several months if they have been hurt or burdened. We can be a place of healing for them to trust people and the church again.”
Lake Pointe’s Online Ministry also involves streaming services for their student and men’s ministries, as well as a number of online groups through social media platforms. These groups provide opportunity for Bible study and connections with other church members walking through similar stages in life. They help make connections, meet needs for some members who physically are unable to connect for a variety of reasons. The church has celebrated several salvations and baptisms from those involved in their online groups.
“We want the digital space - the online campus and social media ministries - to urge people to be who God created them to be and allow God to use them in the digital space. There are so many online tools to take advantage of and leverage for the Gospel.”