Goal: Creatively Integrate Evolving Technologies

Over the centuries, the Christian message has remained a constant in an ever-evolving world. The message embodied in the very life and ministry of Christ has always been, at its core, the incarnational love of God for his people. However, the means to communicate and deliver the message has radically changed in the last century. The challenge now is how to continue being incarnational in delivering the gospel message with the ever-evolving nature of technology in the twenty-first century.

With the radical evolution of technology, the means by which this communication takes place has changed and multiplied exponentially. Immersed now in the digital age, global communications to a mass audience no longer takes place over weeks and months but in a mere blink of an eye.

Endless Options for Communications
Not only are we able to communicate via print media, telephone, radio, and television, but through email, vmail, gmail, hotmail, and redmail. We are bombarded with updates from news sources, corporations, governments, and individuals through SMS, rss, Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace. At the same time we are bombarded with endless entertainment options through CDs, DVDs, mp3s, and YouTube.

Over the last century communication has become exponentially faster and more interactive than ever. This generation is the most wired the world has seen, and yet the next generation promises to be even more so.

Communication is not the only area in which revolutionary technology has left its indelible mark. We have seen radical increases in the capacities and speed of global transportation; shipping materials and goods globally; preservation of perishables; production of foods, clothing, and other goods; and building and construction capacities. We have witnessed revolutionary developments in banking, money transfers, and micro-financing projects in the developing world. We have also seen leaps and bounds made in agriculture, aquaculture, medical procedures, and the capacities to sustain, extend, and improve the quality of peoples’ health and lives.

With all these advances, the peoples of the earth should be healthier, happier, older, and living fuller lives. Yet hunger, disease, war, loneliness, pain, and suffering continue to plague us. And even with all these advances in technology, the percentage of Christians today differs little from the percentage of Christians one hundred years ago.

Harnessing the Power of Technology
The challenge in evangelism now lies in how we can best utilize these different mediums effectively, especially in bridging the gap between those who have access to improved technologies and those who do not.

Historically, the missionary movement has been quick to utilize and adapt emerging technologies (such as print materials, films, and mp3 players, as well as harnessing and delivering developments in education and health care) to communicate the gospel. Currently, however, more traditionally-minded churches and mission organizations seem to approach emergent digital technologies with fear or reluctance, often with the result of lagging greatly behind the creative work of businesses and individuals who have embraced new technologies.

In many ways, our Pentecostal and Charismatic brothers and sisters are leading the way in effectively harnessing the power of these new technologies. Some mission organizations are also creatively integrating new technologies in their evangelism and ministry. Whether it’s counseling services, advocacy, interactive engagement, resources for preaching and missions, networking, discussion boards, low-cost audio and video broadcasting, micro-finance projects, or increasing agricultural and industrial sustainability, the possibilities to connect with different peoples in different ways and on different levels are infinite!

These new technologies change the methods by which we communicate and collaborate. Not only are initiatives and communication being started by churches and mission organizations, but with the amazing advances in technology, individuals now have the ability to initiate communication and exploration of the gospel message.

With the advances in technology, communication and ministries can be more individualized, interactive, and dynamic. Ministry approaches can change as quickly as the needs of the people change or are better understood. As fast as a videochat, email, blog, or Facebook post, ministries can be more informed, prepared, and responsive. This is essential in building the personal relationships necessary in winning the hearts and minds of people. And it is in personal relationships (not merely faster, more accurate information, or better resources) that hearts are won to the gospel.

As exciting as the possibilities are with innovative developments in technologies, we must be mindful of its limitations. As we consider world evangelism and that much of the world has limited access to such technological developments, we must work toward increasing accessibility.

For example, with digital media (particularly the Internet), developed countries have the highest percentages of Internet users, yet seven of the ten countries with the lowest percentages of Internet users also have the lowest GDPs, lowest adult literacy rates, lowest school enrollments, and highest levels of corruption. We must work toward creatively utilizing new technologies to reach the least of these with the life-changing message of the gospel and to further the development of personal relationships.

It is my hope and prayer that we are able to creatively and successfully integrate new and evolving technologies in better connecting with people personally and dynamically. I pray that the studies and meditations in this issue would inspire us to work boldly and innovatively toward new and uncharted territories and means to bring the gospel to all.

Doug Birdsall is executive chair of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. He served as president of Asian Access from 1991 to 2007 and continues to serve on their board of directors. Birdsall is a graduate of Wheaton College, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Harvard University. He is co-publisher of Lausanne World Pulse.