BY WILLIE, JONATHAN CHIDEBE
William Carey in one of his track captioned “use of means” identified information technology as one of the means of fulfilling the Great Commission in the 21st century church. A computer scientist Gordon Moore observed that the computing power/processing power of computers will be doubled every eighteen months. The rate of change of how information is processed is so great that it is predicted that in 2013 a super-computer will have achieved a human level of intelligence (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljbI-363A2Q). There is no sign that Moore’s prediction is coming to an end, instead the processing power of computer is being doubled every year which is less than Moore’s prediction. According to Edmiston (2007) “missionary work is going to be profoundly changed by this. Internet has become one of the main places that people ask their spiritual questions and is the natural place people go to seek private and personal information (such as medical, financial, sexual and spiritual information). With the use of hand-held devices such as PDA's, cell phones and Ipods the possibility for distribution of the gospel has become immense”. Statistics have shown that 3 billion subscribers were currently using cell phone as at July, 2007 and were expected to hit 3.4 billion at the end of the year (2007). Also, the 1.1 billion internet users as at 2007 were expected to reach 3.3 billion users in 2010. With these statistics it was expected that in 2010 cyber missions e.g. a church website optimize to run on cell phone will potentially be able to reach half of the world’s population. The availability of internet and the vast increase in bandwidth size of recent has made video clips from youtube (www.youtube.com) and audio files part of the gospel armory. Presently we can now stream full length video clips and have access to Christian movies online. And for those that cannot afford to buy a Bible and other Christian books, the digital form can now be accessed online. In this emerging information age, many people will seek their religious information online, make decision for Christ online, and follow up online. Some will join cyber churches especially those with Muslim background, and join online bible studies. Many will find out about God using their cell phones, PDA and etc. According to Edmiston (2007) the job of missionary in the 21st century will move from proclaimer/communicator to mentor/discipler as the information needed are being increasingly met by the internet. The missionary of the present and future will both have high tech and high touch. This will not automically invalidate the “the missionary on a bicycle” approach, just that new method of communicating the gospel have become available and that this new method is more powerful beyond our imagination. Report show that majority of the Muslims have been converted through this means more than any other method that have been adopted. 1.2 WHY WE NEED TECHNOLOGY IN OUR CHURCH The reason for technology in our church today is because the people that we are trying to reach have adopted technology as their primary form of communication. Prensky (2001) reported that those born after 1985 are “digital natives” who naturally communicate with each other via technology. “When they talk to someone it is on a cell phone. When they watch someone it is on YouTube. When they write someone it is a text message or instant message (even email is now “old hat”). A large portion of their communication is technology-mediated communication”. In a study carried out by the Pew Internet and American Life Project (Teens and Social Media, 2009) reported that: 1. 93% of teenagers, ages twelve to seventeen, are online. 2. 60% of teenagers have their own desktop or laptop computer. 3. 89% of teenagers get online from home. 4. 77% go online at school. 5. 71% go online from a friend’s or relative’s house. 6. 60% go online from a library. 7. 66% of households with teenagers go online via broadband, 22% via dial up and 10% do not have access at home. 8. 63% of teenagers go online daily. John Naughton from the Observer wrote: Just to put that in perspective, today's 21-year-olds were born in 1985. The internet was two years old in January that year, the same year as Nintendo launched 'Super Mario Brothers', the first blockbuster game. When these young people were going to primary school in 1990, Tim Berners-Lee was busy inventing the World Wide Web. The Palm Pilot was launched in 1996, when they were heading for secondary school. Around that time, pay-as-you-go mobile phone tariffs arrived, enabling teenagers to have phones. Napster and Blogger.com launched in 1999, just when they were doing GCSEs. The iPod and the early social networking services appeared in 2002, when they were doing A-levels. Skype launched in 2003, just as they were heading for university, and YouTube launched in 2005, as they were heading towards graduation. The people we want to share the gospel with in this 21st century are connected to the internet and will either be using it actively or passively as their means of communication. So, if we want to reach them, is going to be online or some form of computer, phone, internet or personal communication device. In most developed countries it is no longer socially acceptable to knock on people’s door with a track or to preach in certain public places. The backslider/lost does not want to be personally approached by a zealous pastor and are immune to the traditional form of evangelism. It is obvious that the old system is reaching less and less people while the new methods are becoming more credible and reliable. To get the message of the gospel across to the people of this century, you need to get into their phone, computer etc. you will have to engage in internet Evangelism and Cyber missions. It is important the church develop an understanding of the internet and devices associated with it will soon become the dominant means of personal communication in the future. Other reasons for which the church should get involve in cyber missions includes: 1. Wide geographical reach: the internet is not restricted to a local area church, village, broadcast radius (radio and tv station). The missionary can reach millions of people simultaneously. 2. Lower cost: the cost of staging a physical evangelism is far more expensive than doing it in the internet. Also the internet gives the preacher the opportunity to explain complex concept like doctrines, theological problems etc. 3. Lower risk: although the internet is not perfectly secured, is still more secured than the physical method of reaching out to the Muslim or a hostile group. 4. Multiple formats: the internet allow the use of different types of media-audio, video, text, animation and graphics. This can be very helpful when reaching out to the physically challenged. 5. Language barrier: with the help of translation software the missionary can reach out to people from different language groups. 6. Asynchronous communication: the internet is always on; a website can be viewed at any time of the day, not just like a TV programme or praise and worship progamme at Wazobia FM every Sunday by 9am. A pastor can post a message in a website and go to sleep while it is then read by people at their time of their choice. Edmiston pointed out that an effective 21st century church should develop a well funded media department. The media department will work together with other departments involve in worship, prayer, pastoral ministry and etc. He also noted that any church that fail to do this will find themselves less and less able to communicate Christ to the non-Christian world as the global population shifts to digital devices as their primary means of personal communication. 2. THE INFLUENCE OF TECHNOLOGY IN 21ST CENTURY CHURCH The traditional ministers will still have their place, but will have to work alongside with the media department. Offline ministry can still be carried out in the local churches. Giving can be via digital means as well as in the plates e.g. each local church can create a bank account for paying tithe. The conference will no longer have to wait for camp meetings before fundraising promotion for projects are carried out. The website provides the sophisticated informational tools while the local church structure enables deeper relationships, better discipleship and the development and practice of the spiritual gifts in a relatively safe environment. Creating an internet presence in our local churches is necessary, thus it enables internet local churches to become a vital part of the cutting edges of 21st century missions efforts.
3. CONCLUSION The media has obvious application in online evangelism. Technology has played a huge part in the spread of Christianity. If computers can go where humans cannot go or may not be welcome, touch hundreds of life simultaneously, remove language barrier, make a secure anonymous response to the gospel in the privacy of their own home using multiple format (text, video, audio etc.), gives people the opportunity of coming to Christ, then it can be seen as a good evangelist. It is important to note that this study is not targeted towards proclaiming the end of the “missionary on a bicycle”, but rather to point out the fact that with technology, tools and information available today the task of the Great Commission will increasingly move into the hands of believers equipped with broadband Internet connections.
REFERENCES Edmiston, J. (2007). Internet Evangelism & Cybermissions and their impact upon how we will do missions in the 21st century. Retrieved from https://www.cybermissions.org/articles/21stC_missions.pdf Karl F. (n.d.). Did You Know: Globalization and the information age. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljbI-363A2Q
Lenhart, A. (2009). Teens and Social Media. An Overview. Retrieved from http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic786630.files/Teens-%20Social%20Media%20and% YPH%20Dept%20Pew%20Internet.pdf
Naughton, J. (2006). It's the 'digital natives' versus the 'immigrants' as kids go to work, http://observer.guardian.co.uk/business/story/0,,1884740,00.html
Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, Horizon, NCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5: 1–6.