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Monday, May 14, 2007

Virtual Missions

Not so long ago, internet chat rooms were mostly populated by perverts and turbonerds. The current generation of young adults, however, has moved into the neighborhood and changed the rules. They've never known life without computers. For them, meeting people online is a normal part of life. They have real and meaningful relationships with people that they only know virtually.

Why not plant online churches as part of our global missions efforts? I'm not talking about evangelistic websites, comment-thread debaters, or hordes of E-vangelists copying and pasting Bible verses into site guestbooks. I mean commissioning real missionaries to engage unbelieving people in every corner of the earth through the internet. I believe that real churches could be planted through virtual efforts that mirror our real work on the field. Contextually appropriate gospel presentations. Relational discipleship that is both practical and biblical. Indigenous worship among communities of committed believers.

All it would take is a little training of committed cybernauts and some time. "Virtual Partners" could start to see their MySpace, Facebook, and Flickr pages as platforms to engaging online social circles. Blogs and message boards are great forums for the exchange of ideas and sowing of the gospel. Affinity-based websites are visited by people from all around the world. Social networking sites make it easier than ever for people to connect.

Some might assert that the anonymity of the internet makes true intimacy impossible. That may have been true in an analog age, but these days, people welcome the anonymity as security to share their most personal thoughts. Others might be concerned that comment threads on public blogs and boards are a poor place to have meaningful conversation because there's so much room for misunderstanding. This isn't so much a problem for lifelong internauts. They are adept at concise, meaningful (to them and their kind) conversations in multiple ongoing and overlapping encounters.

Globalization has made English (well, a form of English) the common language of the world wide web. That makes initial contact with different people pretty easy. Why not have partners start their ministries by finding a national to teach them the language of the focus people group? People group research would take on new meaning if the source material was a member of the people group in question.

I'm working on a couple new job requests. I'm looking for some new people to be full members of our team who only come and visit a couple times a year. They'll go through orientation, learn language, and build relationships with people here through the internet (without quitting their day jobs). If you're interested, send me an email.

5 comments:

CCMS said...

This ministry is underway already in at least one company that I know of.
Although it seems to an, ahem, older person like myself more foreign than most "foreign" cultures, the idea inspires me to pray for my children and their friends to run with it. I love this blog!

GuyMuse said...

About six years ago we began something similar through the Teleamigo ministry in Guayaquil. Over the years it has fluctuated between 1200-1500 weekly subscribers who react to the messages sent out and will write back. During its peak years several people were working to dialogue with all the people responding. A lot of email counseling was also done. To give you an idea of how much email is generated through this kind of thing, in 2005 alone (the last year I have documented records) there were 139,224 contacts made through this ministry. That's a lot of internet correspondence!

All the above to say, it is definitely something that is worth the effort and will reach people than you otherwise would never touch with the Gospel. Go for it!

Strider said...

Truthfully my first reaction to this is pretty negative. I believe in real community and feel that the biggest challenge we face today is the lack of community that we experience in our society and societies world-wide. But when I think about many Asian cultures and how they have already created an online community in many respects maybe it is time for me to stop grumbing about it and start trying to engage it instead. Go for it Stepchild!

stepchild said...

CCMS,
Thanks for your comment, and thanks for reading!

Guy,
I didn't realize email correspondence ministry was being used effectively by many of our people. Thanks for letting me know.

Strider,
Thanks for your honesty. I admit that "virtual" relationships somehow don't seem as real as, um "real" ones, but I think that's changing.

When I was growing up, our church put us unto "accountability groups." These were usually small groups of an older, more mature person and a couple of younger folks. That's where I learned to lie about having read my Bibles and witnessed to five people each week.

People tend to participate in online relationships voluntarily (without a lot of peer-pressure, shame, expectations) and therefore often feel free be more honest than they would be in a face-to-face interaction. I do believe, however, that virtual relationships should supplement, not replace "real" interaction and fellowship.

Strider said...

No comments enabled on your Docker's post? But you asked a question? How can I attack you and liberal anti-establishment ideas if you don't enable comments? Did you know Jerry Rankin wears dockers sometimes? You don't respect him?
But in my culture many wear suits. Do I have to wear a tie? I became an M so I didn't have to wear a tie. If I didn't know you better I might conculude that you think we should lay down our rights even to what we would like to wear in order to share the Gospel. Surely you don't mean it?