Welcome to the Land of Shiny Things. Your citizenship was not overtly solicited, but gradually you made your way here. You are an unwitting but active, dues-paying resident. The Land of Shiny Things is a finely manicured mental, spiritual, and physical subdivision of our universal domain. It is the cookiecutter context that wraps itself around your mind daily, and for lack of an intuitive escape route, you fall into it . . . way too easily.
The Land of Shiny Things begins to define itself when you hit the snooze on the digital alarm in the morning. Without waking up fully you point the remote at the television, and an impersonal, albeit strangely comforting hum paints a layer over the room…and over your thoughts.
The morning sun rises in supernatural splendor but fails to compete with the shiny box that has reeled in your gaze. Your need to know far outweighs your need for much else. Amid the stream of shiny things coursing through your mind, you hope to catch a glimpse or deduct a rational prediction, based on your library of shiny apps, reliable resources, and mobile reports, of what the unopened day ahead might hold. The shiny coffeepot is programmed to perk. You punch the shiny toaster and poke the shiny blender. You pet your shiny dog that now has a shiny chip surgically implanted so he can’t get lost in the Land of Shiny Things.
You kiss your shiny kids good-bye as they get on a bus where all the shiny kids blindly slide into their seats, careful not to interrupt an intense texting tango, blowing out the next game level, or snagging a hot song download. Rather than swap stories or baseball cards, they peer into their shiny Game Boys, PSPs, cell phones, and iPods.
Meanwhile, you get in your shiny car, complete with a shiny GPS that gives you a 0.2 percent margin of error that you will make it to your destination within 0.6 percent of the estimated time without wasting a moment on a wrong turn or inefficient route. Stop! Go back! You almost left your shiny cell phone, which would render you unreachable and unconnected—the equivalent of being among society’s electronically disabled.
At the office you ache to skip the pleasantries. Cordial people move soooo slowly, you think. Chitchat and office banter exist to delay the euphoric cliff dive into the shiny stream of e-mails and other online destinations corralled on the other side of your shiny laptop screen. Ahhhhhh! Finally one with the Wi-Fi, you are officially powered up and a contributor to a world fueled by batteries, power cords, and chargers. You are persuaded of your unique presence as you join the other 2 billion people on the planet who inhabit the Internet daily.
You need to know and be known, and there’s little room for God in this shiny equation.
What Time Is It Anyway?
We live in a time when information and the access to it are more powerful than ever. Armed with the right content (information), you become (or feel) more in control of the world around you. The right information helps you make better decisions about how to live, interact, and succeed. You seek information to help with purchasing, investing, staying healthy, being successful in a career, parenting, traveling, buying real estate, maintaining relationships, voting, eating, doing business, and if you’re on such a quest…finding God.
Google has wooed the world. But who woos the hearts of men and women? The Bible says the Holy Spirit. But these days it’s easier to get more personal with Google than with God and other people. Increasingly, people search Google for information about personal issues such as marriage, depression, parenting, addiction, finances, disease, sexuality, loneliness, and eating disorders. And people do it often without a thought of reaching out to one another or to God.
Has Google replaced the belief that God is omnipresent and all-knowing, and can even answer prayers? As absurd as it may sound, a generation that has grown up as digital natives communicating in real time via instant messages might shock you with a resounding “yes.”
Relax. There’s no need to renounce your residency in the Land of Shiny Things or mask the evidence of your connected life. There’s no shame. This is the hour to which you’ve been born—so by all means, power up! Just power up the way God wants you to.
That means with a God-breathed strategy, Holy Spirit power, and divine discernment.
A 2008 study by George Barna indicates that matters of faith play a small role in differentiating people’s technological habits. The study found that Christians are just as immersed in (and dependent on) digital technologies and social networks as anyone else. Christians emerged as statistically “on par” with national norms.
David Kinnaman, the lead researcher on the project, gives the research context and warns church leaders to strike a balance between the spiritual and the cultural potential of today’s technology. While technology allows us to reach the masses, it’s no substitute for the human impact of life-on-life discipleship, says Kinnaman. He adds, “whether or not you welcome it, technology creates an entirely new calculus of influence and independence. The stewardship of technology as a force for good in culture is an important role for technologists, entrepreneurs, educators, and Christian leaders.”
For you, a Christ follower, the discussion around technology and its impact for good cannot be left to chance. It’s a conversation that must be an ongoing priority. It must become part of the writings, readings, and teachings that communicate faith to this and future generations. And if businesses, motivated by profitability and survival, continue to generate effective content marketing solutions and new ways to engage the public, the body of Christ should be alert—and teachable—to use those same strategies.
How much more critical is the message of salvation than communicating the benefits of the latest fat-free soup or the faster running shoe? Exactly. We live and communicate in awesome times. And we live in one of the most exciting windows for sharing the gospel since the Gutenberg press was invented in 1440, making Bibles accessible to the masses.
Until that time books, including the Bible, were painstakingly copied by hand and available only to the wealthiest and most educated people. German-born Johannes Gutenberg died without knowing that his invention would spark the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution, and the Reformation and catapult the spread of Christianity.
Multiple media, including literature, art, television, film, and radio, have collectively transmitted the gospel message over time. Although their impact has been great, nothing can compare to the mind-blowing—and ever-evolving—impact of the Internet, namely, the content-sharing side called Web 2.0 and the spin-off industry of (and obsession with) social networking.
No doubt, a monumental shift is taking place around the world politically, socially, and economically. Social networking is consuming the collective psyche and redefining the understanding of words as traditional as community and friends.
A Snapshot of Influence
The speed of change and the numbers are staggering when you consider what is happening around you. Perhaps you are familiar with some of these statistics. If not, be prepared to have your thinking rocked.
- It took radio thirty-eight years to reach fifty million users; television, thirteen years; the Internet, four years; and the iPod, three years. In just a nine-month period, Facebook added one hundred million users, and downloads of iPhone applications reached one billion. (That’s billion with a b.)
- Collectively, the television networks ABC, NBC, and CBS get ten million unique visitors every month, and these businesses have been around for a combined two hundred years. YouTube, Facebook, and MySpace got 250 million unique visitors each month after being launched for only six years.
- In 2008, Barack Obama leveraged online social networks to raise $500 million and mobilized young voters via social networking at unprecedented numbers. He outpaced opponent John McCain in fundraising online by five times.
- Ninety-six percent of people born between 1980 and 1994 have joined a social network.
- One out of every five couples married in the U.S. met via social networking.
What Does It All Mean?
It means anyone with an imperative message to communicate has to think bigger. People are migrating online. And as they continue to build niche communities, a significant window is open that should have every person who is concerned with the things of Christ sitting upright and being fully engaged.
This dramatic shift in communication and the growing hunger for human connection online have spawned a new mission field unlike any the church has ever seen.
This mission field has a language and culture all its own. You haven’t trained for it. You’re not exactly sure how it works. Its velocity can be intimidating. The reference books and mission training programs tailored to impact a Web-based world…well, they simply don’t exist.
You stand here as a Christ follower in a definitive moment in time; you are an ordinary person called to usher a holy Kingdom into an increasingly fragmented world. It’s the perfect scenario for God to move in big ways, just as He always has. Just as God called Esther, Joseph, and Paul to go before the world’s kings at appointed times to alter history, He now calls you to log on and upload what’s critical to today’s conversation.
While everything changes at warp speed, the holy mandate remains: to communicate the gospel in the most relevant channels available here, there, and everywhere…even if “everywhere” includes foreign lands with peculiar names like Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Plaxo. It’s a shiny mission field, indeed.
This article is excerpted from @stickyjesus: How to Live Out Your Faith Online.