Is Anyone Listening?

“The technology that gets people into trouble is the same technology that can be used to rescue them.”

With social media, many people express what’s going on inside their hearts with the same level of transparency as sharing what they had for lunch.

“Out too late partying last night = overslept my alarm this morning. Guess I’ll be having ‘car trouble’ again.”

“Yay, lunch! It’s burger & fries day!!!”

“Just walked into a strip club and my Bible App told me I should read the Bible.”

“So depressed again.”

They’re letting us know they’re depressed, that their relationships are struggling, that they’re searching for something, or that they’re suffocating under a burden of debt. They’re giving us this stream of info by the hundreds of millions, and as they do, they’re giving us a way to talk to them. But we have to tune in to what they’re saying. Is the church listening?

Listening and Responding in the Moment

In the past, churches focused on getting people to come to church once a week. Some churches have increased ministry touch points through midweek services or small group gatherings, but those experiences still happen at a specific day and time.

But in our culture of instant gratification, temptation doesn’t happen according to schedule. People have pornography at their fingertips with a simple online search. An emotional affair with an old boyfriend is just an online chat away.

The technology that gets people into trouble is the same technology that can be used to rescue them. We have the opportunity to reach people in the moment of their need, not just in the moment of church.

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Just Scratching the Surface

Online communication and social media present one of the greatest untapped mission fields of our time. Consider a few examples of how some churches are, and could be, taking advantage of these tools:

• Informal research. Instead of conducting a formal written survey to see which issues the congregation is dealing with, we can know what’s happening right now, this week, with a quick question on Twitter or Facebook. As we study the conversations taking place among our congregation, we also can get a pulse on what they are thinking and how they are living.

• Targeted advertising. With simple adwords, someone who is searching for pornography can be greeted by, “Looking for nude photos? Try this instead.” How we leverage this technology is, for these people in these moments, the way God speaks to them. And in services like Facebook, we can direct our advertising toward friends of people who have liked our church’s page, reinforcing personal invitations they may have received.

• Niche ministries. In the past, establishing a new ministry required funding and resourcing from the church, which usually had to wait until enough demand was demonstrated. Now, we can empower people to tap into the passion God’s given them without the obstacle of determining how the ministry fits into our staffing structure or budget constraints.

• Location-based outreach. Thanks to geolocation features within services like Foursquare and Facebook, people are openly sharing where they live, work and hang out, which enables us to focus our efforts on people within a certain geographic radius. For example, our youth ministry could reach out to students who check in at Friday night’s football game to invite them to a postgame meet-up.

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• Individual conversations. These can lead to some of the most powerful experiences of in-the-moment ministry. It can be a response to a direct request, like someone who is asking for prayer. Or it could mean starting a dialogue with someone who is dealing with depression or suicidal thoughts, and following up with an expression of support, an assurance of God’s love, or providing a clear path to help.

These are anecdotal examples, but so much more is possible. How can we leverage these tools to change how the Gospel is shared and received? How should this technology shape the future of the church? Let’s seize this opportunity as we find, explore and invent new ways to reach people together.