ts been less than an hour since 15-year-old Jeremy
Adams spoke with his friends and classmates Chris and Jessica. The three were
huddled around a lab table, dissecting a worm in their biology class. Now
Jeremy is in his room, anxious to connect with his high school pals again.
Tossing his backpack on the bed, he flips on his computer and logs onto the
Internet. To occupy the eternal moments it takes for his modem to connectMaybe
mom and dad will get me a high-speed cable modem, like the one Chris has, he
thinksJeremy shuffles through a computerized playlist of recent MP3
The story of the Internets effect on our culture is only beginning to
be told.But one of the greatest stories not yet told is the
Nets impact on the church. Anyone seeking to minister to the online world, or
to the up-and-coming Net generation, should:
Be interactive, not
passive.The Net fosters
interactivity, and young people who have grown up with cyberspace have little
experience with passive media. Dont expect straight text or brochureware
(slapping a brochure or newsletter on a website) to hold anyones attention in
the online world. Website sermons incorporate hypertext links to scripture,
visuals, audio clips and other online resources to appeal to those who expect
to learn actively, and chat room Bible studies can be much more engaging than a
traditional in-church study. Within the church walls, ministers should take a
hint from cyberspace and incorporate visuals, sound bites and other learning
aids in their sermons.
Be networked, not hierarchical.The Internet
is the most decentralized, antihierarchical communications medium ever devised.
It facilitates the fast and free flow of information, and institutions not
willing to work in this new environment will lag behind others. As Jeff Zaleski
explains in his book The Soul of Cyberspace, the online world will favor those
religions and spiritual teachings that tend toward anarchy and that lack a
complex hierarchy. This doesnt mean churches must abandon all committees. It
does, however, mean taking a more flexible, responsive and speedy approach to
the needs of congregations and individuals.
Think postmodern, not modern.We now live in
the postmodern era, in which the notion of objective truth is under attack from
all sides. Now, truth is in the eye of the beholder, and choice is the supreme
virtue in a society of shoppers. On the Internet, Christianity competes on
equal footing with all other religions. The days of Christianitys privileged
standing in society have passed, and the church must present its truths to
people who may be more accepting of a variety of religious perspectives.
Allow questioning. Dont expect passive
acceptance.In keeping with the postmodern rejection of
objective truth, N-geners and others influenced by Internet culture will be
more likely to question authority. This questioning will empower more believers
to take an active role in shaping church reforms. Successful ministries will
welcome questioning and encourage participation.
Be collaborative, not isolationist.In
cyberspace, denominational distinctions become blurred. At first glance,
denominational differences matter little to Net surfers with no grounding in
the Christian tradition. Successful ministries will seek to collaborate and
cooperate with other like-minded ministries to reach cyberculture.
Be asynchronous, not time-bound.The online
environment is unfettered by time or space. At any time and across the time
zones, two or more Christians can gather in Christs name in a chat room and
have church. Church on the Internet is not a weekly or twice-weekly occurrence.
Church can occur at any time and at any place. More and more, cybernauts will
expect the church to be a 24/7 church.
Adapted from eMinistry: Connecting to the Net
Generation, by Andrew Careaga (Kregel Publications, 2001).
Ten seconds pass. Then 20. Finally, the modem chirps and whirrs, signaling
access to the online universe. Jeremys buddy list materializes on-screen, as
does a note from his free Web-based email service informing him of a dozen new
email messages. More spam, probably, Jeremy decides, and he makes the message
vanish with a single mouse click.
eremy finds that Chris and Jessica are logged on. So
are Nathan and GammonFiend_26, which is the nick of a guy from Denmark. He and
Jeremy overcome the language barrier by playing virtual backgammon some
evenings, when Jeremy is bored. GammonFiend isnt usually online at this time of
day, Jeremy recalls.
Jeremy fires off a quick IM (instant message) to Chris and Jessica, and
shoots a virtual note to Nathan as well.
Chris responds with news of a new MP3 download. Jessica writes that another
classmate, Lucinda, is online, and she thinks youre soooo cute!
You ought to ask her out, Jessica types. Her nicks SweetLucy2003. Add her to
your buddy list ... or IM her now!
Between these messages, Jeremy juggles a more serious conversation with
Nathan. The two cyber pals discuss Jeremys struggles with his new found
Jeremy and Nathan have never met f2f (face-to-face). Yet Jeremy considers
Nathan to be as close as Chris, Jessica or any of his other friends.
The two have met only virtually, in cyberspace. They first encountered each
other about a month ago, after Jeremy ventured into an Internet chat room on
spirituality. Nathan chatted with Jeremy about Jesus Christ as the true Son of
God. For two weeks they carried on a continuing dialogue about Christianity,
using instant messaging, chat rooms and electronic mail. By the end of those
two weeks, Jeremy decided to accept Christ as his Savior. Nathan led Jeremy in
an online, typed version of the sinners prayer via ICQ (I seek you).
Nathans approach to evangelism and discipleship and Jeremys approach to
growing in the faith may seem unconventional to most American churchgoers. But
a growing number of young peoplethe Net generation, or N-genersare turning to
the Internet as a resource for spiritual matters.
n a 1998 study, the Barna Research Group found that
one out of every six church-going teens expects to rely increasingly on the
Internet to meet spiritual needs in the coming years. These teens will be part
of a significant portion of the U.S. populationup to one-fifth, Barna predicts
who will rely solely on the Internet for their spiritual needs.
Todays wired teens are the first wave of a tsunami of digital kids. Their
generation is the first to grow up in the digital age. And at 81.1 million
strong30 percent of the U.S. populationtheyve already eclipsed yesterdays
trendsetters, the 77.2 million Baby Boomers who make up 29 percent of the U.S.
Why is the Internet such an attractive resource for the spiritual surfing
N-geners? Here are a few reasons:
The Net is their element.For most N-geners, the
Internet is the communications medium of choice. Just as Baby Boomers grew up
with television, the Net generation is growing up with the Internet. The Net is
in their homes, in their schools and, with the advent of wireless
communications devices, even on their belts or in their pockets. Most young
people are at home in cyberspace. If they have questions, cyberspace is where
they turn for answers.
For the first time in history, writes Don Tapscott, author of Growing Up
Digital: The Rise of the Internet Generation, children are more comfortable,
knowledgeable and literate than their parents about an innovation central to
The Net is immediately interactive.Unlike television,
radio or print media, the Internet empowers users to interact, and even greatly
influence, the creators of content and products of this new medium. Moreover,
N-geners can interact in real time via email, message boards, chat rooms or
instant messaging. This kind of immediacy is important to a generation reared
on sound bites, fast-paced music videos and hyperspeed video games. While
traditional media provide opportunities to interact (with letters to the editor
and radio call-in programs, for example), the Internet breaks down the barriers
of time, distance and access in ways unfathomable a decade ago. An Internet
user in Malaysia, for example, can fire off an email to leaders of the Southern
Baptist Convention in North Americaand expect a quick response.
The Net is a reservoir of unfiltered information.With
traditional media, audiences rely on the expertise of reporters, editors and
producers to sift through information and present the stories that really
But the Net generation casts a cynical eye toward traditional institutions
such as the media, government, education and the churchand is more likely to
trust firsthand reports from peers or underground information sources on the
Internet. In chat rooms and message boards, N-geners can also post their
thoughts on topics without going through an intermediary
The Net is a haven for anonymity.As a New Yorker
cartoon famously observed a few years ago, On the Internet, nobody knows youre
a dog. The Internet allows users to veil themselves in anonymity, thus freeing
them to discuss topics they might not feel comfortable talking about in a
Christian teens may feel more comfortable discussing faith issues in an
online chat room than with their peers in a youth group meeting.
Moreover, for people living in societies that are closed to the gospel, the
Internet provides a safer source of information.
While the Internet will never replace the need for a real-life church, its
evident that the church must be a very real presence in cyberspace. As more
people turn to search engines in their quest for meaning, the church must be
available online to point these seekers toward the way, the truth and the
Andrew Careaga wrote E-vangelism: Sharing the Gospel
in Cyberspace (1999, Vital Issues Press) and eMinistry: Connecting to
the Net Generation (2001, Kregel).
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC