Technology and Community

by Reid Smith

Can technology help Small Group Ministry Point Leaders build community? Do you see it as something that enhances or competes with what you do?

If you’re hesitant, skeptical, or even curious – wondering how to use technology to grow biblical community – then I hope this article will help you envision possibilities of what you could do using tools that have never been available until now.

Today, there are more people connected online than ever before. The use of technology is on the rise all around the world. Each new generation uses more types of technology to communicate and connect. Yesterday’s technology – such as the cell phone or computer – is today’s tool, and churches that don’t use the tools of technology become increasingly irrelevant as the years go by.

Take a look at some of these statistics about the influence of technology on our culture and communication:

  1. Social networking now accounts for 11 percent of all time spent online in the US. Both social networking leader Facebook and Twitter both posted triple-digit growth in ’09.
  2. Nearly four out of five US Internet users visited a social networking site in December 2009 (according to comScore’s “The 2009 U.S. Digital Year in Review”)
  3. By 2010 Gen Y will outnumber Baby Boomers….96% of them have joined a social network
  4. Years to Reach 50 millions Users: Radio (38 Years), TV (13 Years), Internet (4 Years), iPod (3 Years)…Facebook added 100 mil users in less than 9 months…iPhone applications hit 1 bil in 9 mos.
  5. Facebook claims that 50% of active users log into the site each day. This would mean at least 175m users every 24 hours… A considerable increase from the previous 120m.
  6. If Facebook were a country it would be the world’s 4th largest between the United States & Indonesia
  7. Twitter now has 75m user accounts, but only around 15m are active users on a regular basis. An increase from the estimated 6-10m global users from a few months ago.
  8. LinkedIn has over 50m members worldwide. This means an increase of around 1m members month-on-month since July/August last year. % of companies using LinkedIn as a primary tool to find employees….80%
  9. 1 out of 8 couples married in the U.S. last year met via social media
  10. 2009 US Department of Education study revealed that on average, online students out performed those receiving face-to-face instruction. An increasing number of accredited institutions are increasing their online options in the face of the present economic downturn.
  11. 1 in 6 higher education students are enrolled in online curriculum
  12. 80% of Twitter usage is on mobile devices…people update anywhere, anytime. 25% of Americans in the past month said they watched a short video…on their phone.
  13. Generation Y and Z consider e-mail passé…In 2009 Boston College stopped distributing e-mail addresses to incoming freshmen
  14. 78% of consumers trust peer recommendations
  15. In the near future we will no longer search for products and services they will find us via social media

There are a lot of benefits to using technology to build community. But there are challenges as well. Although I believe technology can be used to magnify the ministry & mission of the Church, I don’t believe it satisfies every dimension of human need and communication like human touch. But it comes pretty close.

I’ve tried to outline what I see as some of the benefits and challenges of using technology to enhance people’s experience of community:

You’re reading this article now because you’re using technology to connect. You’ve probably shared resources and insights with those you lead because of content that was disseminated by today’s technological tools. Just as a microphone amplifies the speaker’s message so technology can amplify the experience of community. Social media, for example, can be leveraged in ways that can exponentially increase meaningful contacts and those we reach with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Web 2.0 is a term that describes the trend of Internet usage and design that seeks the enhancement of creativity and collaboration among users. If you’re a Christ-follower who wants to maximize their missional impact, you’ve got to be 2.0. Explore today’s technological tools and seek to influence the millions of people immersed in the new social phenomenon of today’s online community.

Local churches and parachurch organizations must continue developing partnerships to advance The Great Commission and social networking is critical to that process. Leadership and social circles must overlap and interact for effective Kingdom collaboration. The more this happens, the more leaders can use the influence God has given to them to advance His purposes on earth. Here are some online tools that can help in this process (unless otherwise noted, all tools below are “.com”):

  • Social Networking = Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Wisestamp (to create signature block)
  • Video-chat/conferencing = Skype, Tokbox, Wetoku, Google
  • Autosend text-msging =jarbyco or tatango // text from computer = 3jam
  • Automated msging service = freeconferencecall or call-em-all
  • Evite = evite, mypunchbowl (create audio postcard from phone & send via comp w/yodio)
  • Public/Private Blogging = blogger, wordpress
  • Audio / Video podcasts (Flip video) > embed into blogs
  • Streaming = ustream or livestream
  • Find/Start a group = meetup
  • Online project collaboration = google docs, campfirenow
  • Email blast (html) = mailchimp, contact
  • Video/File/Photo-sharing = YouTube, Flickr, PhotoBucket, br.st
  • Bible Study & Discussion = YouVersion

(See this month’s Resources For You for links to sites mentioned)

Read Luke 15 and let me ask you these questions: If the shepherd in Jesus’ parable (vv. 3-7) could have viewed satellite images that would have helped him locate his lost sheep, do you think he would have used the technology? If the woman in Jesus’ parable (vv. 8-10) had a metal detector to help find her lost coin, do you think she would have used the technology? If the father in Jesus’ parable (vv. 11-32) had social media to reconnect with his lost son, do you think he would have used the technology?

Leaders are learners. The more unwilling you are to learn, the less influence you will have. (I think the opposite is true as well.) Leaders are missional – they’re the first to engage in search & rescue. They’re the early adopters of anything they think will help to reach ‘one more’. This is the heart of one who desires to spend their life so that some might be saved (1 Corinthians 9:22-23). This is the heart of our Heavenly Father who remains on the lookout for the one who has yet to come home. I believe this evidences itself in a willingness to reach out in new ways, search in new places, and to use new tools.

Reid Smith is the Community Life Pastor of Christ Fellowship Church in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. He is also the  PDSGN Area Point Leader for the state of Florida.

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