Not so long ago, a person’s neighbor lived next door. Porches served as meeting places for friends. And fences were shorter, allowing neighbors to share news from one backyard to the next. At that time whole neighborhoods came together for barbecues and yard sales. Those days have gone the way of duck tails and poodle skirts. Today, a person’s closest friends may live a hundred miles away, and climate-controlled homes have moved families off the porch and onto the couch. Fences have grown to eight feet tall, and we share news from one computer to the next. Society is mobile, communities are bigger, and the world is smaller.
How does the church navigate changing communication and relationships? Communication within communities has always changed with technologies. For example, Moses spoke to the masses from the side of a mountain, which created a natural amphitheater. However, most churches use public address systems. Paul used human messengers to hand carry letters. Today, texts, emails, social media, and FedEx have replaced most letters. The advent of radio, television, computers, and the internet have created a cornucopia of communication modes.
At one time, the church and/or religion was at the forefront of developing communication. When art dominated communication, religion dominated art. Johannes Gutenberg invented the removable type printing press, then he began printing Bibles. However, when the electronic age began, the church left the cutting edge, and tied itself to a leash to be dragged behind advancing technologies. Part budgetary, part prudence, and part sentimentality, the reasons for falling behind the technological curve vary, but the church no longer leads the way in communication.
Face to face conversation is the best, clearest, and most direct form of communication. Most interpersonal communication is nonverbal. The words and meaning of words only make up a fraction of what is conveyed. Body language, facial expressions, and voice fluctuations communicate more than actual words. Therefore, when it comes to taking the gospel into all the world, the best, most effective way is through personal interaction with other people.
Besides direct interaction, God also used prophets, visions, stones, trees, and books to convey his will to mankind. While direct interpersonal relationships are best, the church is not limited to them. Like God, Christians can utilize modern technologies. For years, the church has been using film strips, written correspondence courses, and gospel meetings as ways to “get the word out.” Many Christians today owe their conversion to these forms of evangelism, but there are new ways, too.
The church must embrace modern evangelism or risk nullifying the timely message with outdated and stale tactics. Some churches are reluctant to accept electronic evangelism (online study courses, email correspondence, web presence, etc.). After all, they have been effective without them in the past. Sadly, for many congregations, their heyday for effectiveness passed with the Eisenhower administration. Churches that adopt newer methods of communication have greater effectiveness in evangelism. Simply put—the church must go where people are, not where they used to be.
People use social media. People hang out in internet cafés and coffee shops. People drive along the highways. People dine out. People watch television, read magazines, listen to the radio, and view internet videos. These places are where churches need to make their presence known.
The gospel, like Jesus, is the same yesterday, today, and forevermore. The message of Jesus is still the power of God unto salvation. It still claims hearts and minds. It still stirs the soul to action before God. What changes is how that message gets delivered to those who need to hear it. If the church cannot get people to stop for the gospel or chat over the backyard fence, it needs to get it to them on the go.