Spreading the gospel one byte at a time
Technology is a double-edged sword.
It can be used for good and quite often some very ugly things.
For organised religion, technology, including the Internet, social media and mobile telephone have become an indispensable tool to spread their messages.
My church history tells me that during the early days of evangelism to West Africa, a lot of missionaries lost their lives due to a myriad of factors including malaria, dysentery and heat strokes.
Fast forward to today, missionaries and others who want to spread the faith need only to harness the power of new digital technologies and they can do massive evangelism without leaving their home countries or indeed the comfort of their homes.
The use of mass media for evangelism is well documented. It is limited since it is a one-way communication tool.
With the advent of information and communication technologies, most religious groups now use new media to complement the use of traditional media in the field.
It is now common place for churches, pastors, priests and other leaders of the church to develop a website mashed up with social media, SMS and messaging platforms such as WhatsApp to deliver sermons, provide information and generally engage their congregations thereby deriving benefits from these two-way communication tools.
These online accounts are also used as a channel to provide full services such as, Bible teaching, conventions, church services and the like.
It is commonplace today to find congregations making financial contributions via online banking platforms and mobile money.
It is also not uncommon these days to see congregants holding phones and devices to read the Bible or sing from electronic hymnals or take notes from sermons.
Technology supports the Great Commission
There are numerous examples about how technology is playing a key role not only in evangelism but in the whole value chain of managing religious organisations.
For example, some churches have a system where prospective converts or church members can log into an online system in order to interact by asking questions pertaining to their faith and receive answers in real time.
Using online chat platforms, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other communication apps, technology is making it possible for church leaders to have easy and direct channels of communication with their members while at the same time, members can also interact with one another.
Using technology also allows church members to pray for one another online and provide requisite support, enabling church members to connect with one another on an everyday basis.
This is especially true for the youth who spend significant amounts of time online.
Furthermore, new digital technologies enable discipleship and facilitate the process of pulling along persons who are not able to attend church by giving them full participation in the service and access to written sermons published online.
In some churches, members of the congregation are able to tweet questions in the middle of a sermon to clarify points, which are then answered in the moment by dedicated deacons, associate pastors other trained teams.
It is also common practice for some churches to utilise hash tags to enable greater interaction even with the larger body of the church.
Some church members or prospective converts, especially those in older generations, may not have the skills, knowledge and tools to participate effectively in the advantages technology brings to bear.
This affects the extent to which technology can be used in the church set up.
Also, some churches are very conservative and consider technology to be an inappropriate means of spreading the word.
However, this is changing and the Catholic Church, which is a bastion of conservatism, is now investing seriously in social media.
The Pope has a very vibrant twitter account @Pontifex with millions of followers and Holy Mass and priestly ordinations are now streamed live on Facebook.
Technology has long been considered both dehumanising and de-personalising which can have a negative impact on the mission of the church to being a community of support, so it is important to think through mitigating strategies in its usage.
Some even argue that the Internet is killing religion, since as more and more persons become knowledgeable through the power of the Internet, they tend to shun away from religion.
This is a moot point. Rather, leaders of churches must become well equipped in the use of technology and should be comfortable with its usage in order to leverage it more effectively and more efficiently for missionary work.
In conclusion, information and communication technologies are permeating the life of believers and unbelievers alike with huge potential to be used for good.
Religious organisations must realise that a large percentage of the populations are Internet citizens and to reach them, one must take concrete proactive actions to use technology to spread the gospel one byte at a time.
The writer is the Director of Innovations at Penplusbytes.org