Written by the editorial staff of the International Mission Board, Reprinted with permission.
Subway cars in Tokyo constantly erupt in a symphony of ring tones. The majority of the travelers on any given train have a phone out or earphones in on the daily commute.
WeChat, a social media messaging app, has 762 million active users in China, while 93% of South Korean smart phone owners use the instant messaging app, KakaoTalk.
Facebook has more than 1.7 billion users worldwide, generating 4.5 billion “likes” every day, and 1.03 billion of those users actively employ the mobile app on a daily basis. Every second, five new profiles are created.
The Weibo user base—600 million people deep— amazingly united an American man with his stolen phone. The resulting friendship between the American man and the Chinese man who unwittingly bought his stolen phone made the American an overnight celebrity on Chinese social media. The same Chinese social media users also helped unite an Australian runner with a dog that ran a marathon through the Gobi Desert with him.
According to a Pew Study, 15% of American adults have used an online dating service or mobile app, up from 11% in 2015. Instead of turning to friends and family to set them up on dates, those people have chosen to go online. It’s not only dating, but in a much greater way, education, work, and even worship are happening online.
The point of all of this information is that there are a lot of active, engaged users on social media, and the numbers continue to grow. They see great value in online interaction. The proliferation of Internet access, social media outlets, and other forms of online interaction are leading to new ways of thinking about relationships. In some cases, people seem to be abandoning tangible, local connections for those they find online.
Like it or not, this is a developing cultural reality—one our churches need to understand. People interacting in this way will necessarily change the way we are able to connect with them for the Gospel. To be sure, increasing Internet access around the world will have a growing effect on how we engage in missions.
In some ways, that growth is positive. Because of the burgeoning connectedness of our world, we have access to the nations literally at our fingertips. We can build relationships with people from all over the world without leaving home.
On the other hand, that growth presents challenges. We must really work strategically to understand how people use online tools and engage them meaningfully. We can’t make half-hearted attempts at engaging a rapidly growing, online-native generation and expect them to wholeheartedly respond.
In the coming days, how will you and your church address the reality that right now, you can connect with more than 40% of the world’s population online? And it’s only growing (see the infographic to the right).
International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication/ITC Development Report and database, and World Bank estimates.
CIA World Factbook — www.cia.gov/library/ publications/the-world-factbook/ geos/xx.html
International Mission Board – Global Research www.imb.org