Christians have always been on the forefront of communication technology. I know what you're thinking: "yeah, right!" But bear with me for a moment.
When we look in the pages of the New Testament, we see the writings of St. Paul. Do you know what he was writing with? A pen. Do you know what he was writing on? Paper (technically papyrus, but you get the point). Believe it or not, both were cutting-edge technologies back in the day.
Martin Luther leveraged the moveable type printing press to get God's Word into the hands of regular, everyday people like you and me. In fact, Luther is quoted as saying the printing press was the "highest act of God's grace."
Foursquare denomination founder Aimee Semple McPherson felt a divine tug to use the radio broadcast to share the message of Jesus. Billy Graham is famous for his televangelism crusades. More Christians embracing communication technology to further the Kingdom.
From our humble beginnings, the church has always found ways to communicate the Gospel message through any and all means available.
Now it's our turn to shape the next era in church history. You have a role in determining where the church goes next and it largely depends on your response to two words: social media.
You've seen the platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.). You've seen the viral videos (Google "Atlanta grape lady" and prepare to laugh your head off). You may even be an active participant (ever tweeted out what you had for lunch?).
But the underlying power in social media is not the technology or the platforms or Gangnam style. The power comes from human beings connecting with one another all around the globe.
Like St. Paul, Luther, McPherson, and Graham, the 21st-century church has an unimaginable opportunity in social media to extend the borders of God's Kingdom online. The methods have changed, but the message remains the same.
But not everyone will seize this opportunity. In fact, some churches will choose to stick their heads in the sand rather than face the changes head-on. History will show this dismissal as a fatal blow for local churches unwilling to adapt their methods of sharing the Gospel message.
You might be wondering, "What does it look like to be a social media-minded community of faith?"
You could take the approach Focus on the Family does, investing significant resources in their brand new Digital Engagement Center, or DEC. The DEC focuses on real-time online interaction with people all over the globe struggling with family-related decisions, questions, or regrets. Focus employs a sizable full-time team to seek people out and meet them in their time of need—all online.
If you're looking for local church examples, consider Gateway Church in Austin, TX. Led by Internet pastor Vince Marotte, the church weaves social media into their cultural fabric. Whether it's volunteering on the church's digital street team or participating in a real-time church-wide chat on Gateway's mobile app, they have placed a clear priority on being a social church.
Gateway, Focus on the Family, and hundreds of other churches around the globe understand a fundamental truth of the New Media era: You cannot control the online conversation surrounding your church. You can only take steps to influence it.
Social media requires a new way of thinking. It moves the church from her position of distributor of religious instruction to what Wall Street Journal blogger Gary Hamel calls a "fervent and flexible community, [one that is] participatory and open source."
The question remains—a question which demands an answer from all of us—what will the church do next?