digital awakening
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The church is more technologically advanced than you might think. Here are five ways believers are paving the way with their innovation.

Having spent the better part of his life in organized crime, “William” woke up one morning at 3 o’clock and questioned whether he wanted to be a part of it anymore. A native of Ireland, the 37-year-old father of three thought about his young children and decided he had to change his life. Googling “church and God,” he came across LifeChurch.tv and clicked on “church online.”

As he listened to the music, he cracked open a beer, logged onto the chat room and began talking with Brandon Donaldson, one of the church’s online pastors. As God touched his heart, William told Donaldson he felt he was “breaking down” from the pressures of a life of crime and an upcoming criminal trial. Feeling a sense of conviction, William decided to pray with Donaldson to ask Jesus to forgive him of his sins and change his life. When he awoke the next morning, William says he was a different guy. “If I was to summarize who I was before—I’m not going to glamorize my life—I was a thug,” William says. “I wouldn’t say I’m not a thug anymore. I would say God is dealing with this thug. 

“The person I was before ... people avoided me on the street when they saw me. People crossed the road. If I asked for something to be done, it was done. But here I am now—I don’t want to be spiritual about it—but I’m a new person in Christ.”

Bobby Gruenewald, a pastor and innovation leader at LifeChurch.tv, says tens of thousands of people like William have come to the Lord through the church’s online ministry. Since it began in a two-car garage in 1996, LifeChurch.tv has grown to become the second-largest church in the United States. Now more than 30,000 people attend services at the 13 physical campuses in Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee, New York and Florida. In addition, more than 60,000 computers from 140 countries are logged in to the church’s online services each week.

“We believe this is an amazing opportunity to fulfill the Great Commission,” Gruenewald says. “We don’t think it’s an accident that God has placed us here in this unique time in history when not only are there more people alive than ever before, but we’re more connected to the world’s population than we ever have been in history. With all the technology tools available today, we have the ability to share the gospel with more people than ever before.”

Just as the invention of the printing press and Gutenberg Bible played a major role in the Age of Enlightenment, Cynthia Ware, executive director of the Center for Church Communication in Los Angeles, says the explosion in Internet and mobile-device technology is creating a “priesthood of every believer,” giving Christians the chance to digitally take the good news to the ends of the earth.

“We’ve gone from the Gutenberg generation of the church to the Google generation of the church,” Ware says. “For 500 years, things have been one way. And now, in five years’ time, almost everything has changed. The gospel message doesn’t change, but the presentation of it and the accessibility of it and everything in the culture around it has changed.”

Of the world’s 6.8 billion people, 61 percent now have mobile phones and 26 percent have Internet access. As these numbers increase exponentially and people increasingly rely on technology to facilitate their search for meaning and connection, the church is becoming far more technologically advanced than many might think. As millions of people worldwide come to Christ through online churches and ministries, Christian innovators and technophiles are leading the digital revolution with a profusion of technological breakthroughs.

For example, more than 1.7 million people have reported decisions for Christ at Jesus.net, a France-based Internet evangelism ministry overseen by pastor and team director Eric Célérier. By clicking on “Joy in Heaven,” the Web site displays a satellite map showing where the latest decision for Christ occurred, and it offers viewers a chance to pray for that new Christian. Each day, about 1,500 people accept Christ through the ministry. After completing a contact form, they receive a free Bible and are contacted by a church or Christian in their area. 

“As Christians, we need to seize the opportunity of the Internet age,” Célérier says. “The largest unreached people group in the entire world is those under the age of 30 years old—the Internet generation. There is a dying world, and we can reach it.”

A similar ministry, Global Media Outreach (GMO) says that last year 10 million people made a decision to follow Christ after logging on to one of its more than 100 Web sites. The simple, one-page sites present the gospel using the Four Spiritual Laws. “This is the Internet moment in human history,” says GMO founder Walt Wilson, a former Apple Computer executive and one-time senior vice president at Computer Sciences Corp. “We have the technology to reach every man, woman and child on the earth. We’re the first generation in all human history to have this capacity.”

Online evangelism is just one way Christians are embracing new technology to advance God’s kingdom. Here are several other inventions and innovations reshaping the way people experience the gospel:

1YouVersion.com

Hoping to encourage greater biblical literacy among the largest generation in modern history—the “net generation” born between 1980 and 1995—LifeChurch.tv created YouVersion.com, a personalized, interactive Bible. So far, 4.4 million users from more than 200 countries have downloaded the free online and mobile Bible.

In airports, subways, coffee shops, carpool lines and countless points between, individuals have spent more than 1.5 billion minutes reading the Bible on their mobile devices, including iPhones, BlackBerrys, Androids and Web-enabled phones. Each month, about 500,000 people download the Bible application for their mobile device.

“You can choose from 20 different reading plans to help you read through the Bible,” says Gruenewald, who is known as the “digerati” at LifeChurch. “What we’ve found by making the Bible freely available on mobile devices is that people’s engagement with Scripture has increased tremendously.”

One of the reasons the 18- to 29-year-olds in the millennial generation—and even the older generations—don’t read the Bible is because the book format isn’t conducive to engaging them in their daily lives, Gruenewald says. “I’ve heard statistics about how many Bibles are in the U.S. and how few people in the emerging generation are actually picking it up and reading it,” he says. “The challenge today is that people struggle to carry two devices with them—iPods and their mobile phones—let alone a large book.”

Among the church’s other technological innovations is BabelWith.me—a free online chat tool that enables people to communicate with anyone, anywhere in up to 45 languages. Gruenewald and senior pastor Craig Groeschel also write a leadership, technology and innovation blog, swerve.lifechurch.tv. The blog, which includes leadership tips, new ideas and community feedback, is read by more than 10,000 pastors and church leaders monthly.

In addition, a Web-based application, churchmetrics.com, helps churches make informed decisions to stay on track with their mission. More than 5,400 churches use it to keep tabs on attendance, giving, salvations and baptisms. And open.lifechurch.tv offers free weekend teaching videos, series graphics and artwork, small-group resources, church leadership materials, youth messages and children’s curriculum.

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