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For those of you who don’t get why, as a missionary, I “spend so much time on the Internet” each day here’s why; the last time I preached, there were probably upwards of 30 people in the room. I just checked my podcast’s stats, and basically, I “preached” 1400 times in the last week — which is another reason why pastors and church leaders need to put their messages online. The majority of the people I’m saying this to, and trying to convince to use the internet more, aren’t even on social media anyway.
Fire Press, which I’m not the only one who contributes to, gets an average of between 175-200 *unique* visitors per day. On a weekly basis complete strangers contact me or Dave Edwards to thank us for something they read that we wrote, or a podcast discussion they listened to. Or just to argue with us.
You do the math:
Spending months planning a crusade, advertising it and spending who knows how much money to get that many people exposed to a message one time in one location (which I’m NOT knocking, I’m just not personally called to do).
Or, spending a total of 6-8 hours discussing, recording, editing, publishing an mp3, and search engine optimizing it effectively, and leaving it on the web forever and gradually accumulating listeners who want to listen to it on purpose, and repeating the process a couple times a month. Oh, and eventually reaching the same quantity of potential listeners — just not all at once. Just because you can’t quantify my results the same way doesn’t mean there aren’t any.
It’s getting to the point also where getting your education online is much more doable than spending tens of thousands of dollars physically moving somewhere to go do it. So, can this work with discipleship?
Can you make disciples online?
Podcasting As a Tool
Podcasting is merely ONE of the things I do with my time on the Internet — besides doing web gigs to support myself on the mission field. However, I’d never say those 1400 people are followers or disciples of mine in some way. I don’t even know if people listened to just one file, hated it and will never come back for more. I’ll never know if someone’s mind or life was changed in any tangible way by something I produced, but enough people contact me on a regular basis, or add me on Facebook, and tell me that’s the case, that it makes this a worthwhile investment of my time, energy, and resources.
Statistically speaking, I know better than to believe I’m having that much impact and influence on everybody who may have checked it out. But it is undeniable that this is a great amount of potential reach. It’s more than if I were doing nothing at all. Likewise, don’t be fooled by a minister that says his TV show goes into over x number of millions of peoples homes. That just means he’s on a channel, and there are that many people who have subscribed to that television channel, not that there’s that many people watching his show!
But I digress.
The Internet As A Tool Not a Replacement
Now granted, the Internet is just a tool. Even though I’m a strong advocate of using it — and think missionaries are stupid if they don’t use social media or other aspects of the online world to communicate with the outside world, even if it’s just to let their supporters see what they do — I also don’t see the internet as being a 100% effective way of making disciples or mentoring someone. I could be wrong and am open to hearing examples of how it’s used this way.
I read a post by Miguel Labrador, missionary to Ecuador, who I have also met thanks to Twitter and Google+, but I’ve never met him in person (yet!). We comment on each other’s posts, and read each other’s content from time to time, but neither one of us would use terminology to describe our acquaintance with the other in a way that’s beyond the Internet — other than the fact we’re a part of the same Body of Christ, worldwide. Anyway, he asked on his blog if virtual community and virtual discipleship was at all possible, and I’ve been thinking about it in light of my new change of focus over the last six months in Peru.
Yes, the Internet is a tool that can help increase your sphere of influence, giving you more impact on others you don’t interact with in person. But let’s face it, you can’t really mentor or disciple people over Skype. It’s limited. I’m all for Google+ Hangouts for things like that, but ultimately, Jesus lived with his guys 24/7. He didn’t have weekly Skype chats.
What are your thoughts?