As I have mentioned several times this year, I am on half-sabbatical through the end of 2010. The key project I am working on during this time is the writing of a book of the use of the Internet and social media for ministry. The book will be based on the research and experiences I have had over the last four years as I have spent much of my time focusing on Internet ministry.
I am not writing the book as a “how to” book that tells you how to create a website or Facebook page. Instead, I am aiming for a higher road: this book will talk about a philosophy (or dare I say a theology) of using the Internet for ministry. Â It will cover strategy and planning. Â The primary audience for the book will be anyone who wants to use the Internet or social media for ministry. It will give them an introduction to how to think and plan for doing so. Even those who already have an online presence will get value from this book as it makes them think deeper and differently about the Internet.
I also have another audience: students. This will be the primary textbook for the course I am teaching this summer. I hope to teach this course regularly, possibly every summer. I am also looking into to developing a certificate level program in online ministry, for which this book would be a text as well.
After a couple of months working on it, the book is starting to take shape. From time-to-time, I will begin sharing parts of what I am writing on this blog, with the hope that I can get some feedback on what I am putting in the book. Today is the first such post! Â So, please, if you have a comment on what I am putting together, post it.
Oh, and the name of the book? God in the Tubes: Using the Internet and Social Media for Ministry. At least that is the working title for now.
What is the Internet? As I approach this subject in my information systems courses, I ask my students this question. “We all understand what we mean by the Internet, ” Â I say, “but can you actually define it?” At this point, Â I usually get a lot of blank stares. Finally someone will offer up “web sites” and someone else will add “a network to connect computers.” Â How about you? How would you define “the Internet”?
On June 28, 2006, in the US Senate, Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), was debating a bill in the Senate regarding regulation of the Internet. Â In his speech, he described the Internet this way:
“They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the Internet. And again, the Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes. And if you don’t understand, those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it’s going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.”
Senator Stevens’ “series of tubes” remarks has been widely repeated and mocked for its lack of understanding of how the Internet actually works. Â His description of the Internet has become a running joke even to this day. Google refers to one of its products (called “Google Gears”) as the “gears that power the tubes.” Â (note to blog readers, you can hear this speech via YouTube here).
Initially, the Internet was developed as a computer networking platform that enabled computers to communicate. But that definition is no longer enough. Now that the Internet can be accessed on mobile devices, automobiles, and through your television, we have to expand this definition to go beyond computers.
So, what is the Internet? Simply put, the Internet is a platform for enabling communications and applications over a digital network. I know that is not the official, technical definition, but it is what the Internet has become today and it is the one we will be using in this book as we work to understand how to best utilize it for ministry.
Though it was originally designed to enable computer communications, the real power of the Internet began to emerge when it allowed person-to-person communication.Â The first sign that this was going to be the case was with the invention of electronic mail, or E-mail. Â When this “simple hack” was first released in 1971 by Ray Tomlinson, it took over the Internet (called ARPANet in those days). Â The engineers and academics who put the ARPANet together could not believe it! Â Email quickly became the most popular use of this new technology; it was the “killer app” that drove its growth beyond just scientific use and started its use mainstream.
Over the next four decades, we have seen the same pattern hold true: Â Internet technologies that connect people together have driven the use of the Internet and associated technologies to new levels. Â From instant messaging to Skype to MySpace, this has continued to be the case. As of the time of this writing, in fact, we are seeing the explosion in users of Facebook, the latest Internet application that allows people to connect.
It is this powerful ability to connect people, then, that should draw us as Christ-followers to the Internet. Â It is all about relationships. And that is what makes the Internet so powerful for ministry. Â We need to understand that the Internet should first and foremost be about creating relationships: relationships between individuals, relationships between groups of people, and relationships between God and man.
So, there it is, the opening to my book. Thoughts?