In 1992, Andrew Grove, then CEO of the tech giant Intel, was quoted by The New York Times as saying that the idea of a “wireless personal communicator” in every pocket was “a pipe dream driven by greed.” As I write this article, I have a “wireless personal communicator” in my pocket, and you may be using yours to read this article. If not, you likely have one nearby. Andrew Grove was proven wrong. Ironically, insiders in the technology sector, like PCWorld, predict that your next cell phone will likely be powered by an Intel chip. It is safe to say that Intel now believes in the pipe dream.
The head of one of the biggest technology companies in the world could not see the potential of cell phones – devices that are now a part of ordinary life for most of the world. This is just one example of the human proclivity to reject new technologies, even when those technologies could improve our lives. Today, many in the church have not bought into TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and other social media platforms despite their overwhelming popularity among younger generations. Christian adults that engage with social media are often primarily concerned about how to keep young people safe while online. Yes, there are elements of social media that should cause us concern, and we need to help our young people make wise decisions while in cyberspace. However, might we be missing the bigger picture? Perhaps social media can be a valuable resource in sharing the love of Christ and the good news of his kingdom.
Before we go any further, I am not advocating for Christian adults to take to TikTok with evangelism pitches and moral messages for young people. That would likely only result in young people migrating in droves to another platform. Instead, what if we equipped our young people to understand mission and how to genuinely share their faith through relationship? Most young people are attracted to social media because they are looking to connect with others. Perhaps we can work with the younger generations and support them in talking about Jesus in their own language (technology is a language) as the Holy Spirit creates opportunities. This starts with being genuinely curious about how and why your young people use social media. Then, after spending some time getting to understand mission (I would suggest reading Surprise the World by Michael Frost or Flesh by Hugh Halter), brainstorm with them the best ways to engage their neighbors on social media. Of course, you should discuss how to be wise and safe online, but do so while putting more of an emphasis on being a blessing to those in need of light and hope.
I believe Paul would be on board with this approach. He wrote:
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NIV)
Like Paul, let us use every tool we can to share the good news about Jesus Christ. Social media can be used to harm others, but it can also be used to spread life. Jesus is at work all around us. I have to believe that he is at work on social media too. Given the influence of social media, your young people may turn out to be the most effective evangelists in your congregation!
Dishon Mills, Generations Ministry Coordinator