Does technology play a part in people’s conversions? That was a question I sought to answer in my research. But finding answers to that question isn’t as simple as asking, “Did technology play a part in your conversion?” I wish you could have seen the puzzled looks the students gave when I asked that. The silent stares were as loud as shouts.
Even when I elaborated with, “Did you read anything on the Internet or interact with people through email or Facebook or have any conversations through texting?” they said very little.
I do think technology plays a large role in all of our lives today and that must have an effect in journeys to faith. But that’s not really saying much. I could just as easily say that words play a big part in people’s conversions. The students I talked to interact with each other in a wide variety of ways—through face-to face-conversations, phones, Facebook, texts, tweets, emails, and probably other ways that I don’t know about. Here’s the key: I don’t think they make any distinction between the different vehicles of communication.
Students would tell me they “talked to” someone, and when I asked if that was “in person” or “through technology,” they couldn’t remember. It didn’t matter to them, and I wonder if it should matter to us.
Lesson 9 – Technology plays a part in evangelism but not as big a part as some might think.
Some may suspect that technology has harmful “unintended consequences” like deteriorating attention spans or declining compassion or loss of social skills. That may be true, but I’m not as negative about technology as some people are. To be sure, there may be some loss of interpersonal connection or abilities to think deeply about complex issues. (Once again, I hide behind that favorite line of researchers: “My findings are inconclusive.”)
But I also heard from the students about how great it is that “I always have my Bible with me on my phone” or “I googled that question and found some really great answers” or “I didn’t have to wait until the next fellowship meeting to find out how Christianity compares with Islam. I just went online and found a ton about that topic.”
I know. The Internet is full of crazy stuff, too. But I’m still on the “pro” side of technology because of the large volume of answers, the ability to connect with others who have similar struggles, and the ease of doing research on very deep levels. Technology may erode attention spans, but I didn’t see much evidence for that when I talked for almost an hour with thoughtful students.
Tweets may limit statements to 140 characters, but I met a lot of students who wrestled deeply with difficult issues. “Facebook may be making us lonely” and “Google may be making us stoopid” but when students meet with each other in Bible studies or hear God’s word preached in church or at conferences, their minds kick into gear appropriately.
I do think all of us should “take a fast” from technology on a regular basis or develop the discipline to keep our phones in our pockets when having face-to-face conversations or evaluate if we’re spending too much time watching mind-numbing television or consider if we’re being shaped by immoral images or challenge ourselves to read more demanding books. But I’ll save those suggestions for another blog.
Randy Newman has been with the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ since 1980 and currently serves with Faculty Commons, their ministry to university professors. Randy is a Jewish Believer in Jesus and is the former editor of The Messiah-On-Campus Bulletin. He is the author of numerous articles and books including Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did and Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Family Members, Close Friends, and Others Who Know You Well.