Chapter Six – Gathering in the Aquarium: Social Networks and Internet Evangelism
Leading experts have called the social network explosion the second phase of the Internet’s development. As I mentioned earlier, some of the leading social networks are among the twenty most popular Web sites in the world.
A social network is a Web site that provides a virtual community for people interested in a particular subject or a location to hang out together. Members create their own online profile with biographical data, pictures, likes, dislikes, and any other information they choose to post. They communicate with each other by voice, chat, instant message, video conference, and blogs. The social network typically provides a way for members to easily contact friends of other members.
During the past few years, social networking has exploded across the globe, confirming that this phenomenon is not just a fad. Social networks have now become central to the new Internet experience.
According to the Pew study on teens and social networks, 64 percent of online teenagers ages twelve to seventeen post content on social networks. The survey found that content creation is not only about sharing creative output, it is also about participating in conversations fueled by that content. Nearly half (47 percent) of online teens have posted photos where others can see them, and 89 percent of those teens who post photos say that people comment on the images at least “some of the time.”1
RelevantMagazine.com Managing Editor Jesse Carey says that young people are coming up with creative ways to use social networks to share their faith. “I think it’s an extension of how they communicate in general. For people who are really comfortable sharing their faith in normal situations, you can literally see it by going into their Facebook or their MySpace. A lot of times people can post files about themselves, have their quotes, or they can have worship songs playing. They can be very direct.”
Social networks are an exciting tool to aid NetCasters in reaching seekers online. Whether NetCasters are trying to organize an event, or get people together and spread a message, social networking can help make that happen.
South African Internet consultant Richard Helsby sees much promise in social networking. “It allows you to do evangelism by working within community. You’ve got people who are discussing and interacting. You can connect with groups of people you normally couldn’t connect with.”
What makes social networks effective for Internet evangelism is that conversations are taking place and relationships are being built. Someone may be attracted by a video or an article or some sort of felt need being met. Once they are in the social network, evangelism happens person-to-person as it does in real life
“Probably the most effective thing is when people move into other people’s communities,” Helsby explains, “which is exactly the same model as real life. So you’ve got these communities, and then you can dialogue and get to know people. That’s a long process, building those relationships and getting to know the people you’re interacting with.”
Typically, a person doesn’t stumble onto a social network or Internet evangelism site, look around, and in one day receive Christ. In most cases Internet evangelism is only one piece of all the things that God is using to touch their lives. It’s the same in real life. Most of those initiatives are effective because a friend is bringing a friend. So it comes down to relationships.
God works differently in each individual. It all depends on where a person is in the process of seeking truth. Somebody may be more intellectual, so maybe an apologetic site would lead her to Christ. Another person may be very relational, so a social network with chat or instant messaging may be the best way to reach him.
“God is the one who calls someone,” says Helsby. “But in most cases, it’s up to us to approach them and tell them the Good News. So now the Internet is just another way to do that.”
Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and Tangle
MySpace is only one of dozens of social networks that are letting people have a voice on the Web. Other sites include Facebook, Classmates, MSN Spaces, Xanga, Yahoo! 360, Flickr.com, Friendster, Bebo, Tagworld and many more. And now there are a myriad of Christian, filtered social networks like My.CBN.com, MeetFish, My Christian Space, MyPraize, and others. Teen Mania has created a filtered discipleship social network called MyBattleCry where young people can meet, interact, and keep track of their Bible reading and prayer life. Video social networks like YouTube and the Christian site Tangle have also become increasingly popular.
My local church in Chesapeake, Virginia, uses Tangle because it’s free and it doesn’t have the objectionable material you would find on YouTube. Our young-adult minister has been collecting video testimonies and posting them on Tangle and also on a Facebook testimony page.
Facebook has exploded in growth recently, in part because it has hundreds of free applications that are perfect for helping people to connect including chat, online conferences, short-play video, and detailed event invitations. Facebook also enables you to interconnect with different groups both locally and worldwide.
The selling points of Facebook include:
• It’s fast;
• It’s free;
• It’s viral;
• It has a plethora of tools and applications for connecting;
• It engages the younger generation.
Communication expert Cynthia Ware of thedigitalsanctuary.org shares ten simple steps to get you started in social networking:
1. Repent! Realize you’ve been apathetic or cynical about social media because, well, mainly because people put down what they don’t understand. Rethink; go another way.
2. Join Facebook. Signing up is easy and free. All you need is an e-mail address and a desire to build relationships.
3. Create your personal profile. This can be as simple or complex as you like. It can take as little as five minutes, or you can get wordy.
4. Invite your friends to add you. Searching for your friends is very easy, especially if someone you know has already added many of your acquaintances.
5. Join groups that reflect parts of you, your interests, profession, education, geographic area, etc. Anything you find interesting will connect you with others.
6. Feed your page. If you also blog, make sure you syndicate your content with RSS (a dialect of XML format) which for Facebook is easy to use. Try Blog Really Simple Syndication (RSS) Feed Reader.
7. Mingle on purpose. Remember you want to connect with friends but also stretch beyond the familiar.
8. Add events you think others might be interested in hearing about or attending. Anything counts—seminars, financial classes, scrapbooking parties, etc.
9. Create a group. The options are endless. I’ve seen unique examples including genealogy groups, reunion groups, memorial groups, etc.
10. Check your page at regular intervals. Use it or lose it. If you don’t check in and respond, people will lose interest in their ability to connect with you. Plus, your home page is where the news feed lives. It’s how you get current information on all the people you want to be connected with.2
Overcoming Hindrances to Social Network Evangelism
Richard Helsby is mindful that individual Christians must rise up to do the work of evangelism online. “You’ve got to overcome the obstacles that are preventing people from doing it, much like if you have a person sitting in the pew who doesn’t evangelize in the real world. It takes people out of their comfort zone a little bit. You’d have to model Internet evangelism for people so that they can see how it can take place. You can give an example of what happened in a discussion forum or in Second Life. You can give testimonies of what you did with your church. It’s important to give practical examples. People aren’t going to be aware of all the various methods available to them.
“‘How do I evangelize in Facebook?’ they may ask. What’s a subtle approach? Use this application on your profile and it will pop up this gospel presentation and it might get people interested. Show the steps to be able to do it—and be continually equipping and training others to do evangelism online.”
Helsby also points out the power of online video. “Creative clips that connect with people and reveal deeper truths hold tremendous potential. As certain clips are developed and created, they can be shared and put into spaces where you never know who might see them.”
But beyond video there must be the next step in the process. You might be able to draw seekers in with video. But there must be something beyond that, not only for evangelism but also for discipleship.
“Get those fundamentals and then start simple with what you can do,” says NetCaster John Edmiston. “If people don’t want to do all the Web pages and they don’t want to buy Dreamweaver, they may want to just go to a social networking site. Or if they’re a video kind of person, do short videos on YouTube—stuff that’s a little bit quirky and humorous. Make it tie in to a particular search. ‘Funny Video’ will bring up one hundred fifty thousand videos. But ‘Funny Video’ about something very specific that someone types in will attract people searching on the Web.
“One of the things with communities like MySpace is that we’re moving from the one-to-many, to the many-to-many,” Edmiston observes. “So someone says something, and someone else chimes in, and they all have a big discussion about it. With the postmodern distrust of a single point of authority, I think if you can get communities that can share Christ, it becomes the many-to-many interaction. That may be a very powerful form of evangelism for the postmoderns.”
Helsby sees the relational aspects of the Web 2.0 concept as vital for the future of Web evangelism. “Internet evangelism uses the power of community. How can we facilitate Christians to contribute to evangelism—and make it easy for them? How do we say, ‘OK, it’s not just the pastor now?’ How can I encourage them to be part of this movement? How can I leverage the network effect?
“We need to be thinking through strategies for enabling the masses to use the Internet for evangelism. I can create a MySpace profile and choose a Christian theme, maybe. The trend is in building applications for your profile. But how about applications that are evangelistic? What can I do that enables this person to do some kind of application that reaches out to other people, connects with friends, or in a nonthreatening way puts truth out there?
“Some could be fun. Some could be games or true-and-false questions. Who knows? You can get creative. When I add a photo on my Facebook profile, my friends are all told ‘Richard now has a new photo; go have a look.’ Now if I had an application, ‘Richard is taking the “Do You Know What Christianity Is?” course,’ all my friends are going to see that. Or make it more subtle: ‘Richard is taking “Do You Know Your Purpose for Living” course,’ and they click on that and say, ‘Oh, this is interesting.’”
The key is to enable each person with tools and applications to do Internet evangelism and to reach his friends by taking advantage of the network effect.
According to RelevantMagazine.com Managing Editor Jesse Carey, where the rubber meets the road in Internet evangelism is the willingness to be engaged in Internet relationships.
“It really comes down to basic stuff. Answer e-mails. Foster a community where if someone has questions they can get answers from someone. Whether you have to develop a MySpace group, a Facebook group, a network, or a message board, people are on the Internet for the content because they want to engage with it. That has to be knowingly fostered for it to work. This is especially true with evangelism, because there is so much followership—if you want to make it more than a conversion—if you want to really make a disciple.
“If they want something that they can be detached from, there are tons of things. They can read books. They can read a magazine. Or they can tune into a program. But if they want something that offers complete transparency—that they can interact with, that they can be a part of the community—then that’s when they’re going to plug in to something online, and that’s where online evangelism comes in.
“So I would say, know that it’s not just about the content, it’s about the community. If you’re putting this message out there, be ready for feedback. Be equipped to answer it. Or if you can’t personally answer it, be equipped to provide answers. The community is where everything happens.”
One of the more fascinating developments in social networking has been the creation of Second Life. Second Life is a 3-D virtual universe created and maintained by the member “residents” who join and create their own online personas through “avatars.” Debra Brown serves on the executive board of the Digital Evangelism Network. As her culminating project for her MDiv at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, Brown decided to create an evangelism-oriented church, Hope House, which is literally located in the clouds of Second Life.
Debra asked her son-in-law for ideas for her project and he suggested Second Life. “I asked, ‘What is Second Life?’ So he showed me online, and I said, ‘This is so cool. I can’t build this church, but will you help me with it?’ I showed him a picture of Calvary Church in Charlotte, and that just inspired him for this church in the clouds, with all the glass.
“I think the Second Life experience is really the next generation of Internet evangelism. A lot of the Internet evangelism that you have now is one way. It’s a post. It’s a Web site. It’s a video. It’s an MP3. I’m telling you something and you have no ability to respond to me.
“Chat rooms are a little less like that. But often in the chat rooms there are so many people and you can’t really get deep with them. So it’s more like talking at somebody. But with Second Life, it’s an interaction—it’s not static. So it’s not like you’re saying, ‘I have something I want to communicate with you, and you really need to have this. So here it is, and here are the four spiritual laws. Here’s the story of Jesus and you should listen to it.’ It’s not like that. It’s building online relationships.”
Second Life is another creative way that the church can empower the saints to do ministry online.
“On Second Life I have another property that someone donated to me,” Brown explains. “They said, ‘You’re doing some really neat things. I thought you could use this property.’ So I went shopping on Second Life and found a do-it-yourself building at an architecture store. I bought it with 400 Lindens, which is like nine bucks or something. I went to put it on the property—click this, click that, and the next thing you know I’ve got a building on a piece of property. And I’ll use that for a Christian resource center. I’m going to fill it with Bibles and T-shirts, things like that.
“I have monthly fees, because of the bandwidth I use. But I think it’s about twenty nine bucks a month for my presence on Second Life.”
The potential for ministry through Second Life and social networks like it is great because it’s fun, it’s different, and the average person in the average church can do it with very little investment and training.
“Actually, they can do it for free,” Brown says, “because they can just come and be a part of our congregation, or anyone’s ministry on Second Life. You can just go and hang out. Second Life is relational. You are meeting a person, and you get to know them. People are being saved all the time online.
“People see the pastor name over my head and they come into the church and are willing to chat with me. The thing that surprised me is that people look at that name—pastor—and it means something to them. They either get angry and start attacking Christianity, or they will engage in a conversation.
“The first question they ask me is, ‘Are you a R. L. pastor (a real-life pastor) or just Second Life?’ They are looking for my credentials. They want to know if they can trust me. They want to know if they tell me something, am I going to tell somebody else. They want to know if I’m going to give them some spiritual answer, because often I think they are hoping that I will. They want to make sure they can trust it.”
At Hope House Debra conducts Bible studies and preaches sermons. But the church is set up so that she doesn’t have to be there at all times. So a seeker can go into the church and can hear the gospel message. He can read it or download the sermon podcasts.
“My best ministry happens when I just go and sit in there and I deal with somebody one-on-one. Really, that’s when it happens. You have it a little bit when there is a group, and you have thirty avatars, and you preach, and they are saying, ‘Amen.’ Or I can hang out in there, do some work on the side, somebody comes along and I can touch their heart in a one-on-one conversation and they are changed. That’s a different kind of church.”
Christian Social Networks
John Sorensen is vice president at Evangelism Explosion and serves on the executive board of the Digital Evangelism Network. He recognizes that social networks are emerging as a significant way to reach young people with the gospel. Working with a focus group of young people in their teens and twenties, Sorensen created the XEE social network version of Evangelism Explosion for Generation X and Generation Y. This will be used as part of the training process for Evangelism Explosion (EE), because younger people tend to learn something, and then use the Web to learn more, dig deeper, and go further.
“Our plan is to build at least three elements within the XEE Web site,” Sorensen explains. “We’re going to have a testimony builder site that young Internet evangelists can use, not only to build their testimony, but then to share it with friends. We want to begin to include this as a big piece of who these young people are, so that they’re identified as having that testimony.
“The second thing is this incredibly rich Web site where they are talking about concepts in discussion groups within the class sessions themselves. They can go back on the Web and they can learn more about any of these areas. We won’t be covering them to the depth within the classes that we would have tried to do with adults before, because we know they’ll learn more, and they’ll add more, and they’ll get more on the Web.
“Then the third element is we’re going to actually try to create a community where mentoring can happen. Within that will be how to witness, and how to go further with that training. So there are really those three pieces that we’re going to make sure that this XEE Web site has.”
Dr. Sterling Huston serves on the board of Evangelism Explosion and has also expressed enthusiasm for this new XEE initiative. “It was created by consulting with a lot of Gen-X-ers around Europe and from other developing nations. You should hear the enthusiasm of these people in this age group who are saying, ‘I have a way now to begin conversations with people in my group who I feel totally comfortable with. It has opened up new communication with my family, with my friends, with those I meet at Starbucks, wherever it might be.’
“This is the kind of tool that new generations are going to feel very comfortable with—they won’t be apologizing for. If they have a heart to share their faith, it gives them a door opener and conversation starter to do that.”
Rather than building a social network around XEE, Evangelism Explosion plans to integrate into other social networks like Facebook or the Christian site MeetFish.
“We adults use the Internet as a tool,” Sorensen explains, “sending e-mail, Web browsing to look at news, and things such as that. Kids live on the Web. There was a recent news story of kids in today’s world, and we’re talking age fifteen and under. They will instant message somebody else sitting in the same room rather than have a face-to-face conversation.
“I’ll walk into my son’s room in the evening, and he’ll have ten instant messages open at one time. One of them is an audio session, and he’s talking with a friend who has moved away. Then he’ll have nine others open, and he met these kids through playing an online game. He got to know them, they instant message, and they talk about all kinds of things. That’s the world that we live in today.
“I’m excited about XEE,” says Sorensen. “But I’m more excited about the change it represents in creativity for the ministry of Evangelism Explosion. We’re going to release it to the world. And I hope and pray that we get thousands and thousands of kids worldwide who are ready to share their faith.”
Diving In to the Social Network Community
The key for you, as you consider answering God’s call to be a NetCaster for Christ through social networks, is to begin at the beginning.
“To start with, that person needs to just take the dive,” says Johnnie Gnanamanickam of CBN.com. “Get a Facebook account. If you’re scared of MySpace, OK, leave MySpace alone. But at least get a Facebook account. Start adding contacts. Dive in, figure out how it works, and start living there.
“Get a mobile device that has Internet access. I highly recommend an unlimited data access plan so you can get in there and see what you can do. Get familiar, get comfortable. Start not only connecting with people you know and have known, but look for opportunities to network, reach out, and grow that list.
“Start getting comfortable with building relationships online.”
It’s probably more powerful to do this as a team. Gnanamanickam suggests gathering a team of people together, setting up a group, and feeding off one another. Everybody brings their strength to the table. Somebody might be strong in video, somebody might be a writer, somebody else might be technical. Use your team to talk about your special interests or hobbies, to connect with other people. Regardless of a person’s religious beliefs, this kind of affinity outreach gives people a place to start talking. Whatever your interests may be, add them to your MySpace or Facebook account. Start blogs on the stuff that you do that other people would be interested in reading.
For organizations wanting to do Internet evangelism, Gnanamanickam suggests that they concentrate on building tools. “On Facebook, for instance, there’s a lack of evangelistic or Christian applications. For organizations and churches that can do it, I’d say focus on building applications that you and other Christians can use.”
“You now have the potential, if you can build it, to create an international community of young Christians, multi-languages, who are dialoging and who are getting introduced to the gospel through music or video, and then are being discipled and helped to grow and live it out,” says South African Internet evangelist Richard Helsby who works with One Cubed, a Christian music and culture television show. “I can’t go to all of those countries. I can’t connect to all those folks. But now we have the ability to network all of them together, to enable them to encourage one another. It’s still got to be built—but the potential is there. There’s no reason it can’t be done.
“This Internet trend of community is amazing, because that’s a key component of Christianity. I’d say that Internet evangelism has huge potential. But I would say we need to figure out a way to enable Christians to use it and be effective in it. We need to equip and enable, make it easy, get them to understand it and move into those places.”
Helsby stresses the need to point people to the local church once you’ve witnessed to them online. “Don’t separate it from your relational, one-on-one, face-to-face evangelism. I’d say that we’ve, as a whole, given over our responsibility to these media—these tools. ‘I don’t need to speak to my neighbor; they can watch the Christian TV show—they can read that book. I don’t need to speak to my neighbor; they can go online.’ We’ve given it over to a tool, but a tool is not a person. I think we have generally handed over our responsibility. ‘The televangelist will preach the message. I don’t preach the message.’ But we’re all called to do it.
“So if that can become a key thought, that my Christianity means I share my faith with everyone around me, no matter what the means, I think that needs to be addressed. Internet evangelism shouldn’t be seen in isolation. It needs to be part of a bigger picture and a bigger strategy.”
NetCaster Tony Whittaker believes social networking is an ideal way to evangelize online. “Many Web sites, on almost every subject you can think of, offer blogs, bulletin/message boards, or e-mail discussion lists where you can build relationships with others. YahooAnswers is a ready-made opportunity too (http://answers.yahoo.com). Build relationships within your own areas of interest.”
Twitter and Microblogging
The latest phenomenon to flood the Internet is Twitter, a Web site and service that allows users to send short text messages—up to 140 characters in length—from their cell phones or computers to a group of people. Twitter was launched in 2006 and quickly gained popularity. It was designed as a quick and easy way to keep friends and colleagues informed about one’s daily activities.
But very soon Twitter started being used by celebrities, politicians, ministries, and other companies as a way of telling their followers what’s new. Twitter messages—also known as “tweets”—are only distributed to people who have elected to become followers. Messages can also be sent via instant messaging, the Twitter Web site, or a third-party Twitter application.
You can connect Twitter to your Facebook or MySpace account so that they can be updated when you “tweet.”
Twitter allows for “mobile blogging,” which is the process of updating a blog from a cell phone or other digital device, and immediately sends the updates to followers. This allows a person, company, or ministry to have what is called a “microblog.” A microblog contains brief entries about the daily activities of that individual or company to keep friends, customers, or colleagues up-to-date.
Small images may be included in a microblog, along with short audio and video clips. Several Web services like Twitter exist, including some that send text messages to several people at once. Other microsites use a concept similar to Twitter but combine the microblogging facilities with file sharing or other features. Other microblog sites provide similar options inside a closed network used by corporations, ministries, nonprofits, or universities.
In April 2009, Hollywood actor Ashton Kutcher beat out CNN to become first to have more than a million followers on Twitter. “We now live in an age in media that a single voice can have as much power and relevance on the Web, that is, as an entire media network,” Kutcher said on Larry King Live. Kutcher also acknowledged that while he was able to get so many followers because he is well known, he was trying to show that anyone can have a voice and let their story be told.
“I think it’s really important that Twitter is not about celebrities. It’s not a platform for celebrities,” he said. “In all these interviews and things, it’s been celebrity—you know, people who have been on TV. It’s really about everyday people having a voice. And I don’t want it to be dwarfed by celebrity.”
The same week Oprah Winfrey sent her first “tweet” to the seventy-five thousand people who had signed up to follow her. “HI TWITTERS. THANK YOU FOR A WARM WELCOME. FEELING REALLY 21st CENTURY.” By the end of that day, her followers were more than one hundred thousand.
Caroline McCarthy, who writes a CNET News blog about social media, told CNN, “The power of Twitter is about the millions of people using it and how easily it is to filter and aggregate their thoughts and conversations.”3
Dave Winer pioneered the development of blogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, and Web content management software. He describes the advantages of Twitter on his Web site, Scripting.com:
1. It’s a network of users, with one kind of relationship: following. I can follow you, and you can follow me. Or I can follow you and you don’t follow me. Or you can follow me, and I don’t follow you. Or neither of us follow each other. Pretty simple. Just arrows at either or both ends of the line, or no line at all.
2. It’s a micro-blogging system. Posts are limited to 140 characters. Enough for a bit of text and a link. This is a powerful idea, but not a new one. If you read Scripting News before February of this year, it was partially a micro-blogging system. When it started in April 1997, it was all micro-blogging. The earliest Web sites, from TBL, NCSA, and Netscape were also micro-blogging systems.
3. A relatively open identity system. I’ve said it before, Twitter or something like it, could be the holy grail of open identity. . . . Twitter, with it’s ultra-thin user interface, and light feature set, and simple API (more on that in a bit) and the nothing-to-lose attitude of its management, may be the breakthrough. Or it could be Facebook, with its much larger user base and a management that also likes to roll the dice. The key is lots of users, a growing user base, and an API with no dead-ends.
4. An ecosystem. . . . Compare it to Apple, who reserves for itself and a few partners, under terms we don’t know, the right to develop rich apps for the iPhone. Twitter takes the traditional PC industry approach, give everyone equal power, make it a level playing field and let the chips fall where they may. This means that if the people at Twitter miss an opportunity, the rest of us have a shot at providing it for ourselves and others.
So what do all these parts add up to? Users and relationships between users, their ideas, and an ecosystem. It’s probably the basis for some pretty hot apps. Will it be possible to monetize them? Without a doubt. People who say that Twitter hasn’t figured out how to make money don’t understand the role technology companies play in the much larger media and communication ecosystem. Ideas gestate here, grow up, find users, and then find customers.4
Web evangelist Tony Whittaker suggests these possible uses for Twitter in ministry: Apart from using it to network with friends and colleagues, there may be fruitful ways to use it more interactively in ministry. It seems unlikely to develop as a direct evangelistic tool, but rather one that builds and maintains existing relationships. Here are some possible directions to consider:
• In local TV—using it to receive questions from viewers.
• Sharing ongoing reaction to a shared event with friends. For example, a group of friends could arrange to Twitter their thoughts during a TV film or show. A group of students watching, for example, a set film relating to their course, could also interact in real time. This could be an opportunity to share any spiritual parallels they notice.
• It also works when people are in the same geographic location. For instance, attendees at a large seminar or meeting can Twitter their questions to the speaker, which has the advantage that other participants can view the questions (unlike when attendees send questions by text message or e-mail).
• For instant response help from friends, Twitter is useful. As well as urgent prayer requests, here is an example from a Christian geography teacher:
“The best tweet I sent ever was about six months ago I had to teach a geography cover lesson and Twitter-requested some pointers to water cycle animations on the Internet, just a couple before the lesson. I got two responses before it started and the best most helpful actually during the lesson!
Who to follow, and who to block (if they follow you). I adopted a range of strategies as I worked out how the network worked. Early on I ‘followed’ people who followed people who were evidently leaders. Now I tend to be interested if the other tweet is either a teacher or involved in Christian ministry, but like real life there are exceptions.”
So Twitter is yet another potential lure in the tackle box for the NetCaster to use to point people to a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Social Network Danger Zones
Social networks can be a great tool to do Internet evangelism because they provide a way for people to start a conversation. Unfortunately, what people say can be offensive and in some cases pretty shocking. Before beginning a ministry outreach through a social network like Second Life or MySpace, the NetCaster must first prayerfully consider the dangers involved. If the person is a new believer or has a particular weakness to certain sins, he may fall into temptations that are rampant on these sites.
“It’s not just a matter of who is able to get on the Internet,” John Sorensen cautions, “but who is able to get on the Internet and not fall into temptation. If a person has not dealt with that, then he shouldn’t get into Second Life.
“I took my son into Second Life and went to Calvary Chapel and started looking around. Then I visited buildings around it and that was the only day that I participated. The ‘Red Light District’ is everywhere in Second Life. There is open pornography everywhere you look.”
Safety Tips for Social Networks
While social networks offer tremendous opportunities for evangelism and ministry, they also can be very dangerous if not used properly. The Internet is the world’s biggest information exchange. Anyone can potentially see the information you post online, including employers (or potential employers), teachers, the police, and complete strangers, some of whom could be dangerous.
By providing information about yourself through blogs, chat rooms, e-mail, or instant messaging, you can communicate, either within a limited community or with the entire world. Social networking sites give you the ability to connect with people—but you want to avoid connecting with the wrong people.
Don’t post information about yourself online that you don’t want the whole world to know. While social networks can increase your circle of friends, they also can increase your exposure to people who have less-than-friendly motives.
Sadly, there are numerous stories of people who were stalked by someone they met online, who had their identity stolen, had their computer hacked, and worse. One tragic story demonstrates the potential dangers of sharing information on the Internet. In the late 1990s, a troubled young man named Liam Youens began stalking a fellow classmate, Amy Boyer. For several years he was obsessed with her from afar and online. She had no idea she was being stalked. Youens created a Web site dedicated to Boyer, chronicling his daily obsession about her.5
On October 15, 1999, Youens drove to Boyer’s workplace and fatally shot her as she left work. He then committed suicide.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has created a Web site with social networking safety tips: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/tech/tec14.shtm. TechMission also has a Web site called www.SafeFamilies.org with more suggested safety tips for using social networks.
The Bible encourages us to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. The NetCaster who wins souls through social networks is wise, but be sure to learn and follow basic online safety advice before you venture into this exciting ministry field.