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EL CAJON, Calif. (BP) -- A century ago, the average person's social network probably consisted of less than 50 family, neighbors, church members and co-workers.
Today, your social network can consist of hundreds, even thousands, of people. They can live anywhere in the world, speak a different native language, and be of a different religion. The only thread that ties you together is a similar interest in, well, anything -- or nothing at all! Your network might consist of "friends" -- a friend of a friend of a friend as well as people who actually are your close friends. You rarely communicate face-to-face; you do it all digitally via social networking sites.The Need to Connect Socially
I believe online social networks were a phenomenon waiting to happen. In the first decade of widespread personal computer use (the 1990s), relationships suffered as people isolated themselves in front of a computer screen and surfed the Web. Just in time, social networking turned an inherently isolating tool, the computer, into a vehicle for reestablishing and widening our relationships -- our social networks.
We've come out of our digital shells and are manifesting our God-given social capacities in a new, networking sort of way. To that end, networks are good things.The Need to Communicate Seriously
Much of what gets shared on some social networking sites can be less than profound. With the wheat comes the chaff in any new endeavor. As Christians, our goal is to recognize the potential for good that social networking technology presents -- new opportunities for serious communication about spiritually important matters.
The most important, of course, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Think what a difference 2,000 years has made! Jesus and John the Baptist proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom of God by voice at first, and the early apostles and evangelists did the same, one sermon at a time. By the end of the first century, the four Gospels, Acts, Revelation and the Epistles had been written and were being copied and distributed by hand. By the fourth century, the Old and New Testaments had been codified and bound together as "Bibles"; they were hand-copied and painstakingly distributed for the next thousand years.
Then came a revolution as world-changing as the Internet. Around 1440, Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in Germany and produced copies of the Bible. For the last 500 years, the Bible has been the most printed and widely sold and distributed book in history. With modern media -- radio, television, magazines, video and audio -- ways of spreading the Gospel and Bible teaching have multiplied. But the barrier to further expansion has always been the cost. Social networking has presented a new opportunity for organizations and individuals alike to inexpensively extend the Kingdom of God.The Network for Communicating Spiritually
There are many ways for individuals to make an impact for Christ through social networking. Using sites like Facebook and Twitter, you can let your social network know about answers to prayer, Bible study insights or a book that has impacted your life. It's like having a digital conversation with your closest friends!
And here's the most amazing part of social networking: Through the Web's search engines, your social network will grow and your impact will spread. Your words will find a listening ear somewhere in cyberspace.
A word of caution: The Internet is the world; you must be careful to protect your privacy -- and especially that of your children -- when networking. But with appropriate boundaries and screening, your social network can become a source of information, encouragement and spiritual discernment, a source of wheat in a world filled with chaff.
Social networking has exploded because people are longing for ways to connect. If your life is centered on Jesus Christ and the Word of God, every person you touch, whether in person or via a digital social network, will be changed for the better. We should be building the strongest social networks we can -- both the traditional, face-to-face variety and the newfangled digital variety.
The apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:22, "I have become all things to all men that I might by all means save some." Let's use every means possible to share Jesus Christ in our needy world.
Turning Point's social media addresses are: http://www.facebook.com/drdavidjeremiah; http://twitter.com/davidjeremiah; http://twitter.com/turningpoint82. David Jeremiah is the founder and host of Turning Point for God and pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif. For more information on Turning Point, visit www.DavidJeremiah.org. This column has been approved by Turning Point for redistribution in Baptist state newspapers; for other reprint requests, contact Myrna Davis at email@example.com.