The revival of churches in China over the past three decades can only be accounted through the favor of God's grace. During this time, the Chinese Church has already unconsciously adapted to the changes of the times which has helped in the development of the church. In an era that is completely networked by the development of a model like Internet+, can the church continue to adapt? How will Chinese Churches continue?
I will try to talk about the feasibility and adaptability of the Internet+ Church Pastoring with regards to the characteristics of the Internet age.
1. What is "Internet+?"
Internet+ is a practical methodology formed by the evolution of economics that has now grown into a new industry of its own given the development of the network platform. It is adding the Internet to each traditional industry. However, it is not such a simple addition, it needs the use of Internet thinking , technology, facilities and tools to provide a newer and more convenient platform for any traditional industry. This methodology fuses the old and the new which means that traditional industries are no longer strictly separate entities from the Internet but now attached to it as well.
For example, when people used to go out to shop for an item, it is called retail. There is such a thing as getting items at a wholesale price, buying an entire batch of items at a lower cost per piece. However, what if there is no need for all those items? The Internet helps provide a platform for tens of thousands of customers who need a single product in order to buy at the wholesale price.
What's more, the Internet provides all the product information and then delivers the goods to you. There is no need to meet the seller face-to-face, providing a reduction of time wasted, compressing the cost of sales and manufacturing. The Internet also provides a new kind of information and sales platform. For example, it was normal to wait for a taxi outside. Now, through the Internet, we are able to sell our own car as a means of transportation via Uber. A customer inputs his location and destination on Uber and if we match, we are able to give you a ride for free, you pay Uber, and Uber transfers the payment to us.
The concept of "Internet+" can be traced back as early as November 2012 by Yu Yang, a speaker in Guanyi's fifth mobile Internet Exposition. Back then, Yu thought that in the future, the "Internet+" formula should be our own industry products and services.
On March 5, 2015, during the 12th National People's Congress meeting, Prime Minister Li Kegiang presented the "Internet+" plan three times in his government work report. Li proposed an "Internet+ plan, in order to promote the combination of mobile Internet, cloud computing, big data, and the Internet of Things to modern manufacturing industries in order to promote the development of e-commerce, industrial Internet, and Internet financial guide. This is to guide Internet companies to expand in the international market.
On July 4, 2015, Prime Minister Li also endorsed the "Guidance for Promoting the Internet+ Plan," which was issued by the state council recently so as to determine the direction of China's economic development. The technical and thinking patterns of this revolution of the Internet+ plan will surely affect our way of life in all fields, most particularly in the development of Christianity in China.
2. The "Internet+" Concept and Its Impact to the Christian Era
"Internet+" is not only a technical term but also a state of mind that can possibly overturn the traditional business model and people's way of life. For example, in the past, mobile phones were mostly used to make calls, now everyone can use a mobile phone for instant messaging Apps for voice, text, and even video communications. The birth of instant messaging Apps such as WeChat, WhatsApp, QQ, Facebook, etc., will definitely affect the monopoly of traditional telecommunication operators. In terms of traffic and transportation, even if apps such as Uber, Lyft, Didi Taxi, and Kuaidi Taxi are under legal fire, they will still affect the traditional patterns of the taxi industry.
"Internet+" is not only a technical innovation but a revolution of thinking and living. It is not exclusive to the scientific community but also relates to the national economy and the people's livelihoods. For example, the addition of media products in the media network, the addition of entertainment products such as online games, and addition of odd retail products via e-commerce.
But how is this related to Christian life? The Christian faith, to an individual, is the basis of life and their way of thinking, therefore it is bound to have a huge impact on the development and care of the Christian Church.
Let us talk briefly about the positive effects of the Internet for the Christian Church:
i. Convenient methods of transmitting and transporting information
The Internet provides the pastoral zone with more choices in terms of routes when sharing the Word of God. Traditionally, Christians basically rely on Sunday worship and sermons or your weekly Bible Study Group. But now, the Internet is a tool that can be used to teach, link, and transport new information about the Word of God.
ii. Flexibility in the face of institutional challenges
Traditionally, churches are considered the center of religious activities. However, in the modern age, the Internet+ can provide an alternate system to the traditional church setting.
iii. Increased vitality of the chruch through network free frashion
With the dawn of the Internet and the mode of thinking that Internet+ provides, there is higher chance for creation of new ideas in the church which may increase the congregation's vitatlity.
iv. Possibility of cross-regional or sectarian communication with cross-cultural mission
In history, with Rome's convenient transportation system and Greece's excellent cultural traditions, the early church missions of Jesus's disciples grew with the spirit of faith. Similarly, the church that uses Internet+ can reach out to a wider audience, making cross-regional and sectarian communication as well as cross-cultural missions possible.
Internet+ has a positive significance to the development of Christianity, but with the times changing quite fast, the age of the Internet can provide quite a shock for many Christians. There are negative impacts of the Internet as well:
i. Traditional churches may find it difficult to adapt to the internet
Throughout history, Christianity has played leadership over the trends of social ethics, but in the past few decades, Chinese Christians are made out of puff when it comes to applications in modern science, technology, or new ideas because they see it as vulgar or these Chinese Christians seem conservative. Therefore, the church may not be ready to change its ways and thinking into the new Internet+ church care. As a result, many churches lose opportunities which may result in church populations shrinking. It is estimated that China will also have many churches who will close because of failures in self care.
ii. Postmodernism GuiBianShui undermines traditional Christian faith and promotes the doctrines of the Internet age
With such social thoughts such as liberalism, utilitarianism, pragmatism, agnosticism, people are starting to doubt the necessity of faith, making a person lose interest in this Christian beliefs. At the same time, because of postmodernism, people are seeking a new way of teaching, a different way to interpret all aspects of universal doubt, making it difficult to preach the Gospel to atheists and people who doubt the existence of God.
iii. The network can be used by heretical ideas to defame the traditional concept of Christian faith
No matter how you look at it, either from a historical or reality point of view, heresy has more appeal to the masses than the orthodox church. Plus, their application of science and technology is more prominent than that of traditional evangelical churches. Therefore, heretical ideas can use the Internet to defame the traditional concept of the Christain faith.
iv. Fellowship activities can be disrupted
The development of the church is based on real relationships. The more people are accustomed to the idea of the internet and virtual reality, the more these fellowship activities can be interrupted. At the same time, the more science and technology develops more advanced tools, the busier and more fickle people will be, leading the Internet to be the biggest temptation and addiction to distract them from the peace to seek God.
3. Choices of the Chinese Church in the Era of "Internet+"
i. Speed up development of light media
The age of the Internet opens a big opportunity for the church but also poses a challenge. The church, first and foremost, must have adapt the Internet way of thinking and take the Internet as a means and a tool for preaching the Gospel. The Internet is a neutral space, if used properly, it can be a vessel of blessings or a tool for destruction. Therefore the church must speed up the development of light media to make full use of the Internet platform and its available resources to explain the Christian belief in a whole new way.
ii. Reinforce Internet thinking and technology education
In the seminary, it should only be teaching traditional theology but also modern ways to inform students on how to develop Internet thinking and use its technologies. Traditional theology educates in ideas of The Times while modern theology gives a person the ability to adapt to the ever-changing technological environment.
iii. Establish the church as a family atmosphere, offering it as a home for the soul of the "drifting generation
The bigger the rift between virtual reality and physical reality, the more there is a need for the idea of "home." Churches in the future, whethere huge or small, need to give off the atmosphere of a warm welcoming family to draw in people who are on the edge and feel isolated due to the new internet generation. The Internet is a great tool for missions and evangelism but churches should be careful to still provide and care for the needs of people for real relationship. Of course, Internet+ can help establish these relationships.
iv. Set up an information platfrm to provide a full range of services for followers
Because the modern church has broken traditional geographical boundaries, their churchgoers need to feel the church's sense of commitment toweards them. The Church, therefore, needs to establish a network traffic communication platform that integrates the resources of the church simultaneously in order to establish upkeep of follower fellowship.
v. The informatization of the church will be the development trend in the future
With every country's urbanization processes, rural churches have started to atrophy. The Church needs to develop consciousness of the Internet, develop the Internet+shepherd idea, and adapt to the mode of economic management of the country. This will take more dedication in the form of Internet transfers or contact cards, expanding from a pastor's simple door-to-door visit up to using the Internet as a means to check in with his church members.
vi. Churches need to develop their own personality
The church can now be considered a care platform for believers. This care platform will develop into the Internet+herdsmen form. As a result, the church develops its own personality which fully displays its unique selling point that can be shared via the Internet.
At the current age of the Internet, the Internet+pastoring and the Internet+management, we no longer provide services for all believers through just one church and one believer cannot be fixed in simply in just a bunch of pastoral areas, either. Our pastoral areas have transformed from the physical region to the digital cyberspace of the internet network. But we can put believers' services on the Internet and still continue to play a big role in the network. In which case, the Internet+church is no longer and individual church but a connection point in a large church formation and service platform.