BY THE BILLIONS, people are searching. They’re searching for love. They’re searching for answers. They’re searching for help. Across every demographic barrier imaginable, people are searching. They’re searching because they aren’t content with life and are desperate to find something that’s missing. They think they’ll know it when they find it, but in the meantime, they’ll keep on searching.
This is actually very good news for those of us who want to reach new people with the life-giving Gospel of Jesus because we (should) feel like what we have to offer is such a transformational game-changer, we want everyone to find it. The problem is, though, we aren’t providing real answers or solutions where hundreds of millions (maybe billions) of people are looking for them: online.
With a few very rare exceptions, in order for people to bump into our church website online, they have to be looking for a church. Can we have a wake-up call for a minute?
When someone is contemplating suicide and searches online for help, or …
When a kid is being bullied at school and wants answers, or …
When a man is struggling with addiction to pornography, or …
A college co-ed feels all alone in a brand new city, or …
A spouse is inches away from checking out of the marriage …
Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely any of the following words are going to pop into their minds:
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When people are in a bind and need some support in life, they just don’t type in the search words that are going to bring them to your church website. Period. Heck, when people search for answers to tough biblical questions, they don’t even make it to our church websites, so they aren’t even in the ballpark when they start searching for anything remotely related to drugs or sex or guns or porn.
Elementary school kids are learning how to hang themselves with sheets and extension cords in the privacy of their bedrooms—and actually doing it. Husbands and wives are learning how to have an affair and not get caught. College students are learning the latest cheating methods from detailed videos on YouTube in order to pass their final exams.
This content is loud. It’s clear. It’s simple. It’s instructive—and it’s meeting a very real demand out there. Ignoring it is ignorant and we, as leaders of this and future generations, have two ways to respond.
It’s all about supply and demand.
We can supply superior, compelling Internet content that purposefully competes against the dangerous and destructive content already out there. Our story is better. Our solutions last longer. Our God is stronger. In essence, we can see this action as a contemporary way of feeding the hungry.
If our mission is to find hurts and heal them, we’re going to have to be present where hurting people live online—and it’s not your wonderful church website.
When an 11-year-old boy searches the ‘net for how to commit suicide, our compelling content has to come up first (and second and third and fourth, for that matter). It has to arrest his attention and provide him with alternatives. A cheesily designed ad for your church picnic is not good enough.
While competing with the supply of compelling but destructive content is necessary, nothing works better than ruining the demand for it in the first place. This mission won’t be easy and will require some serious strategic planning and vision-mapping if we are to effectively lessen or eliminate the demand for poison on the Internet, but not trying at all shouldn’t be an option.
In essence, this step is not feeding the hungry, but communicating to the hungry that what they are thirsting or hungering after is nothing compared to God. Relaying to people they need something they may not know they need is not an easy task, but it’s what the Church is called to do.
Here are a few ideas to connect with hurting people online—please use them!
Record and post YouTube videos with shocking titles like “How to Roll a Joint,” “How to Kill Yourself,” “How to Get a Cheap Divorce,” but offer people real support and prayer right then and there on the videos. Point them to better solutions and other resources.
Search real-time results of what people are saying on Twitter at Search.Twitter.com, and write thoughtful prayers and replies to them. When people make statements online about drugs, sex, violence, suicide, etc., they are reaching out for help. Help them.
Create simple micro-sites (simple one- to three-page websites with highly focused content) that tackle real problems people are searching for answers to, such as “How to Get a Divorce” or any other problem you are particularly passionate about addressing.
Write about controversial topics and issues people are searching for answers to on your blog. It’s great to write about churchy stuff, but mix it up every now and then by imagining what some non-churchy people may be really blessed to read and hear from you. Then write and title it in a way that will make it come up in the search engines.
While it’s true some men and women with great needs sought Jesus out and found Him, it’s doubly true Jesus regularly encountered people where they were in life (at the well, on the job, in a funeral) and left them forever changed. Online (and off), let’s do the same!
This article originally appeared in Neue magazine.