The Christian Church has been at the forefront of new technologies throughout our glorious history. We used Gutenberg's printing press to print the Bible. Not only was Gutenberg's Bible the first one printed with movable type, it was the first book of any kind printed by that method. Where would we be today without printed Bibles, hymnals, Sunday School literature, etc.? The Church has also used radio, television, audiotapes, and videotapes for broadcasting the Good News. Can you imagine evangelizing without these? Now, the Church is using computers and the Internet for spreading the Word and ministering to people.
I want to take a little space in each issue of this magazine to write about ways I think we - the Church - can use emergent digital technologies, like computers and the Internet, in our local and world wide ministries. Of course, we won't stop conducting worship services, mission projects, and evangelistic crusades to further the Kingdom of Christ because of the Internet. Instead, we will magnify our efforts in these areas through the use of these new technologies just as our ancestors did with the technologies available to them in their time. Therefore, without further ado, I will launch this new series with the topic of turning our local churches into community Internet centers for those who are still unable to afford their own computer.
So, how would a local church initiate such a program? Even the smallest-sized congregation can implement this ministry with a "hand-me-down" machine that one of its wealthier members, or someone in the local community, wishes to donate because s/he has bought a newer model. If you can acquire more than one computer, wonderful! If not, take whatever you can get. In fact, make it a matter of prayer to seek God's blessing in this. I frequently quote - albeit, out of context, perhaps - the words of the Apostle James, "You do not have, because you do not ask God" (James 4:2c NIV). Pray earnestly for God's intervention in your need.
Once you obtain your computer, set it up in a room, such as the library, where you can connect it to a telephone or cable line. If your church doesn't already have a library with either of these, now's the time to install it.
Before you begin using a pre-owned computer, however, you will want to clean off any undesirable remnants that may remain from its previous owner. It's a good idea to run scanning software to check for and eliminate offensive files and/or spyware that may exist on it. Snitch (http://www.hyperdynesoftware.com/) and Content Cleanup (http://www.contentwatch.com/) are two effective programs that scan for and remove objectionable content from computers. However, you will still need to verify that what they find is indeed something you want removed and not a harmless use of an often misused word, such as sex or adult.
Spybot Search and Destroy (http://security.kolla.de/) and Ad Aware 6.0 (http://www.lavasoft.de) are two excellent programs for removing spyware, i.e., cookies or other hidden programs which report to their companies about your Internet browsing and buying habits so they can target you for commercial offers. In fact, it's a good idea to run these programs on a daily basis, unless you like getting all those offers.
Next, ask everyone you know for software donations that will educate and reinforce both Christian and general learning. You can also obtain gobs of freeware programs from places like Completely Free Software (http://www.completelyfreesoftware.com) and Parson Place (http://www.parsonplace.com).
Set a day, or a few days, of each week that the church computer(s) will be available. Invite the surrounding community to come take advantage of this public service, especially if your church is located in an inner city or other typically low-income area. The summer months, while kids are out of school, is a fabulous time to begin this outreach, but it is just as beneficial, if not more so, during the school term for after-school programs. Just be sure you have adequate adult supervision at all times.
The possibilities are seemingly endless for how you could share the hope of Christ with children, teens, and perhaps even some adults who don't yet have computer access in their homes. Bible studies, literacy improvement programs, other tutorial opportunities, and the chance to "offer them Christ" are but a few of the best reasons for starting this ministry to your community. The resulting ministry of evangelism will likely amaze you.
A few words of caution, however: make certain you install filtering software against offensive web sites and spam emails. One of the best known of this type of software is CyberPatrol (http://www.cyberpatrol.com), but the American Family Filter is also a good choice (http://www.afafilter.com/default.asp). If you are going to be connected to the Internet for extended periods of time, particularly with broadband Internet access (i.e., cable modem, Digital Subscriber Line, or wireless), be absolutely certain you install a good personal firewall program, such as Zone Alarm (http://www.zonelabs.com). It's free for personal and non-profit use. You will regret it if you don’t.
Speaking of broadband access, be sure to read next month’s issue, when I'll write about how to set up and secure a local area network in your church with a broadband Internet connection. That’s it for this edition. Until then, stay safe, and may God bless you!!