Digital Missions Trends That Can Impact Your Ministry

Until a couple of months ago, I thought I was a really cool tech-savvy guy because I grew up in the age of the personal computer and the Internet. I was playing computer games back in kindergarten. (They were on a DOS system and the only color was green on a black background…but still!) I’ve never seen a computer-related problem I couldn’t fix, even if it was in a program I had never used before. But my familiarity with technology is nothing compared to the generation coming up behind me.

I recently read an article explaining that the next generation, Gen Z, which is currently still being born, is also just starting to graduate from college. Whereas I grew up as a digital native, knowing computers and the Internet, this new crop of humans is the mobile-first generation—they grew up with smartphones in their hands. They were Facetiming with their grandparents practically since they were born. My two-year-old nephew bought a $100 dollar app on his dad’s iPhone the other day. As a twenty-five year old with no $100 apps on his phone, I’m starting to feel these kids are leaving me behind!

Part of my job with OneHope is to stay on top of digital trends and discern how they are shaping the landscape we work in. To that end, I have compiled seven trends for you to be aware of and plan for in your own ministry work:

1. Smartphones

God Tools app

Every new release of the iPhone only underscores how entrenched smartphones have become, and their importance will only grow. Consider these stats from tech guru Tomi Ahonen. (Check out more here)

  • There are already more mobile phones than people on the planet
  • An additional 2 billion smartphones are sold annually
  • More than half of Internet users on earth never use a PC to access the internet.

The last point might not seem so significant until you stop and think about what the Internet looked like on your phone only a couple of years ago. Mobile devices are changing the shape of the Internet and really represent a new mass distribution medium. From the Guttenberg Printing Press of the 1500’s through the age of vinyl records, cinema, radio, television, and now the Internet on mobile devices. Where to next? Virtual and Augmented Reality. But to get there, we first have to talk about connectivity.

2. Connectivity

Estonia has declared that Internet connectivity is a basic human right and provides it for free. I believe this is indicative of a trend that will spread rapidly. Other countries in the developing world are recognizing that connection to the Internet translates into greater potential for prosperity in their country and are working to increase their infrastructure. Additionally, companies like Google, Facebook and others make the majority of their profit from advertising on Internet sites. So they are working to connect more people to the World Wide Web via drones, satellites and high altitude balloons in rural and under-developed areas that lack the infrastructure to provide connectivity locally. Once they are connected — bam! — that is another 2 billion people to sell advertising to. Now we can get on to the fun part…

3. Virtual Reality

Google cardboard

Standing in a field while relief planes drop food into South Sudan. Exploring an intricate palace in France. Floating above New York City with Charlize Theron…? With Virtual Reality (VR) on the scene, this is no longer the stuff of fantasy. I have experienced each of these myself! VR is made possible by the sophistication of today’s smartphones. What is happening is that your phone is combines data from its internal orientation gyros and compass to determine in real time what portion of a 360-degree spherical movie to show you on its screen. And if you have headphones on, it is also altering the right and left balance of the audio to indicate the direction that sounds are coming from.

VR is best experienced, not explained. You can try it for yourself very economically by purchasing a Google Cardboard headset ($3-$40). The number of VR users grew by over a million just this year, thanks in large part to the New York Times’ distribution of free Google Cardboard to their subscribers to promote their new app. You, too, should download the NYT VR app and watch the 11-minute story “The Displaced” about refugee children in the midst of war. It is incredible storytelling via VR and totally connects to our heart for children and ministry.

Google Cardboard and YouTube also have popular VR apps, and this market is only poised to grow. By 2025, the market for virtual reality content will be $5.4 billion. The hardware component will be worth $62 billion. Not to mention the fun to be had from watching someone use a VR viewer (you’ll see what I mean when you get your Cardboard). Bottom line, VR is pretty awesome, but what else is there?

4. Augmented Reality

digital ministry trends

Virtual Reality refers to virtuality: the quality of having the attributes of something without sharing its physical form. With Augmented Reality (AR) applications, you’re not experiencing a different reality virtually, but instead your common reality in a somehow magnified or enhanced way. Analysts project there will be more than 1 billion users of AR technology by 2020. You would not believe how many industries are working to get a foothold in this space!

For the past year I’ve been working on an app for OneHope called Traverse that uses Augmented Reality technology to create Bible adventures in the real world. GPS points guide youth around their city via their smartphones and engage them with Scriptural content when they get there. Think of the difference it would make to be standing in a botanical garden when reading the Genesis account of the Garden of Eden. Or lost in a vast stadium that shows what it was really like when Jesus appeared before a crowd of 5,000 people post-resurrection. With AR, we can make engaging with the Gospel experiential, interactive and social. I can’t wait to get the app finished and put it in the hands of our field teams all over the world!

This article concludes in “Digital trends in missions – Part Two.”