The Digital Age is upon us. In the span of less than three decades, we have redefined the way humans communicate, entertain, inform, research, create, and connect – and what we know now is only a hint of what is to come. But the greatest concern of the church is not a technological imperative, but a Gospel imperative.

The digital world did not exist a generation ago, and now it is a fundamental fact of life. The world spawned by the personal computer, the Internet, social media, and the smart phone now constitutes the greatest arena of public discussion and debate the world has ever known.

Leaders who talk about the real world as opposed to the digital world are making a mistake, a category error. While we are right to prioritize real face-to-face conversations and to find comfort and grounding in stable authorities like the printed book, the digital world is itself a real world, just real in a different way.

Real communication is happening in the digital world, on the Web, and on the smart phone in your pocket. Real information is being shared and globally disseminated, faster than ever before. Real conversations are taking place, through voice, words and images, connecting people and conversations all over the world.

If the leader is not leading in the digital world, his leadership is, by definition, limited to those who also ignore or neglect that world, and that population is shrinking every minute. The clock is ticking.

Peril and Promise in the Digital Kingdom

The digital world is driven by its entrepreneurial and ideological pioneers and cheerleaders, and they are a multitude. The numbers are staggering. The World Wide Web is, for all practical purposes, less than twenty years old. It now reaches every continent and country, linking over 2 billion people.

There are now 5.9 billion cellular subscribers, and that means 87% of the world’s population. Cell phones, originally the toys of the very rich and powerful, are now more popular than landline phones in the poorest regions of the globe. The telephone pole will soon be an antique.

The blogosphere was unknown to humankind until the last fifteen years, but just one blogging platform (WordPress) logs over 300 million users each month, who blog more than 2.5 billion pages. The world now turns to Google before even thinking of reaching for a dictionary or encyclopedia. Most Americans under age 30 cannot imagine a time when you had to go to a brick and mortar library for information.

The central fixture of social media (for now), Facebook, was launched in February of 2004, and now links more than 900 million users worldwide. Twitter, the micro-blogging sensation was launched in May of 2006 and boasts 140 million users who post 340 million tweets each day. Even more amazing is the fact that more than 1.6 billion search queries are performed on Twitter each day. For many Americans, Twitter represents the leading edge of news and communication.

The digital kingdom is massive and transformative. Older media are migrating to the Web, even as social media increasingly supplant voice technologies. Smart phones are actually small computers, used occasionally for voice calls.

The digital world is the wild west of information sharing and conversation. Just about everything can be found on the Internet, usually within a couple of mouse clicks. This includes everything from preaching to pornography, with politics and entertainment added to the mix.

The Internet and digital technologies connect people, and disconnect them. So much information and entertainment is available so instantly that it seems that the entire globe is developing an attention deficit problem. At the same time, these technologies have led to the greatest democratization of communications since the advent of spoken language. Christians can take the Gospel into China, leaping over the “Great Firewall,” as many Chinese citizens refer to the efforts of their government to keep information out. North Korea struggles to isolate its people from the outside world, but cell phones (from Egypt!) are increasingly common, though illegal.