The world is on the move. People can’t stand still. There are more than 600 million motor vehicles worldwide; global bicycle production in 2000 alone totaled 101 million. Over thirty thousand commercial airline flights occur every day in the United States alone, and an endless number of buses and trains depart from countless depots twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, all over the world.
With that physical mobility comes the need for technology to follow. People want to stay in touch, keep up to date and remain informed wherever they find themselves. Gone are the days when television, computer and telephone required a person to use that equipment only when they were tethered to a fixed location by an electric cord and cable. They have all taken on the characteristics of the transistor radio when it was first introduced in 1954.
Mobile TV, handheld PCs and cell phones are the norm, no longer the exception. For every one hundred people in the US, Germany, Japan, France and the UK, there are seventy-six cellular phones. In February 2007, Japan passed the 100 million mark for mobile subscribers. This means that the country is fully penetrated with advanced wireless services and only the extremes of society (the extremely young, the extremely old, the extremely poor) are not served by mobile services. The total number of mobile phones in use worldwide exceeds the number of landlines and mobile technology is fast being integrated into the cultures of developing countries.
According to the BBC, “There is growing evidence that mobile phones are more than a fashion accessory and can transform the lives of the people who are able to access them. From Kampala to Mombasa, handset sellers are plying their trade. An enormous number of people, including taxi drivers and tradesmen, now rely on mobile phones to run their small businesses—well over eighty percent in Egypt and South Africa alone.”
Communication is boundary-less. As long as technology works as it is designed, geography and distance are not impediments. Roaming while communicating is a natural part of talking on the phone, text messaging and surfing the Internet. In fact, people have come to demand “relentless connectivity,” whether they are in the middle of a desert or on top of a mountain. The era of Dick Tracy’s two-way wrist-radio/TV is finally here.
Wireless broadband, also known as wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi), is one industrial breakthrough that is making limitless Internet access possible.
All that is needed for a person to ethereally surf the web is a laptop or handheld device with Wi-Fi 802.11b wireless capability, often already built into the operating system, especially in newer models. If not, a Wi-Fi networking card can be purchased for most laptops and many handhelds from major electronics retailers or direct from the manufacturer. Then, a standard Internet-ready browser on any operating system is needed. No additional software is required. All that is left is to locate a Wi-Fi hotspot (where Wi-Fi Internet service is provided, often free), such as an airport, a hotel, a library, a Starbucks coffee shop or a Panera Bread restaurant. There, a person simply types a URL into the device's Internet browser and is connected to the world.
According to Business Week Online, the number of Wi-Fi hotspots and users continues to skyrocket, particularly in Western Europe and Asia Pacific. The latter region, with its 3.7 billion-strong population, remains the world’s largest market for Wi-Fi. But this year, Western Europe is expected to outstrip North America and Asia Pacific in the number of Wi-Fi hotspots. That is because European wireless service providers have found that offering Wi-Fi connectivity, even for free, can significantly increase customer loyalty.
Globally, there are more than 141,000 Wi-Fi hotspots in 132 countries. Top countries are the US, the UK and Germany. Taipei (2,501) tops JiWire's list of Wi-Fi friendly cities list for having the greatest number of hotspot locations, followed by Seoul (2,056) and London (1,996). A full listing of the top ten hotspot cities and top ten countries can be found at http://usatoday.jiwire.com/ or www.jiwire.com/search-hotspot-locations.htm.
According to the Pew Internet & Life Project, one-third of US Internet users, either with a laptop computer, a handheld personal digital assistant (PDA) or a cell phone, have surfed the Internet or checked email using Wi-Fi broadband or cell phone networks.
One quarter (twenty-five percent) of American Internet users say they have a cell phone that connects to the Internet with a wireless connection. Among those, over half (fifty-four percent) have used it to get on the Internet. And one in eight (thirteen percent) US Internet users have a PDA that can connect to the Internet using a wireless network. Of these, most (eighty-two percent) have used it.
Wireless PDA and smart-phone sales are booming. More than forty-two million units shipped in the US during the first half of 2006, up fifty-seven percent from 2005. Most of today’s new mobile devices have built-in wireless interfaces that can be used to reach other users, corporate servers and the public Internet. Many also have expansion slots through which to add other wireless adapters. Mobile connectivity has never been easier.
ZVAN and ZBIBLE
A leader in Christian communications, Zondervan’s mission is “to meet the needs of people with resources the glorify Jesus Christ and promote biblical principles.” Meeting the needs of people who are mobile is an integral part of that mission. So Zondervan has created mobile websites (http://zvan.mobi and http://zbible.mobi) that are designed specifically for easy readability on small screens.
Zvan.mobi can be downloaded into a device as a syncable AvantGo channel (over seven million people subscribe to the free AvantGo mobile Internet service) or it can be accessed live through Wi-Fi. The site offers daily relevant material including a Bible verse, Bible passage, church word definition, church history milestone, news, sports, weather, a weekly book excerpt and author interview, emergency preparation information and timely religion news to help users stay informed and on track in their life and Christian walk. The site is also a portal of four hundred links to other mobile-friendly websites designed for the small screen. Categories of links include hotspot directories, search engines, news, technology, travel, Christianity and devotionals.
Zbible.mobi is ZondervanBibleSearch.com for small screens, allowing users to look up Bible verses and passages from anywhere.
The world is flat, seamlessly integrating the local and the global (“glocal”). In his book Glocalization: How Followers of Jesus Engage a Flat World, Bob Roberts, Jr., says, “We must orientate ourselves to this strange new ‘flat’ world in which we find ourselves—where we’re closer and more connected than ever before.… Glocalization creates a massive opportunity for the church. The world has changed and opened like never before.”
Now is the time for churches and ministries to expand our vision beyond our mainstream websites. If we are going to continue reaching the world with the message of salvation, we must embrace the mobility of the world and communicate with people where they are and in ways expected by those people. Some are already doing this, such as Campus Crusade with “The Four Spiritual Laws”, “Would You Like To Know God Personally?”and “The Spirit-Filled Life”; RBC Ministries with “Our Daily Bread”; and Back to the Bible with “Lessons on Living”. Another method is what Words of Hope is doing: using text messaging to share the hope of Jesus with citizens of countries that are closed to the open sharing of the gospel.
According to an article by Walt Wilson in the March 2007 issue of Christian Computing Magazine, deep social change is about to happen because of mobile technology, altering the habits of how people listen to music, get information, blog and pay for purchases. Martha Dennis of telecom investors Windward Ventures is quoted as saying, “Babies will be assigned lifetime 12-digit phone numbers at birth. Money will no longer be used” as cell phones become the conduit of transactions.
Mobility and Ministry
Some ministry organizations have already seen the burgeoning power of mobility and have channeled their resources there. Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kansas City, Missouri, USA, offers a sermon, worship times, meditative reflections and directions to the church on its mobile website. The Coptic Orthodox Church Network offers a Bible verse of the day for subscribers' cell phones. The Church of Christ in Singapore uses a mobile site to communicate with its members about prayer concerns, news, mission updates, service information and contact help.
Tony Whittaker heads up InternetEvangelismDay.com and is keeper of www.web-evangelism.com which has a helpful mobile device component. He suggests churches produce evangelistic video clips that people can share with their friends on their cell phones, and text messaging that integrates the timeless gospel with timely and relevant current events.
Associate director of visionSynergy.net (a collaboration ministry think-tank), Rev. Dave Hackett, is the co-facilitator of mobilev, a mobile evangelism wiki. He says with such strides in technology as Microsoft’s pending release of Deepfish and Google’s site for optimizing any website for mobile functionality, mobile Internet surfing is only going to expand. He points out that 6.2 million people already watch video clips on their phones, up from 2.5 million in early 2006, according to the consulting firm Telephia.
“If you want to see where mobile evangelism and use is heading, look to Korea,” recommends Hackett. “Churches there have done far more to adapt to the Internet age than Western churches.” According to the World Factbook, twenty-six percent of South Korea’s forty-nine million people are Christian. “Several Korean churches have homepages just for cell phones so visitors and members can receive messages from the pastor, information about church events and more,” says Hackett. “And they have studios inside their churches where they produce Christian videos to stream over the Web and to cell phones.” An active Korean Christian website he recommends is www.Godpia.com that includes a mobile evangelism section.
“We can’t assume the American experience is at the top of the technology curve,” Hackett says. “We’re down in the pack.” The Digital Opportunity Index ranks the US twenty-first in the world (Korea tops the list). “Many nations, including developing countries, are ahead of us,” Hackett reports. “Because of their small geography, they can leapfrog America in broadband coverage.” He says it may be frustrating news for Americans, but it offers vast opportunities for mobile evangelism outside the US.
Organizations exist or are being formed to aid in advancing mobile evangelism and discipleship. The Global Christian Internet Alliance (GCIA) provides convenient access to quality Christian Internet resources in all the major languages of the world. While the Internet Evangelism Coalition focuses primarily on English Web evangelism, the GCIA and the IEC have been involved in the formation of the International Internet Evangelism Network (IIEN) to create a worldwide network of web evangelism pioneers who work in languages other than English. Hackett expects a non-English mobile evangelism group will emerge as a sub-network of IIEN. “As we’ve tried to develop the web evangelism side, we’ve run headstrong into mobile evangelism,” Hackett says. “The synergy between them is high; they’re two sides of the same coin. Mobile application is tightly tied in with Web applications.” Hackett is also bringing that kind of collaboration and integration together with the new website http://www.powerofconnecting.net/.
Since the communication landscape is fast becoming more mobile, it is up to more churches and ministries to harness this “technological bronco” that is the mobile Internet and purposefully ride it to meet the spiritual needs of the mobile if we are going to be effective in reaching this postmodern age with the gospel.