For many of us, the Internet still means checking our email. If we’re adventurous, we might purchase a birthday gift on Amazon™, view some family pictures on Photo Bucket™, or visit the church Web site for some event details—but let’s not get carried away.

Now what happens to your brain when you read the following? Backflip™ Bebo™ Blogger™ Blogspot™ Delicious™ Digg™ Facebook™ Flickr™ Jaiku™ LinkedIn™ Mixx™ MySpace™ Plurk™ Pownce™ Reddit™ Revver™ Second Life™ Seesmic™ Skype™ StumbleUpon™ Techno rati™ Twitter™ Ustream™ Viddler™ Vimeo™ Wiki pedia™ WordPress™ Xanga™ Yelp™ YouTube.™

Ready or not, it’s called “Web 2.0”—and it’s quickly becoming an online phenomenon in communications, marketing, and relationships.

Simply, the Internet is no longer about static Web sites and stagnant subject matter. It’s about peer-to-peer communication and consumer-driven collaboration. While we still visit the Internet to search for information and download content, Web 2.0 allows us to participate in the creation of the information and upload our creative contribution to the discussion. A transfer of power hasoccurred. No longer is the institution in control of the transmission. The power of online social media is that individual consumers and collaborative communities control the messaging through widely available, scalable publishing tools.

Organizations once controlled the marketplace by producing ads and placing them in traditional distribution channels. They now understand that consumers control the game on the Internet. The compelling “sell” on products and services is now delivered through user-generated content and community-based discussions. Virtual relationships are now real relationships. Through online networks, individuals can express authenticity, earn trust, and achieve credible voices on all sorts of topics. Personal connection and collective experience now trump corporate information and consumer packaging.

Business, politics, entertainment, journalism, activism, education—they understand the power of Web 2.0 and “word of mouse.” Just look at the 2008 presidential campaign—one of the candidates understood the impact of social networks, video channels, microblogs, and other user-generated content. The other candidate did not.

So, where’s the church? If the same power shift is happening in the online marketplace of spiritual ideas and religious content, shouldn’t Christians be engaged in Web 2.0? Absolutely! Social media is a revolutionary communi cation vehicle for the gospel. Spirit ual confusion is now online and available for the world to see. By joining the communities and engaging in the dialogue, we are creating a new, authentic voice for the church. From a practical standpoint, here’s what Web 2.0 could look like for any of us:

We join a social network such as Facebook™, MySpace™, or Bebo™ to share our story, interact with seekers, and spark inquiry. We go deeper with the content and point people to solid resources by posting a weekly blog through WordPress™, Xanga™, or Blogger™. As we add more compelling media to our narrative, we tap a video channel such as YouTube™, Viddler™, or Vimeo™ and watch some of our content “go viral” to reach seekers beyond our primary networks. Once we’re “followed” as a meaningful voice in spiritual matters, we can quickly influence the macrodiscussion through micro blogging tools such as Twitter™, Plurk™, or Jaiku™. Each of these tools can be linked, shared, and embedded in the others, making Web 2.0 scenarios virtually limitless.

Of course, the Internet has well-known issues. Indeed, some of these tools clang around Cyberspace as meaningless media and narcissistic noise. However, it’s also the primary way that many people inform, investigate, and interact on the “big questions of life.”

For the church, Web 2.0 means we can’t simply preach on Sundays and publish books for the traditional, Christian channels—we’re called to create, communicate, and collaborate in the “real world” of the Internet.

Whether we like it or not, social networks and other media tools will play a crucial role in the delivery of spiritual information—both truth and deception. If we’re not engaged in the online marketplace of spiritual ideas, we will miss one of the greatest opportunities for the Great Commission.

—Randall Niles

Randall Niles is an attorney and educator who spends most of his time on the Internet, serving as a director at www.AllAboutGOD.com and www.GotQuestions.org.