Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.

John 21:4-6

Internet full of fish

It was inevitable that the single most profound technological revolution of the 20th century would eventually be mentioned in conversation with the Christian Gospel. It’s a meeting of a Christian’s most urgent communication—the good news of Jesus Christ—with this century’s most advanced medium—the Internet.

Like the Gutenberg revolution, though, the advancement of the Internet is not simply by degree over traditional media, but rather by radical change to the way Western society works, plays, and even thinks.

Strictly speaking, as a medium, the Internet cannot ensure value. Those things that are most important to us are still contained in the message—wherever that message may be found. In the quoted verse, the disciples have a net. Sure, it’s not an internet, but I trust you’ll forgive the wordplay. The net alone, though, was not enough to catch fish. The disciples followed Jesus to fill their net with fish.

Where are the fish?

As our recent generations of disciples have begun using the Internet, they’ve also discovered disappointment. Despite its increasing ubiquity in our society, the net does not provide all the fish it promises. Many churches have invested in the Internet with hopes that it will provide new relationships and a generation of members that has been missing from their pews. Instead of nets full of fish, many churches find their Internet presence dwindling and lifeless. Our web sites may even be diligently maintained, but what fish are we finding?

What are we called to do with our Internet?

Jesus called the disciples in the boat ‘children.’ After reading any number of anonymous ‘comments’ on a public site like YouTube, you’ll probably agree the label still fits. Like any new technology, the Internet has multiplied the ways in which we communicate, but it has by no means taught us how to communicate better. As it becomes harder and harder for us to avoid the Internet, we are more and more called to work on communicating authentically in this new medium. We have a lot to learn. Before we cast our new nets to the sea, let’s think about using them responsibly. Let’s listen for direction.

“You will find some.”

If we put our faith in our new net alone, we will be disappointed. Without centering our work in the Gospel, the energy we put into making our place on the Internet will be wasted. The promise of an online church, free of walls and limitations is empty and dangerous. The last thing we need is a virtual church. But for those who humbly take up their nets, listening for the voice of Jesus, the promise is there, “you will find some.” We will know we’ve learned to use our new technology appropriately when our nets are full of fish.

And then our real work begins.