Facebook Inc. surprised everyone with its second quarter financial results. In the latest quarter, advertising revenue of $9.164 billion was up 47 percent from the same period last year. Operating income of $4.401 billion was up 61 percent from the second quarter of 2016 estimate $2.734 billion. Net income jumped 71 percent, and earnings per share increased 69 percent from year ago levels. Through last Wednesday, Facebook's stock has increased nearly 44 percent this year.
Amazingly, Facebook has 1.32 billion active daily users and 2.01 active monthly users, both up 17 percent year-over-year. The world's population is estimated to be slightly more than 7.5 billion people. Hence, Facebook has more than 25 percent of the entire population of the world using its services every month.
Facebook is a relatively recent phenomenon. As a Harvard sophomore, Mark Zuckerberg developed the forerunner of Facebook, called Facemash, in 2003. It was initially restricted to Harvard students and later opened to anyone at least 13 years old with a valid email address in 2006. In 2012, Facebook held an IPO, or initial public offering, and reached the milestone of 1 billion monthly users. Moving from writing the initial code to having 25 percent of the world as monthly users has taken a mere 14 years.
Facebook has done an amazing job of taking advantage of social trends with technology. With increased separation of family and friends around the world, the need for community has grown. Friends and family want the ability to communicate in real time. They want the ability to share their thoughts to friends and, at times, to the public. They want to see and not just read. Facebook has filled much of that void. People can now understand and communicate with people of different cultures, nationalities and languages better than at any time in history due to large part to Facebook. Other FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google) companies have done likewise.
Social networks have not only taken advantage of trends, but they are currently shaping social mores. Digital environments are, in many ways, becoming the norm. Social networks, like any community, can and have been abused. An abundance of caution is advised. But excitement for the opportunities provided by this technology should not be abated.
Forward thinking Christians are taking advantage of these trends. Life.Church began in 1996 with 40 congregants in a two-car garage. They currently have 27 sites that have incorporated satellite video teaching into their services. The church's dress is casual, and the music is pop-rock and praise-worship. The church has done away with church membership but instead want their participants to become partners in helping to lead people to become fully devoted followers of Christ. In 2008, the church introduced a mobile Bible app called YouVersion.
The YouVersion Bible app, funded by Bobby Gruenewald and Life.Church, is having an amazing impact. The app has 1,492 Bible versions in 1,074 languages with more than 800 Bible reading plans for the entire Bible, devotionals, specific portions of the Bible or specific topics. Users can share favorite Bible verses and reading plan progress on Facebook and Twitter. The app is designed for most online and mobile platforms. As of April 2017, the YouVersion Bible app had been downloaded 268 million times!
Life.Church and YouVersion exemplify how the use of social trends and technology can be used to benefit the kingdom. Their impact has been amazing. They have blessed the kingdom beyond measure. But not every believer is called to develop a Life.Church or YouVersion Bible app.
Digital platforms still have limitations. As humans, people will often need a mentor, someone that can listen to their struggles. Many believers still need a love-filled Christian who can look into their eyes with compassion and forgiveness when they have failed. Most need someone that will hold them accountable or that will walk hand-in-hand through life's challenges and pitfalls. All need the presence of God which envelops a congregation as they come together in unity for worship. The Scriptures call for and Christians still need the laying on of hands during times of trial.
As believers, we are called, in love, to make disciples, to baptize and to teach obedience. We are poor stewards if we do not use every means available to spread the Good News. We never compromise our vision or our mission. But our tactics, and so some extent our strategies, are dependent on our environment. Let us take advantage of and influence societal trends, using all applicable technology for the benefit of the kingdom.
"'Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.' Amen" (Matt. 28:19-20).
Dr. James Russell is a professor of economics at Oral Roberts University.
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