Can you imagine an ongoing discussion of creationism and evolution among people of all faiths, or no faith, teenagers to senior citizens? Have you had the opportunity to listen to several people discuss their deepest feelings about suicide, and the satisfaction of knowing that the discussion helped some of the participants find new meaning in life? Have you discussed the meaning of truth in the Scriptures with those whose beliefs are not the same as your own? How many close friendships have you formed without any of the usual social prejudices influencing your relationship—race, creed, sex, age, appearance, social position, level of education?
For the past two years I have used my modem to take part in a locally operated computer bulletin board. The opportunities for personal growth—and for ministry—are unlimited. This is a forum in which you are known by what you say, and only by what you say. Some people agree with your views; others do not. The discussions can be lively, informative, and helpful. (The human condition being what it is, discussions can also wander off the topic, become repetitive, or occasionally descend to the level of name-calling.)
Separate note files exist so that a person can pursue his or her special interests: religion and philosophy, poli tics, sports, book reviews, movies, TV, games, computer news (IBM, Apple, CP/M, etc.), user-written fiction and poetry, and many others. There are even note files specifically for teenagers and those trying to lose weight. In addition, a system of personal "mail" exists that allows two people (or more if you want a small-group discussion) to carry on a private conversation.
Many opportunities for ministry exist in this medium. However, a person should bring to the bulletin board honesty and a willingness to consider the opinions of others. This "congregation" is neither captive nor silent, and no one's opinion is valued simply because it is the pastor or the wealthy businessman or the college professor speaking. But for a clear view of a diverse population, the bulletin board is unparalleled.
Not all local boards have the quality of The Connection in South Bend. How ever, they have the potential. If you become a member, you can influence the direction your local board will take. You can suggest note files, write discussionstarting notes, and interact with many different people without even leaving your easy chair. (The potential for ministry to the handicapped is another whole area I won't go into here, but the possibilities should be obvious to those who are interested.)
Perhaps best of all, local boards are free of charge or have a very low fee (The Connection is $5 a month for unlimited access). For those who do not have the budget or the inclination to become involved in the national boards such as CompuServe, local boards provide a wealth of opportunities and experiences in the community—perhaps a more important consideration for the person interested in ministry.
A practical note: I strongly suggest a 1200-baud modem, especially if you plan to place long-distance calls to bulletin boards. If you use a local board, a 300-baud modem is sufficient. However, if you become active (I log on the bulletin board at least once a day), you will soon want 1200 baud.