A Wired World
“An incredible new technology enables the transmission of text on a worldwide basis. It rapidly reduces production and distribution costs and for the first time allows large numbers of people to access text and pictures in their own homes.”
What is this referring to? You’ve guessed it. The invention of the printing press by Gutenberg. It transformed education, communication and evangelism. It has shaped the world culture we know today. The computer revolution and the Internet are also changing Christian evangelism and discipleship, in ways which are only just beginning. Just as the Roman road system in New Testament times enabled the rapid spread of the Gospel, the Internet is also becoming an effective worldwide channel for evangelism – watch this 5-minute video clip.
Not a toy for the WestThe Internet is no longer confined to the rich Western countries. There are over 100 million users in China. Companies like AfricaOnline, based in Nairobi, are putting Internet Cafes across the continent. All round the world, young (and not so young) people are learning how to use computers and they want the benefits that the Internet can bring.
The old story about the Old StoryGo into any Christian bookshop. Maybe 99% of those books and videos are written only for Christians, using Christian language and assumptions. Some Christians believe that “because it is Christian, it is evangelistic”. But this is not usually true.
A similar situation applies to Christian websites: 99% are written with only a Christian reader in mind. Of course, some non-Christians will visit them too. If they already have an interest, maybe they will stay to read. But this is like hoping that non-Christians will walk off the street into our church services. A few may. But most do not. (And website visitors will usually leave in 5 seconds, if they cannot relate to a page.) Such sites may only relate to those people with a Christian background or interest. We may therefore reach the ‘once-churched’, yet fail to touch the 'never-churched'. Most non-Christians have no reason to visit Christian sites. In fly-fishing terms, we may attract surface-feeding fish that are happy to live near the light, but never catch any ‘bottom-feeders’ at all.
Effective online evangelismIf we are to make evangelistic websites that will reach people, we must do four things:
- Use language they understandDo not use ‘Christian’ language and jargon words.
Non-Christians do not understand them. These are the words that we love to hear in church:
born again, salvation, conviction, repentance and many more. People with a church
background may understand some of these terms. Others will not.
It is possible to explain Christian truth without using such words at all! Apart from God, Jesus, Bible, heaven, Spirit, everything else can be changed into easy words that non-Christians will understand, with no compromise in meaning.
- Understand their feelingsWe must understand how non-Christians feel, what they think about, and what they worry about. Tune in to the world and culture around you, by reading newspapers and listening to radio/TV. How can we connect meaningfully with people?
- Use a magazine style
Churches may be for preaching, but the Internet is not a church. It needs a
of writing and the gifts of a journalist, not a preacher. Learn how newspapers and magazines
communicate with their readers: short paragraphs, sub-headings, quotations, pictures,
with an emphasis on the lives of real people. Take time to look at many different websites.
Which are the easiest to read? Why? Which are the easiest to navigate through? How? Take notes
about features that are good and bad – learn from others.
- Short and clear
It is harder and slower to read from a computer screen than a newspaper or book. And if
people are paying for Internet access by the minute, they do not wish to read long web-pages.
Make pages short. Each web-page should have a single focus.
Never put your first page draft online. Revise and shorten ruthlessly. Ask other people to help you improve your writing style, cut out un-necessary words and phrases, and make the sense clearer. If you know an English teacher or journalist, seek their help. If possible, ask non-Christians to give you feedback too. A page may need to be revised ten times or more before it is clear enough to put on the Web. Revision is best done using paper printouts.
But even these four things are not enough, because the Web is a pull medium. Unlike radio
or literature which are ‘push mediums’, web-pages ‘pull’ people in – but only on the basis
of a common interest. Web users are unlikely to find Christian pages by accident, so we
Bridge pages – a key to successful Web EvangelismPeople mostly use the Internet to search for pages about things that interest them. Few people are directly interested in Christianity. So if we write web-pages which only explain the Gospel, few people will find them.
Instead, we must “be what they are searching for”. In other words, we must write pages about the things that people are interested in. We call this the Bridge Strategy. Links from these ‘bridge pages’ can then lead to other pages which begin to explain the Gospel in a sensitive way. A good link to include is the testimony of the webmaster. Don't call it ‘my testimony’ though – that is a jargon word. ‘My Life Story’ or ‘Meet the Webmaster’ is better and does not sound religious.
There are very many subjects that we can write about. Hobbies, sport, culture, cooking, history, travel, anything. If you are interested in a subject, be sure that there are millions of other people who share your interest. And because you understand it well, you can write about it! Community Pages about your city, town or community can also be very effective. Pages on life problems are also a valuable lead-in to the Gospel.
Church sites – missing the opportunitiesMany church websites seem to be written only for the church members, with nothing to interest non-Christians or make them feel at home. This is sad because it is possible to design church sites which are very welcoming to non-Christian visitors.
- Making effective church sites
Other forms of computer outreach
Teaching computer skillsMany people are desperate to learn computing and Web skills. Teaching English has long been an opportunity for Christians to make friends, get credibility, and share their faith. Teaching computing skills in the community is also becoming an effective way of reaching people.
Chat roomsA chat room is a web-page where you can 'talk' to others in real time, by typing messages into the page. It can be a very effective type of witness. (It is best to have Internet access which is flat-rate rather than charged by the minute, as chat room ministry takes time.)
Getting more helpAll these topics are covered in more detail in the Web Evangelism Guide – an online resource to help Christians use the Internet for evangelism. Read it at:
If God is calling you to be involved in online outreach, you have an exciting time ahead!
Says online evangelist Dean Craig, “It brings me to tears to think that what God give me the privilege of doing for Him reaches more people in one day than some of the greatest preachers of 100 years ago could reach in their whole life. No wonder God made the Internet!”
International web outreach focus dayChurches and Christian groups can also learn more by holding a web awareness day. Internet Evangelism Day offers free resources to create such a focus day.
This 1300-word article is also available to download as a Rich Text file amd is free to use in any print publication.There are some royalty-free photos you can use to accompany this printed article. Please use a credit line similar to this at the end:
© May 2016 Internet Evangelism Day www.InternetEvangelismDay.com
The IE Day site offers a broad introduction to all types of online evangelism, and provides downloadable resources for churches to create their own web outreach awareness day. IE Day was initiated by the Internet Evangelism Coalition.
A similar 1200-word article which focuses more on Internet Evangelism Day is also available. Other free articles are also available – follow the highlighted link in the main menu.