INTERNET: This is the Day of Digital Outreach“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 the way we communicate, for ever. This will impact 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, so also the Internet is becoming an effective worldwide channel for evangelism.
But the sad thing is – relatively few Christian groups are using the Web for real evangelism. There are perhaps 60,000+ English-language Christian websites, but the overwhelming majority are targeted entirely at Christians. There are over 150,000 church websites, but again, most are written largely for their own members.
Yet the opportunities are vast. There are 100 million Internet users in China. 80 million are online in Japan. India will soon have 60 million, Middle East 17 million. Right across the West, the majority of households have access to the Web.
Choose a date for your church calendarIt seems that many Christians are unaware of this potential, or else are unsure how to use the Web for effective online evangelism. The Internet Evangelism Coalition, an umbrella grouping of ministries already involved in web evangelism, has therefore initiated a worldwide focus day for Christians.
Their hope is that churches will build a short web evangelism focus into their activities using ready-made downloadable materials. This might be a 15-minute slot within the morning service; or home-groups could set aside time within that week; or a one-off web evangelism seminar can be designed.
There are be ready-made materials for churches to download from the IE Day website www.InternetEvangelismDay.com including:
- 5-minute video
- PowerPoint presentation
- discussion papers
- posters and flyers
- short dramas
Understanding the mediumWe need to understand the nature of the Internet before we can do outreach online. TV is not just radio with pictures, but a different medium in its own right. Similarly, online evangelism is not just ‘tracts on a monitor’. We must understand and use the unique attributes of the Internet:
- the user is in control.
- websites are ‘non-linear’ – like a newspaper, the user picks and chooses according to preference. This contrasts with a ‘linear’ medium such as books or video, which have a consecutive narrative.
- web users can interact with others by posting comments or emailing others with similar interests. At last ‘my opinion counts’. A good website can therefore build loyalty and belonging – usually called ‘a sense of community’.
The Bridge StrategyNo website has an automatic audience. The parallel is with a reference library. Who visits the Christian section of a library? Christians certainly. Seekers hopefully. Researchers sometimes. Most non-Christians: never in a lifetime.
The logic is simple. People online are searching for websites about felt needs or issues that interest them. Non-Christians hardly ever search for Christian sites. Therefore, to reach most non-Christians, we need webpages built around interests and needs that relate to them, written in a jargon-free non-religious style. This is the ‘Bridge Strategy’. There are websites (though far too few) which use this approach. Look at hollywoodjesus.com (films), tothenextlevel.org (sport), and runningempty.org (life problems). 1 Cor. 9:19-23 is a clear mandate for this strategy.
Web evangelism works!“I didn’t think that organized religion was an important thing, I didn’t think it was necessary, and I had no interest whatsoever,” says Kristi, who was at school in Virginia USA. But during a visit to her best friend in university, she saw posters for EveryStudent.com, a student outreach website. “I was in the habit at the time of staying up late at night, talking to friends on Instant Messenger, and checking email, and so I just decided, ‘Why not – I might as well go to this site,’ and I just read one article after another. I have no clue how long I must have spent the first time I was on the site – an hour or more ... I was blown away that I could actually have a relationship with God. And so I remember sitting there in my desk chair at home, just praying – and crying – I was so happy.”
Ministry teams who understand the Web are reaching millions. TruthMedia.com in Canada has a portfolio of world-class outreach sites, which last month drew in 650,000 visitors. These include IamNext.com for teens, PowertoChange.com and WomenTodayMagazine.com. Over 2000 people professed a first-time commitment as a result of their visit during the month. A vital case-study on TruthMedia’s two women’s sites demonstrates how to do effective web evangelism: it compares their site written for Christians with Women Today Magazine which is designed for non-Christians: web-evangelism.com/case-study.php.
But web evangelism is not just the preserve of big teams. Individuals can create outreach sites, or learn how to do ‘chat room’ evangelism.
Church growthChurch websites can be a vital part of a church’s growth. “Nearly 100% of the people who visit Pinecrest Church these days come as a result of finding us on the website. It is by far our most effective ‘advertising’ to let people know we exist,” says one pastor. There are some key strategies that can transform a church website into an effective outreach tool.
What about the dangers?The Web, as a medium, is neutral. Like other communication methods (TV, video, radio, books and magazines, telephone, even the postal service), it has no intrinsic moral attributes. The Internet can be used for good or bad. In a fallen world, where easy money can be made by exploiting people, we must expect that the Web will often be used for evil purposes.
It is certainly unfortunate that governments have not taken sufficient action to counter wrong uses of the Web. And because the Internet is like an instant worldwide library – giving access to anyone, anything, anywhere, in seconds – the dangers and temptations are real.
There are ways to protect yourself and your family, using filtering products and accountability software. The IE Day site offers advice: InternetEvangelismDay.com/dangers.php.
These are the issues that Internet Evangelism Day will share with Christians across the world. “Our hope is that web evangelism will make a quantum leap, as a result of this exposure. We’d love to see many churches using IE Day,” says Day co-ordinator Tony Whittaker. “This focus day has no fund-raising element at all!”
• Internet Evangelism Day www.InternetEvangelismDay.com
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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.
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