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To paraphrase the 1990′s election slogan (in response to the unspoken question “What’s the priority?”), we might respond to “What’s the key to effective evangelism?” with the answer: “It’s the relationships, silly.”
Most lasting conversions are the result of an ongoing relationship with one or more believers (see research study). And around 50% of people start their spiritual journey at least in part due to a serious life problem, such as relationship problems, illness/bereavement or debt. Any online outreach must be geared to offering ongoing email support to all those who want advice and help at any level.
Canada’s TruthMedia online outreach team uses hundreds of volunteer e-mentors to build email relationships with inquirers or those with life problems. (Learn about volunteering here. TruthMedia can also now share their follow-up software system with other ministries – read more about the Mentor Center.)
Karen Schenk, TruthMedia’s National Director of Media Strategies, shares some insights from their ministry:
‘In the past few months, TruthMedia has seen incredible growth in both ministry impact and reach.
I’m becoming more convinced than ever that the key to sharing the Gospel in our culture is addressing relationship needs. No matter who they are or what they do for a living, people all around the globe have relational issues and want help and insight into how to address them.
One of our websites had 400,000 visits this past month alone and of those visits, more than 50% of the content that was viewed and the messages we received were about relationship issues. People want help and perspective for their families, kids, marriages, dating, and workplace. As we connect with people about their relationship issues, we are in a position where we can share the hope of Christ. The mentors who share with these people are also being directly impacted. Here are some of their stories:
A father asks for help: “I don’t know what to do with myself anymore. I’m failing, I’m hurting myself, I’m becoming more violent, more judgmental of myself, and I’m pretty much giving up on having any future. What can I do to change myself? I have no goals in life other than to raise a child and be a father.”
A lonely person who found hope through a mentor now helps others: “First of all thank you for that wonderful message. I think this is an awesome ministry. It was a life saver for me, and now I hope I can help it be for others. When I came to this site over a year ago, it helped change my life forever. I felt so alone, had sunk to the bottom of the sea. Since I found this site and my wonderful mentor and friend, my life just continues to get more and more blessed. I have recovered the joy and happiness I didn’t ever think I would find again. You got me through one of the most devastating times in my life. And now the blessings continue as now I can be a mentor and understand how some of these people are feeling. They not only acquire a friend, but I also. For me, just having someone I can be honest with, vent to, and know they are listening is the best therapy I have had. I am so thankful I could be part of this. Thank you.”
A believer learns to share her faith: “I feel I’m really growing in my faith also and it is mostly because of Power to Change, Truth Media and all you guys helping me to get started as a mentor. This is such a great ministry, and I’m sharing my small part in it every chance I get. Last week I spent 30 minutes in our local supermarket sharing with a lady about Jesus and what we all are doing to carry His word around the world. Happiness is bubbling over in my life right now.”
“YouTube is celebrating its sixth birthday this month, and the Google subsidiary is doing it partly by sharing some big numbers that underscore its overwhelming dominance in the online video streaming space,” says TechCrunch blog. YouTube is now delivering a staggering 3 billion viewings a day, with 48 hours of new video being uploaded each minute (double the amount this time last year). Check TechCrunch’s analysis of the stats.
Our visual age
Our new digital communication age is highly visual. The video clip has almost become the default means of effective communication, and therefore is essential in evangelism …
Jesus used storytelling, not bible exposition, to reach outsiders. None of his parables embedded the entire gospel – instead they communicated byte-sized elements of truth, in a conversation-starting, thought-provoking, open-ended, contextualized, visual story. (Visual in the sense that a good storyteller paints a visual picture in the minds of the hearers.)
But surely I need lots of training and expensive equipment?
There’s free training and editing software available – and like most things, we learn by doing. Even an average digital camera or high-end smart phone can produce very acceptable video: watch the videos here, all shot on mobiles.
Check these Top 10 Video Production Tips. Among them: Keep It Short. 5 minutes is plenty long enough for most purposes. 3 minutes often better. Less is more. Watch how tv adverts can tell an entire story in 30 seconds, with much of the message embedded in the visual action, sets, and facial expressions, rather than the dialogue. (Not that outreach video should have the sense and feel of an advert, but we must learn from the experts of this storytelling style.)
Creatives, youth groups, missions – let’s start making clips!
Churches, why not demonstrate how to embed YesHEIs.com and Global Short Film Network video clips into Facebook with one click. A 5-minute live-web digital-projector session during a service will help members understand just how easy it is.
Free ebooks – last call
Last call to get free e-book downloads during May Digital Outreach Month – for instance Netcasters, Craig von Buseck’s valuable study of the opportunities of digital evangelism, and God Space, Doug Pollock’s vital explanation of non-formulaic, non-preachy, non-offputting conversational evangelism, equally applicable to online and offline sharing, and many more.
The highly-recommended Coffee Shop Conversations: Making the Most of Spiritual Small Talk is now available, as a free Kindle download. Sorry, this download offer only applies to US residents accessing the Amazon US site, and not, as I had hoped, worldwide. If you try to access it from other countries, and use the one-click download, you will be charged the normal price. Don’t click the download button unless you can see the price showing as 0.00 – unless of course you want to pay for the book.
Note: if you do not have a Kindle, you can still download Kindle books. Just install the free software from Amazon onto your computer, Android device or iPhone, and you are ready to go. Amazon offers a number of free classic titles, and these are surprisingly easy to read even on a mobile phone.
Please tell others on Facebook and Twitter
Please tell others about these books, using these ready-made one-click links for Facebook and Twitter. (You can change the hashtag in your tweet to reflect any interest group or community you belong to.)
Where spiritual conversations happen naturally
Most of us struggle to connect with outsiders and have meaningful conversations about faith. We may have been taught to use formulaic methodologies to steer conversations and proclaim set-piece ‘one size fits all’ gospel presentations. If ever these worked moderately well in times past, they don’t now.
Pollock’s book explains his concept of creating a conversational ‘God Space’ in which to engage, by learning to notice and listen, and thereby avoid a range of conversation killers or hijacking methods that control a conversation. Instead, by asking ‘wondering questions’ and listening to the replies, we can actually find areas of common ground where real communication can happen.
This book is of critical importance in understanding biblical evangelism in the 21st century. And its principles equally apply to online evangelism, such as the conversations that arise within Facebook.
“We need web feet”
Doug tells Internet Evangelism Day, “In a post-Christian world where most people have said ‘no thanks’ to our traditional ‘God Spaces’, we need people with ‘web feet’ who understand how to create God Space on the Internet.
“If we took the time to find out what not-yet Christians really thought about our attempts to have spiritual conversations with them, we’d soon discover that far to often we are ‘spamming people for Jesus’. Here’s a question to ask a not-yet-Christian that will help clue you into this unfortunate reality: ‘If I invited you to speak to a large group of Christians on the topic of what NOT to do to have a spiritual conversation with you, what would you tell them?’ Their replies will be very revealing.”
The first two chapters can be read online. The GodsGPS website offers many other resources, including a range of articles and insights into this approach.
It’s not yet available on Kindle or NookBook, so press the button on Amazon/Barnes & Noble to request this!
Christian media producer CVC is exploiting the exponential growth of social media and online video. Their new YesHEIs.com website offers Christians a categorised range of third-party evangelistic video clips. Here at last is a one-stop source of approved conversation-starting video clips we can easily share on Facebook (or other social media), embed in a blog, or download to a smartphone to share one-to-one.
This resource is strategic and powerful, because it combines the power of visual story as video clips, with the opportunity to start conversations within an existing social network of relationships. I cannot over-stress its significance for biblical, relational, discussion-based evangelism.
At last! And no technical knowledge needed
Of course, posting video clips into Facebook is not new, but up to now, few people would have known where to find suitable video clips, or even how to add them to Facebook along with their own introductory comments. At last, here is a one-stop site for every Christian Facebook user, that requires zero technical knowledge.
Why not take 5 minutes to demonstrate YesHEIs.com live on digital projector to your church members during a meeting? And share it as widely as you can – you are welcome to republish this blog post. Join their Facebook Group too. The team are planning more developments and enhancements which will be announced there.
Try it out, and add your feedback using the ‘Comment’ link below. Avoid the temptation to overkill! Less is more. Choose clips wisely, and post appropriately. Not-yet-Christian Facebook friends are unlikely to feel positively about a constant stream of new clips. Neither do they want to sense that they are your ‘project’. Video is not a substitute for relationship building.
Just published – @stickyJesus is a dynamic new book about sharing faith online through social networking.
Tami Heim and Toni Birdsong are gifted writers and communicators. Their blog tag-line ‘keeping it real & living sticky online 4 Him’ sums up their vision. ‘Sticky’ reflects their desire that the message should be shared in such a way that it clings to people’s hearts.
Heim and Birdsong ‘get’ social media. Many businesses, and even churches, attempt to use social networking as a one-way delivery system for their message, and then wonder why they are ineffective. This book explains clearly that it should be relational, servantlike, listening, compassionate, and inclusive.
Each chapter is illustrated by short true stories relating the experiences of other online Christians, and ends with a ‘download’ summary of spiritual principles relating to that chapter, plus an ‘upload’ prayer response. But there’s plenty of practical advice too – how to start using Facebook and Twitter, as well as wisdom on keeping yourself safe online at every level. Wide-ranging footnotes refer you to helpful books and webpages, and a glossary explains concepts to anyone unfamiliar with them.
@stickyJesus is a vital introduction to social networking because it is both spiritual and practical, readable yet deep, envisioning and infectious.
It is available in paperback and Kindle formats, and soon also as a PDF download too. Check the @stickyJesus blog for more reviews, press kit and other resources.
Remarkable video from Chris Milk (who has previously worked on the Johnny Cash Project) and friends at Google who have produced an experimental HTML5 multi-screen video called The Wilderness Downtown, based on Arcade Fire’s new song We Used To Wait:
It is optimized for the Chrome browser, but works in any modern browser that can handle HTML5.
There are several screens running concurrently. Some take personalised Google Streetview and Google Earth shots, based on the user’s entry for the address they grew up at. The Streetview clips are based on the revolving pan-shots from their camera cars and the Earth shots are manipulated in various ways. Presumably the raw Streetview clips are unavailable to other developers wishing to do the same? Development story.
Other screens are based on a child running, and are seen by all users. This imagery relates to the song lyric which perhaps could have been beneficially scrolled on another screen.
At the end of the video, a screen pops up inviting you to write a letter to the child you once were. You can also submit this as a ‘postcard’ to The Wilderness Downtown, and also apparently respond to other people’s postcards.
Pain, hope and healing
The concept is thought-provoking (read recent online comment) and the lyric deals with issues of pain, bewilderment and hope, which are therefore valuable conversation starters. There’s big potential to use in a youth group or discussion setting. Some leaders are already considering how to use it as a component of an outreach meeting. It’s also a concept that could be adapted to extend this ministry potential.
View the presentation here. To see what it looks like, below is how one user made a video capture from their computer with their own birthplace clips:
What do you think? How do you respond to the lyric and imagery? How can we use this video and the ‘postcard to our younger self’ concept to start people thinking about pain, healing, and the good news? Please share your thoughts using the comment button below.
There are growing opportunities for mission agencies to integrate many different digital evangelism approaches into their existing ministry. Our new Open Letter for mission staff highlights the needs and opportunities.
Please pass this on to anyone working in cross-cultural mission, and blog or tweet about it. Please also republish it online or in print.
And how can this letter be improved? Is there anything else it should cover?
Add your thoughts using the ‘leave a comment’ link below, or email.
It’s the feeling that one day you are going to be ‘found out’. For example, you may plan to lead a meeting, seminar, or preach, and you have this awful feeling that they will think, “Who is this person? Doesn’t know much about his subject. Probably a barely functional Christian.”
It’s that perception of being a fraud, expressed by Margaret Attwood: “Another belief of mine; that everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise.”
It’s the notion that makes us wonder what we want to be when we grow up; or of not quite belonging in this bewildering world.
Many people, when told about Imposter Syndrome, will say, “You mean, there are other people who feel the same way I do?”
Of course, some personality types are untroubled by any problems of humility or self doubt. But many, even at the top of their game, have real struggles. Kylie Minogue (who is held in almost universal approbation – you’ll never hear a bad word spoken of her) said recently: “I’m sometimes racked with insecurity and sure that I’m going to be exposed as a fraud at any time.” (UK Times Magazine June 19, 2010)
If this is you, be encouraged. You can battle it. You are a child. God’s child. It’s perhaps the primary relationship model He gives us. He knows and understands every doubt and insecurity. He can use us despite, or indeed even because of, our worries, fears and feelings. We can learn, step by step, to see ourselves from His perspective.
And we are not meant to feel too much at home in Shadowlands anyway. Malcolm Muggeridge wrote, “The only ultimate disaster that can befall us, I have come to realize, is to feel ourselves at home here on earth.” If you want to find out more about this Christian good news, check The Life.
I reported in our latest Web Evangelism Bulletin how Google can predict a flu outbreak in a particular town or area long before the medical authorities, based an upsurge in geographical searches about flu. Google has a unique*, mind-blowing direct line into the minds of the planet. (*With the exception of God, of course.)
You can check how people have been searching over past days or years. For instance, look at a search for meaning of Christmas. Then check which country searched most for this – and surprisingly it is Philippines. What this tool does not appear to show is actual numbers of searches.To find these, use the Google Adwords Keyword Tool.
Or you can find out, for instance, what was on the collective heart of China last week, or Poland last year.
These tools give us ways to find bridge topics and areas of common interest for evangelism, both offline and offline. How could these tools help you – add your comment below?
Twitter has taken personal sharing to a whole new level. It is the intimate aspect that people find so compelling. By contrast, businesses who have started Twitter streams about their products get minimal interest. But well-known people who Twitter can get zillions of followers.
The attraction of Twitter (to those who have space in their lives for yet more electronic messages) is its brief immediacy and apparent intimacy. People share their moment by moment emotions in a raw way that they would probably not do in the more thoughtful environment of a normal blog. ‘Tweets’ are more like talking than writing. And of course, every tweet is available online for the whole world to read, should it so wish. (See background information on Twitter.)
This means that you can search for tweets that contain keywords about a particular subject. This is a valuable strategy being used by Paul Watson of Reaching the Online Generation. Doubtless as marketers start to use similar strategies, it may lose its effectiveness. But for now, it means that you can easily connect with people on any topic you wish. This can include people who are tweeting about a personal life problem, enabling you to contact them and sensitively offer help.
Because you can also filter tweets by postal code origin, a church can even locate hurting people in its area! Paul explains how to do this below. Also scroll down past his technical explanation to read a moving example of compassion and ministry flowing through Twitter.
Here is an excerpt from the book I’m writing (publication due early 2010, working title The Six Strategic Elements for Starting an Online Ministry) that explains how to use Seesmic and Search.Twitter.com to ‘listen to the lost’.
Here is one quick way using the Seesmic desktop:
Sign up for a free Twitter account, if you do not already have one.
Download the free Seesmic desktop program and install it. (Note that Seesmic can help Twitter users in many other ways that described here.)
Add your Twitter account in the Seesmic desktop program.
In the top right hand corner of the Seesmic desktop, you will find a search box. Type in a word connected with a social object or social marker. I usually tell people to type ‘photography’, ‘picture,’ or other words related to photography, as an easy example to use.
Seesmic will search Twitter for any tweets using the word you entered into the search box. It will create a column for that word that automatically updates anytime someone uses that term.
If you want, you can click on their username in the Seesmic desktop and then again on their profile picture to visit their Twitter profile online. Then you can read their bio and perhaps visit their blog or website, if they list one.
If you don’t want to download the Seesmic desktop, you can use Search.Twitter.Com to do the same thing.
Go to http://search.twitter.com.
Enter your keyword in the search box and hit enter. Search.Twitter.Com will display tweets containing that search word.
Click on a username to visit that person’s Twitter profile.
If you use the ‘Advanced Search’ feature on the Search.Twitter.Com page, you can set your filter to pull tweets from people living in specific cities or countries. This is especially valuable if your organization wants to focus on connecting with, and meeting the needs of, people living nearby. You use the same listening strategies as above to listen to the needs of these geographically close communities. You can also use the same tactics to meet their needs, but you are more likely to connect in person.
On http://search.twitter.com, click on the ‘Advanced Search’ link next to the search box.
Type your search term in the ‘All of These Words’ box.
Scroll down to ‘Places’ and enter your zip code or city. Set ‘Within this Distance’ to something that makes sense to you.
Click on the ‘Search’ button at the bottom of the screen.
Paul goes on to give a moving example of the power of Twitter to connect hurting people with encouragement:
When I started listening online, I used the keywords ‘pray’ and ‘prayer’ to filter the Twitter stream. I wanted to see if people – Christian or not – asked for prayer when they faced crisis. They did, and I was quickly overwhelmed. I didn’t have enough time to listen to all the requests.
As I ‘listened,’ several of the requests moved me to prayer. Eventually, prayer wasn’t enough. I had to respond somehow and let these people know that someone cared enough to pray. More importantly, I wanted them to understand that there was a God who loved them and cared about what was going on in their life.
About the time I decided to jump into the conversation, a heartbreaking tweet came up on my monitor:
“Must stave off breakdown. It’s too much knowing my daughter’s going blind. I pray she sees her baby girl before that happens; if it must. March 30, 2008″
That tweet broke me. I knew I needed to respond, but how do you respond to something like that in 140 characters in a way that doesn’t come across as religious and trite. I prayed hard and then replied:
“@[her name] – God brought your tweet to my attention. He loves you. Praying for you and your daughter.”
To my surprise, she replied and thanked me for my prayers. Later on that evening she tweeted:
“Night y’all. Thanks for your care & prayers for my daughter [daughter's name]. I pray her blindness/migraines stop & she’ll see her baby being born. March 30, 2008″
I followed her on Twitter so that I could keep up with her and her daughter and see how God was going to answer my prayer. A few weeks later she tweeted:
“[Baby's name] was born @ 9:58 PM on 04/22/08. She’s a beautiful, healthy girl & [daughter's name] doing well. Thanks y’all for your best wishes. April 23, 2008″
She communicated that her daughter was able to hold her baby and see her when she was born. I was so excited. I remembered that 1 Chronicles 16:8 says, “Give thanks to the LORD; call on His name; proclaim His deeds among the peoples.” Basically that means that we get to point to things God does and shout, “Look at what God did! Isn’t He amazing!” I wanted to obey this passage, so I replied,
“@[her name] – Congratulations! Praise the Lord for answering our prayers! Glad she could see her baby!”
Later on that night she replied to everyone,
“I’m so tired. You’d think I had the baby. I truly thank everyone for your prayers, good wishes & support for [daughter's name] during her difficulty April 23, 2008″
A couple of weeks later she tweeted,
“My daughter’s eyesight is returning to normal since the birth of [her baby] on Earth Day (04/22/08). I appreciate all the prayers & love. Thanks May 05, 2008″
I praise the Lord for what He did in that woman’s life. After reading her bio and website, I realized she was probably not a Christian, even though she came from a Christian culture. I’ve long since lost contact with her, but I hope God continues to work in her life and draw her to Christ.
After that, I knew that the Holy Spirit wasn’t going to let me simply listen to what was going on online. I had to jump into the conversation.
Of course, it is possible to use a comparable approach with conventional blogs, using Google alerts to search for blog postings on specific personal needs or affinity interests, then gently and sensitively respond direct to the blog owner or by add a blog comment to the posting where appropriate.
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