Casting a Net on The Net: Internet Evangelism Day
By Tony Whittaker
“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, forever. 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 40,000+ English-language Christian Web sites, but the overwhelming majority are targeted entirely at Christians. There are more than 150,000 church Web sites, 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, and the Middle East will have 17 million. Throughout the West, the majority of households have access to the Web.
The Internet Evangelism Day is Here!
It 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 -- the Internet Evangelism Day.
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 Web evangelism seminar can be designed.
There are be ready-made materials for churches to download from the IE Day Web site www.InternetEvangelismDay.com including:
- 5-minute video
- PowerPoint presentation
- discussion papers
- posters and flyers
- short dramas
Other Christian groups, such as Bible colleges and mission agencies, can also build a an IE Day program appropriate to their own needs. The IE Day site helps Christians to focus on these issues …
Understanding the Medium
We 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.
- Web sites 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 Strategy
No Web site 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 Web sites about felt needs or issues that interest them. Non-Christians hardly ever search for Christian sites. Therefore, to reach most non-Christians, we need Web pages built around interests and needs that relate to them, written in a jargon-free non-religious style.
This is the ‘Bridge Strategy’. There are Web sites (though far too few) which use this approach. Look at hollywoodjesus.com (films), hobbitlore.com (Tolkien), tothenextlevel.org (sport), getrealdiet.com (weight loss), or runningempty.org (life problems).
In 1 Cor. 9:19-23, the Apostle Paul gives us a clear mandate for this strategy:
Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ.
When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings. (1 Cor. 9:19-23 NLT)
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. 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. More than 2000 people professed a first-time commitment as a result of their visit during the month.
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 Web sites 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 Web site. 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 Web site into an effective outreach tool -- check out the Church Web strategies section on the IE Day Web site.
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: http://ied.gospelcom.net/dangers.php
Taking it to the World
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!”
Learn more about Internet Evangelism Day
More from the Internet Evangelism Coalition
Learn how to witness online through our Internet Evangelism Training
More Evangelism Resources on Spiritual Life
More from Spiritual Life
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