In the cyber-savvy 1990s where the amount of available knowledge doubles every 100 days, Christian ministries and individuals are trying new evangelism techniques on the Internet to make an impact for Christ.
Peggie Bohanon, editor of the Internet for Christians Newsletter, shares her faith through a series of e-mails, postings, poems, and even homework help at her Muskegon, Michigan, site (www.peggiesplace.com).
Debbie Nelson of Schaumburg, Illinois, turned a graduate school project into a Web site (www.juliesplace.com) that helps bereaved kids. "I lost my sister when I was six, and I always thought there should be a way for kids to talk to other kids dealing with the same kind of tragedy," Nelson explains. "As I developed the Web site it only seemed natural to include my own testimony about the way Jesus comforted me and gave me hope."
David Bruce, pastor of a small evangelical church in Patterson, California, decided to use film reviews to get Web surfers thinking about biblical themes. His Hollywood Jesus site (www.hollywoodjesus.com) has been visited by almost 2 million viewers.
"We should use pop culture to attract the people ensnared in our culture," Bruce says. "I love our culture the way a missionary loves the culture of the people he feels called to minister to."
CHURCH WEBCASTS: Harvest Crusade, an evangelistic ministry in Riverside, California, broadcasts live events on the Web and video messages explaining how visitors can know God. Around 45 people a week accept Christ through the Harvest site. In fact, Harvest Christian Fellowship has 1,100 weekly online attenders who receive the entire church service on live simultaneous audio and video services on the Internet (www.harvest.org).
"The variety and scope of the Internet expands witnessing opportunities wonderfully," says Sterling Huston, a Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) board director. Huston believes the Internet offers Christians a unique witnessing opportunity because it allows people to ask questions with anonymity from their own homes. But this kind of personal access has a price.
"What the Christian community needs to be challenged by is the fact that the Internet not only is growing dramatically, but it's changing dramatically and therefore demands a great deal of resources," Huston says.
Large evangelical organizations, such as Campus Crusade for Christ in Orlando and Coral Ridge Ministries in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, are now spending up to $200,000 a year to maintain sites with multiple points of entry and keywords that are attractive to non-Christian Web surfers.
"When people surf the Web they are looking for the latest and greatest," says John Carley, president of Trinet Internet Solutions, the company that oversees the Harvest Crusade site. "If you want to continue to draw people in, then you've got to keep up with the technology. Our goal is that the church would be the first to introduce new technologies, but that gets really expensive really fast."
Some evangelicals are concerned that technological effects are not the best way to share the gospel, in addition to the problem of costliness of such efforts. "It's fatal to attempt to out-entertain the world," says Doug Groothuis, author of The Soul in Cyberspace (Baker Books, 1997). "The gospel isn't about entertainment and it isn't easy. It's about genuine life change." Groothuis, who is a philosophy professor at Denver Seminary, says people must experience the gospel lived out in flesh, not through text on a computer screen.
MEETING TODAY'S NEEDS: Other concerns raised about Internet evangelism revolve around the need for Christian community and the best ways to connect new converts to local churches. Harvest Crusade mails new believers a Bible and a growth packet, and the Minneapolis-based BGEA (www.theway.billygraham.org) sends a free subscription to Decision magazine.
"One of the primary needs of the Christian online community is for a network of responsible ministries worldwide who can supply discipleship after someone becomes a Christian," Huston says.
Despite the large financial commitment required and concerns about local support community, many ministries are investing time and energy in a Web presence. "The relevant church—if it's being relevant—must understand that in order to communicate with this generation, we have got to use this method of communication to get our point across," Huston says.
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