Future opportunities in web evangelism
The Internet has been with us for 10 years and has grown from a hobby for computer enthusiasts to a worldwide phenomenon with 1000 million users. What are the next steps in web evangelism? I’ve discussed this with some leading web evangelism advocates, trying to analyze trends and opportunities.
There are new technologies coming along – many mobile phones and devices now have iPod, web browsing, and video capability. However, these personal devices are primarily an extension of the individual. They enable him or her to communicate better with those of their choice. It seems unlikely that non-Christians in any numbers will elect to use their mobile devices to search for Christian content or to use a Podcasting capability to download Christian radio/music content, daily devotional text messages, or anything. Why should they? There may be opportunities for Christian ministries to offer material for mobile devices based on secular interest or personal need – the ‘bridge strategy’ covered later. Of course, mobile access is expensive – it’s not the same as searching the Web on a fixed-line with unlimited flat-rate access.
However, it’s likely that the main evangelistic value of these technologies will be to help savvy Christians use them within their network of relationships, to share video clips or audio content with evangelistic content.
As more people move to broadband web access, streamed video and audio become practical. It is possible to listen to live feeds from Christian radio or TV, as well as view ‘webcasts’ of specific events. However, unless this material is very user-friendly for non-Christians, it may have relatively little impact. In most situations, the best use of this capability is likely to be short video clips of testimonies, to enhance a written online testimony within an outreach site. [http://guide.gospelcom.net/resources/angie.php]
Such audio/video content has particular significance to the increasing numbers of low-literacy and second-language users of the web:
Significant areas of potential
The main future potential for online evangelism seems to be in these existing areas:
1. Church websites
Although a majority of churches in many countries now have websites, it is sadly true that most are written for Christians, in ‘churchy’ language. They do not connect easily with non-Christians in the community. However, when a church understands the principles for building a site that is non-Christian-friendly, a very different picture emerges: “Week in, week out, more visitors turn up at our church on a Sunday because of the website, than anything else.” (King’s Church, Kingston UK)
See 60 Tips for Effective Church Sites: http://ied.gospelcom.net/church-site-tips.php
If churches applied these principles to their sites, they could reach many more people.
2. ‘Bridge Strategy’ websites
The Web is like a reference library. Who visits the Christian section of a library? Believers: yes. Seekers: yes. Researchers: sometimes. Most non-Christians: never in a lifetime. Since most non-believers are not normally searching for Christian content, we must create content about the subjects they ARE searching for – whether it is general interests or personal felt needs. We call this the ‘Bridge Strategy’, because an appropriate bridge can lead visitors with integrity across to gospel content. This is the strategy that most ATS materials are based on, and God has blessed it richly. It’s a ‘fishing on the other side of the boat’ approach.
Although there are many excellent online presentations of the Gospel, there are relatively few ‘Bridge Strategy’ sites designed to catch people ‘further back’. We can call this the ’99 Per Cent Problem’: at least 99 per cent of all Christian websites (and books and videos!) have been written primarily, or completely, for Christians only, using churchy jargon and concepts.
There is a desperate need for more websites using this understanding. (See point #5 for how such sites can be built by non-technical people.)
We can be more effective in evangelism if we understand the Gray matrix and how people move upwards in their spiritual journeys:
3. Non-English languages
The number of outreach sites in the English language is still tragically low, but in many other languages there is almost nothing. Japan, a very web-literate society with great spiritual need, has only a handful of outreach sites. There is virtually nothing in Russian. The potential for reaching (and then discipling) the 100 million web users in mainland China is immense. There is great need for material targeting India (in both English and vernacular languages). Almost all the hard-to-reach countries in the so-called 10-40 Window can be reached online.
4. Effective follow-up
One of the potential weaknesses of any media outreach, including web, literature or radio, is how to link up inquirers and converts with real Christians on the ground. Many webmasters of small outreach sites may not know how to achieve this, and few larger online ministries could hope to have a complete range of worldwide contacts for follow-up referral. Happily, there are co-operative software developments in the pipeline which will facilitate this type of follow-up. It is an area which needs considerable emphasis.
5. Content Management Systems and Blogs
Content Management (CMS) is the process whereby you can add content to a website without technical knowledge, by pasting text into an editing interface with your browser. Blogs (an online diary-type comment website) use this system too. Blogs written around a secular interest from a Christian perspective can be very effective. CMS also has great potential for church websites, allowing an attractive site to be created and maintained by complete non-techies. An increasing number of ministries offer these ready-made CMS template websites.
6. Involvement of non-technical people
Many Christians have not even considered involvement in web evangelism because they do not see themselves as technical. They may even be complete technophobes! But the good news is that there are many spare-time (and full-time) opportunities for email mentoring and writing, which require no technical knowledge. And CMS enables non-techies to create websites. Chat room evangelism also has vast potential. There are many ways for the gifts of thousands of Christians to be used. It’s important to note that most conversions result from mentoring relationships with real people, even when the initial point of evangelistic contact may have been media-related: literature, web, or radio.
The Web is an evangelistic tool of immense power. But to a considerable extent, we are not yet utilizing this potential.
“I believe that the Internet is one of the most powerful evangelistic tools and will impact the world for Jesus Christ in this generation.” – Professor Dan Henrich, Liberty University
“See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.” – Revelation 3:8
Tony Whittaker is editor of the Web Evangelism Guide [http://guide.gospelcom.net/index.php] and co-ordinator for Internet Evangelism Day [http://ied.gospelcom.net/index.php]. He is based in UK, and works with WEC International.
Copyright 2005 – American Tract Society