When it comes to sharing the gospel of Christ with many people at one time—casting the proverbial large net—Christians eagerly use the tools of their day. Paul preached from Mars Hill. Luther churned out printed Bibles. Huge crowds in the 18th century were drawn to Gospel tents. More recently, we have seen stadium gatherings. As Global Media Outreach Chairman Walt Wilson says, “The Internet is the funnel to put new believers into the church.”
The Computer Industry Almanac projects that the worldwide Internet population will reach 1.07 billion in 2005. Only 35% use English on the Web, which means that nearly 700 million are surfing the Web in another language. In fact, the top languages online are Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, Germany, French and Korean (with less common languages online as well).
A Vision is Born
From this realization, a new vision is coming into focus. The Internet can be used for evangelism in a variety of languages. Around the world, creative ministries are launching websites focused on drawing people to Christ. These sites are much different from those sites which exist to nurture Christians. Jargon is often minimal for those who, as Wilson says, “want to do business with God.”
These sites often feature indigenized content relevant to the culture they are reaching out to and address spiritual topics of interest to particular situations in that culture. For example, sites might use color schemes and layouts that are attractive to a specific culture. They may also attempt to answer questions about ancestor worship or dealing with spirits.
John Edmiston, founder of Cybermissions.org agrees the Internet has enormous potential for cross-cultural outreach. “Two-thirds of the Internet is not English-speaking,” he says. Edmiston adds that Christians using the Web for evangelism “can communicate one-to-one securely—as well as one to many.”
An advantage to Web-based outreach is that people visit these sites on their own rather than being sought out by ministries. “The Internet is where people do their secret thinking,” Edmiston says. “It's where they ask intimate questions they can't even ask others. This is where the anonymous feature of the Web is best put to work. People ask their deepest, most secret questions.”
The Global Christian Internet Alliance (GCIA)
met in Paris in June
International Internet Evangelism Network (IIEN)
Because of the growing interest in reaching non-English speaking people on the Internet, a new effort is underway to create an international network of Web evangelism pioneers who work in languages other than English. Organizers are calling this anticipated network the “International Internet Evangelism Network,” or IIEN.
The purpose of the IIEN is to advance global Internet evangelism by creating a community of Internet evangelism practitioners who share what they learn, thereby avoiding duplication of efforts, and offer encouragement to each other. The forum can help practitioners discover ways to collaborate in similar ministries, with the hope of reducing expenses and increasing Christian unity.
Endorsed by the Internet Evangelism Coalition
The Internet Evangelism Coalition (IEC) has long desired to assist online evangelism initiatives in languages other than English. However, its member organizations, operate mostly in English.
At its September 2005 meeting, the IEC executive committee and visionSynergy () partnered to bring into being this international Internet evangelism network. According to Dr. Sterling Huston, chairman of the IEC executive committee,
“The rapid growth, broad international reach and economical cost of the Internet offers individuals, churches and ministries an unprecedented opportunity to share the gospel of Jesus Christ worldwide. The IEC is enabling the church in fulfilling its mission by creating and communicating Internet resources for evangelizing our world. It has voted to establish a relationship with visionSynergy and wants to help facilitate this initiative. The IEC is cooperating with visionSynergy on this effort.”
VisionSynergy is a small team with much experience in creating viable and enduring mission networks and mission partnerships between churches, agencies and organizations to advance global evangelization, especially among unreached people groups. The ministry hosts a networking resource site (www.powerofconnecting.net). VisionSynergy believes that an international Internet evangelism network will significantly increase the growth and effectiveness of existing and new online evangelism efforts.
Collaboration Seen as a Key to Success
Many have responded positively to the vision for an International Internet Evangelism Network. “Connecting and collaborating are key to our future success in online ministry—and especially online evangelism,” says Mark Burger, executive director of Dad’s Place Ministries (http://www.dadsplace.org/). Burger was at the September annual meeting of the IEC.
International ministries are equally responsive. In June 2005, I presented plans for this network to the Global Christian Internet Alliance (GCIA), which met in Paris. The GCIA is an alliance of Christian ministries that have established online presences and over two dozen ministries from fourteen countries were represented at this year’s conference. The group identified common challenges that could be addressed through an International Internet Evangelism Network. Members of the GCIA will be early participants in the network.
Regional Expressions May Develop
One way a global Internet evangelism network might develop is through regional or language-specific networks. Early collaborative efforts are already underway:
• Several ministries are preparing an online evangelism effort for French-speakers (http://www.connaitredieu.com/). There are over twenty-seven million French-speakers online.
• Ministries are using the Web to reach out to Farsi-speakers (http://www.kelisatv.com/).
• Numerous seeker-friendly, evangelistic websites for the Islamic community are operating (http://thelightoftruth.com),/ containing both English and Arabic versions.
• China appears ripe for online evangelism with an Internet population of 103 million, second only to the US. Nearly half of web users in China are under the age of twenty-four.
Even in countries with fewer online users, such as Uzbekistan, community leaders are still online. Reaching these leaders through the Internet may have a disproportionate impact. Cybermissions.org leaders refer to a “tunnel and blast” strategy of using the Internet to tunnel into a culture to find a “person of peace,” then building a relationship and equipping the person to win the community and thus “blast” the gospel. In the developing world one person may be directly or indirectly connected to 300 people.
These developments reveal a dramatic maturing of the Internet evangelism world and the mainstreaming of what ten years ago would have been considered very edgy concepts. Edmiston views global Internet evangelism as part of God’s unfolding purpose:
“God has planned the use of Internet evangelism from long ago and stretched out his hand to bless it. We are at a critical period of world harvest when much needs to be done and yet many countries are closed to conventional means of preaching the gospel. God has raised up Internet evangelism and cybermissions as one way of meeting this need and is powerfully blessing it and making it effective.”