Initiating Internet evangelism in the local church setting is a little like trying to ski uphill—it can be very difficult to get momentum. The best way we have found to do so is to develop an integrated system to support the online ministry. This approach has a number of benefits. First, it provides profile. Once a system is in place in any organization it becomes a part of the “machine.” Information about the system soon gets included in the church bulletin, on the website and in other key communication mechanisms of the church.
Second, it provides legacy. By building a system, the church has an Internet evangelism foundational structure that others can build on. Often there is a high turnover rate in church ministries which can result in a loss of key information, expertise and at times, the ministry itself. A system will maintain the foundation when a key person moves on.
Third, it provides integration. Internet ministry should be integrated with the strategic efforts of the church. The goals and objectives of the ministry should align with the vision, mission and values of the church. It should be embedded into structures and systems of other ministries in the church.
In setting up the system at Woodvale Pentecostal Church in Ottawa, Canada, we made extensive use of the free resources available through the Internet Evangelism Coalition (IEC). Our system, which included a weekly class on Internet evangelism, incorporates six building blocks:
1. Training. The best way to embed Internet evangelism in the local church is to engage and educate as many people as possible. Using the Online Training for Online Evangelists course we:
- Created an implementation/study guide that provides an eight-week training companion to the course. The guide was designed for local churches to assist them in training a team of Internet evangelists. We have made this is available through the IEC to those interested in obtaining a copy.
- Made extensive use of hands-on experience in the weekly lesson plan by ensuring classes took place where there was access to the Internet and audio visual equipment. This enabled students to see, touch and feel lessons online in real time.
- Encouraged students to evangelize on the Internet during the course and bring stories, learnings and questions back to share with the class the next week.
- Obtained certificates of completion from Wheaton College (Wheaton, Illinois, USA) and the IEC for the graduates.
- Had the church agree to hold this class two times each year.
- Chose one student from the class to train the next group of students using the course in order to develop another leader and champion for Internet Evangelism at the church.
2. Hands-on Internet Evangelism. Taking a proactive approach to Internet evangelism, we have:
- Arranged a set time each week where graduates of the online training program can meet online in pairs and enter into discussions with people in chat rooms and blogs.
- Encouraged the congregation to look for opportunities to evangelize on the Internet, in emails, on their own web pages and in other online forums.
3. Internet Evangelism Day. IE Day provides an opportunity for churchwide awareness, celebration and involvement. It is a day set aside each year to communicate the outreach potential of the web among the worldwide church. There are many tools and ideas on the IE Day website to consider for your church. At Woodvale we use this opportunity to commission the Internet evangelists who have graduated from the online training course throughout the year. We view Internet evangelists just as we view missionaries we send to a foreign field. We train, commission, send and pray for them.
4. Gospel Presentation. The majority of church websites include little or no information on how to become a Christian. On Woodvale’s website we include a link to a presentation created by the IEC. This relevant presentation, Now Try God, is set up so that individuals who go through the entire presentation will be referred to the originating church. In other words, if the site was found through our church website, the seeker would be referred to our church for follow up.
5. Local Church Involvement. We also want to ensure that seekers and new believers who come to our church through our Internet evangelism efforts become engaged in the local church. The cell group system is the mechanism we use to introduce new people to the church. This allows us to integrate our Internet ministry with other ministries in the church and ensure that caring people are ready to welcome new people into the fellowship. It also ensures they are followed-up with and grow in their faith.
6. Spiritual Growth. Finally, we use the Growing in Christ project of the IEC (created by Campus Crusade for Christ) as a means of ensuring follow up of new believers. People who come to Christ online are comfortable in an online environment. Growing in Christ is a site that new believers can be sent to for follow up until, or in addition to, their involvement in a local church.
Woodvale’s Experiences with Internet Evangelism
Along the way, we have learned some things and made some mistakes. The following are four things to remember when launching an Internet evangelism ministry at your church:
1. Be a champion. Even though the Internet has been around for many years, in the local church setting there are a number of barriers to entering into a ministry online. Starting a program in Internet evangelism takes a leader with tenacity and a passion for both evangelism and the Internet. Church leaders often do not understand the Internet—technically, intellectually and culturally. And although evangelism is seemingly an important component of a church, it can be easily crowded out and placed on the back burner as traditional church programs compete for the attention of leadership.
2. Be an encourager. People need significant, active encouragement to voluntarily take and complete evangelism training. The more positive, fun and enthusiastic the encouragement, the better. Fear of rejection and the unknown can be major stumbling blocks to evangelism. Encouragement is needed to work through these fears!
3. Be creative. Be creative in your approach. Impact is what is important. Find creative ways that work in your own church setting and context.
4. Be a part. A little focus or a lot in Internet evangelism will serve your church well. Place the gospel presentation on your website (considering using Now Try God). Train a class of Internet evangelists. Take part in IE Day. Or, do all of these and more. Just be a part of what God is doing through this new medium!
A Ten-Step Plan for Internet Evangelism in the Local Church
1. Meet with the senior pastor to explain the ministry. Obtain approval on the approach, deliverables, timelines, budget, etc. This should include a draft for project implementation that closely aligns with the evangelism strategy for the church. Make sure that all aspects of the ministry have been clearly articulated and documented. Provide the documentation to the pastor prior to meeting with him or her so that he or she is able to review the proposed ministry thoroughly before you meet.
2. Obtain any necessary further approvals. In the case of Woodvale, this was a lengthy process which involved obtaining approval from all seven pastors and the church board of directors. While this took several meetings (and months!), it was well worth it as all of the senior leadership in the church is now committed to the program.
3. Integrate the Internet evangelism strategy into the overall strategic plan of the church. Again, this may take time. This step is important to ensure that the approval obtained in steps one and two above makes its way into church process and possibly church bureaucracy.
4. Engage and invite the website committee into the project. If the church already has a process in place for Internet and website strategy, these individuals must be widely consulted from the beginning. In the case of Woodvale, the website is still driven at the pastoral level, so it was important to invest time in recruiting a team to carry the ball once the approvals had been given. Ensuring a team approach will ideally ensure continuity and a long-term strategy. In churches where we count on volunteerism, people come and go at a rapid rate, so the team approach to this ministry is helpful. Team skills or expertise needed on this committee include: strategic direction and project management, evangelism, graphic artist, web design, writing, editing and proofing.
5. Articulate a follow-up strategy for the church. Once people are reached over the Internet and have made contact with the local church, it is important that these individuals are followed up. The optimal place for this is through the small group/cell group ministry of the church. This has been the case with Woodvale.
6. Train small group leaders in follow-up. There is a myriad of training programs available for training the leaders of church small groups. A part of their training program should include how to enfold and engage new believers into the group and into local church life. At Woodvale, we have made sure that the small group leaders receive training in follow up. Ultimately I would like to see the churches create the option for small groups online.
7. Initiate a training program for Internet Evangelists. As mentioned previously, few people in the local church understand the Internet and how to use it for effective evangelism. A team of people need to be trained to respond to individuals who come in contact with the local church via the internet.
8. Place the Now Try God link on your website. This link provides a proven gospel presentation that will bring people to a decision point and then refer them back to your website for follow-up.
9. Begin to communicate and promote. Once your strategy is clearly outlined, a follow-up process is in place and your online evangelists are trained, begin to more broadly communicate and promote the website. This can be as simple as communicating to your membership that the gospel presentation is now available for them to refer people to. Or, it can be a comprehensive communications approach that includes paid advertising, billboards, web advertising, bumper stickers, etc.
10. Develop a measurement and feedback mechanism for the church. Once the program is up and running, a measurement system should be put into place. This will include gathering web statistics, monitoring response rates, engaging with new converts, getting the church involved, etc.