Online evangelism: How cyberspace is helping millions find Jesus
"And then he [Jesus] told them [his disciples], “You are to go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone, everywhere" Mark 16:15.
Two thousand years ago, when Jesus issued this command to a fledgling Christian church, it might have seemed like a daunting task given the fact that the disciples traveled mostly on foot back then.
These early Christians were the foot soldiers responsible for spreading the gospel throughout the then known world that included Asia and Africa. Little could they have envisioned a day when Christians could connect with millions of people in Europe, North and South America, Antarctica and Australia via the Internet with one click. Fast forward to the 21st century where millions of seekers are finding God from the comfort of their PCs, tablet computers and smartphones.
In 2011, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) launched "Peace with God," an online evangelism website. BGEA's trained volunteer online missionaries converse with visitors via a chatroom. Visitors can ask any question, but at some point, the conversation always turns to whether they have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Currently, over 3 million online visitors have logged onto PeacewithGod.net and made decisions to accept Christ. Another popular online evangelism website is "Need Him." Through its radio and TV spots, "Need Him" encourages listeners to call an 800 number to speak with an online counselor about their spiritual concerns. About the reach of online evangelism, a blogger writes:
Many people in desperate need of the gospel stop in Christian chatrooms, hoping to meet someone who can lead them to God. They think of Christians as experts in how to be saved and how to live a meaningful life. Some of these desperate people know that they are lost. They want someone to help them become Christians, and they say so as they enter the chatrooms. (From ilovejesus.com)
According to GMO's Michelle Diedrich, online evangelism reaches a wider audience today than any other means of spreading the gospel:
We are the first generation - ever - to hold in our hands the technology to give every person on earth multiple chances to accept Jesus Christ. More people use the Internet than go to church.
Diedrich explains, however, that online evangelism is intended to complement, not replace, traditional church programs and services. Q Place president Mary Schaller favors a [more] traditional face-to-face approach to evangelism. She shares her thoughts on the subject:
The obvious advantages to digital spiritual dialogue are its convenience, flexibility, accessibility and anonymity. Yet our culture is caught in a problematic paradox: Despite the increasing digital interconnectivity, people continue to grow more socially disconnected and lonely because most of the conversation is superficial. Can you have meaningful, life- changing digital conversations and relationships? I believe to a certain extent you can, but they don’t take the place of being in the same room with people.
Facebook is yet another cyber way Christians have found to meet and connect old and new friends to Christ. Facebook is gaining popularity as a place to share scripture, testimonies, church happenings and invite others to evangelistic gatherings. Likewise, weblogs have expanded the reach of the gospel across continents. When I first started writing my blogs, The Gospel to GO and The Gospel to GO: London, I didn't know whether they would find an audience. To my surprise, through Google Analytics, I discovered that the blogs have a worldwide audience spanning five of the seven continents. this just goes to show the power of the Internet. Antarctica and Australia, it's time to come on board.
But where does all this cyber-evangelizing leave the lowly foot soldier of the gospel in the scheme of things? The Bible says that foot soldiers are still valued as the preferred method for communicating the gospel to others:
And how can anyone tell them without being sent by the Lord? The Scriptures say it is a beautiful sight to see even the feet of someone coming to preach the good news. Romans 10:15
Online evangelism will never diminish the local church's role as an evangelizing body of believers. Online converts will always need a physical church to call home where they can practice their new faith, and build relationships. Local churches provide that personal touch, and face-to-face contact that the Internet cannot. The fact is many men and women who have trusted Jesus as their Savior, did so because a friend or a stranger simply took the time to explain the gospel to them.
Online evangelism neither eliminates the need nor the responsibility of local churches to engage in vigorous soulwinning efforts in their communities. Siloam Baptist Church in Norristown, PA is an example of how the local church can embrace the soulwinning aspect of its mission (view slideshow). Every month, members of Siloam's GO!Team take to the streets surrounding the church to engage with the residents and pray for the neighborhood.
Ultimately, the gospel's power does not depend on a particular methodology but rather on its relational ---God2man2man ---connection. Whether that connection is communicated over Internet or over a backyard fence, this is the penultimate message that Christians have to share with the world.
And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come. Matthew 24:14