There are currently 2.4 billion active Internet users, and another 3 billion are expected to be online within five years as cellphones increasingly become Internet enabled smartphones and as cheap digital devices proliferate. The changes are not only quantitative, they are also qualitative. The essential dynamics of Christian ministry are being fundamentally altered. The heart of how we minister is being changed forever in at least ten significant areas:
The Internet is bringing an enormous amount of timely strategic information into the hands of even the smallest church or mission agency. This is allowing us to see the big picture better than before and even to drill down to the small details that affect how we implement our evangelism strategies.
People “think aloud” in cyberspace. The theology and practice (including ecclesiology and missiology) of most Christians is now mainly formed as a peer-to-peer online process with occasional expert input. People do their own thinking, and they do so increasingly online. Those ministries who wish to influence opinion need to start doing so in cyberspace because that is where Christian opinion is largely now being formed.
People do their private, personal and controversial thinking online. If a person wants to investigate a sensitive medical matter or political opinion they first check it out online. A Muslim wishing to find out about Christianity is not going to ask their family or their imam, rather he or she will look at Christian websites. The Church needs to have an evangelistic, apologetic and missionary presence in this global marketplace of ideas.
The Internet is facilitating collaboration across denominational boundaries, and across national borders. Experts and now able to link up with other experts in fields such as church-planting and theological education.
People use the Internet to validate others. This applies to everything from a “too good to be true” investment scam to a local church they plan to attend. One oft-quoted statistic is that 85% of young people will check out a church’s website before ever deciding to visit. They won’t even walk though your door until they have clicked through your website!
Allocation of Resources
The Internet is allowing donors, foundations and churches to efficiently assess projects and receive applications for funding across national boundaries. A big part of this is having trusted mission information facilitators who regularly supply quality information in a secure format so that it can be used for resource allocation purposes.
The gospel is being proclaimed on websites, in chat rooms, on YouTube, on cellphones and on numerous Internet-connected devices. Evangelistic crusades are using the internet both as a decision mechanism and as a follow-up mechanism. The Internet is a highly personal and economical means of proclamation and Internet missionaries do not need visas!
Online education has been a huge success and has revitalized TEE and distance education. Groups such as MAF Learning technologies are working at developing highly effective Internet based pedagogy. Many Masters and Ph.D. Programs are now partly or wholly via Internet-based distance education.
The Internet facilitates making the connections and the imparting of the information and motivation necessary for effective mobilization of pastors, evangelists and missionaries into the global harvest. ChristianVolunteering.org matches tens of thousands of volunteers with Christian agencies. A ministry without an online presence will soon find it very challenging to gain new recruits since for many people the ministry simply will “not exist”.
The Internet brings leverage to networks and enables contacts to be made for the multiplication of house and cell churches, church-planting movements and small TEE based bible colleges that are resourced via an Internet-based curriculum.
The Internet is not the be all and end all of ministry. But it is quickly becoming the starting point for all ministry. And without the starting point no end points! I used to think of the Internet as merely a tool for outreach. Now I view the internet as an ocean in which we must either sink or swim.
John Edmiston is is the CEO of Cybermissions, He has degrees from the University of Queensland, the Baptist Theological College of Queensland and the Melbourne College of Divinity (all in Australia) and has lectured at a number of bible colleges and major seminaries during his over 30 years in ministry.
If you want to learn more about online evangelism, then register for John’s class on Internet Evangelism offered at the CLA Online Academy this next quarter. Registration closes on January 6, 2014. Understand how to make a digital difference and advance the Kingdom of God online.