Cyber-Ministry

Steve Knight - Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

Editor's note. Although this article by Steve Knight, the editor of the now defunct Kamikaze, is not specifically for the Underground the principles are still relevant.

"For the Church the new world of cyberspace is a summons to the great adventure of using its potential to proclaim the Gospel message. This challenge is at the heart of what it means at the beginning of the millennium to follow the Lord's command to 'put out into the deep': Duc in altum! (Luke 5:4)." --Pope John Paul II, "Internet: A New Forum for Proclaiming the Gospel"

Why is Internet Evangelism So Important?

12% of the adult population is already using the Internet for religious purposes. The most common of those purposes is to interact with others via chat rooms or e-mail about religious ideas, beliefs or experiences. That represents about 25 million adults who rely upon the Internet for religious expression each month." --Barna Research, "The Cyberchurch is Coming"

"Search and you will find: Fueled by a rapidly growing number of venues and resources, more people than ever are seeking faith, community, and solace online. In this special report, we look at what's going on, what makes it different, and how, for some, the Net has become a religious experience all its own," --"God Sitings," Yahoo! Internet Life magazine

"A recent survey for a television series on faith and religion in Britain reveals that the majority do not describe themselves as 'religious', but rather as 'spiritual'. That same majority still believes in God and prays. This finding is echoed in a recent report in Le Monde (10th July 2000) that there are not fewer than 170,000 pages on the Internet containing the word 'God' and offering spiritual guidance." -- George Carey, "Preaching Christ in a Broken World," Amsterdam 2000

The Internet is now the primary communication tool for U.S. teenagers, according to a recent study by AOL. Eighty-one percent of teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 e-mail friends and relatives, while 70% use instant messaging (IM) applications to keep in touch. Older teens (aged 18 - 19) are even more likely to use the Net for communication. Ninety-one percent use e-mail and 83% use IM. Fifty-six percent of respondents in this age group said they preferred the Internet to the telephone. Fifty-eight percent of younger teens and 61% of older teens go online for schoolwork, while 26% of younger teens and 61% of older teens go online for news and current events information. (CyberAtlas, January 31, 2002)

The Internet is Both a Tool and a Community

"The Internet is yet another communications technology that can be used by the church to get the message out in a compelling and relevant way. But this technology has a difference: it not only allows us to communicate on a global yet intimate scale, but it also allows us to 'inhabit' a virtual environment and create disembodied communities. ... We use the Internet, as a tool, and yet we also inhabit the Internet, as a space, a community. ... Many in the church will continue to insist that the Internet is simply a 'tool' rather than a place where community happens, and therefore will miss the chance to meaningfully participate in the growing community of online believers and seekers." --Andrew Careaga, author of "e-Ministry"

We Must Be Proclamatory ...

"To minister effectively to this age we must become creative in our communication! We must become flexible. While principles do not change, strategies must. Paul says to us in I Corinthians 9:22, 'We must become all things to all men so that by all possible means we may save some.' The motor vehicle gear that takes us effectively over the plain will not take us over the hill. The clothes for summer will not do for winter. Tower of Babel out there demanding of us creativity and excellence. ... No matter how much we baptize mediocrity and outdated traditions, they will not regain their utility in the highly competitive, rapidly changing, inter-active computer culture of the 21st century." --Gerry O. Gallimore, "The Evangelist Communicates Effectively," Amsterdam 2000

"'How do you reach a generation that hears with its eyes and thinks with its feelings?' ... First and foremost, we will need to have a proclamation that is not only heard but also seen. We cannot just speak the Gospel. We will have to embody the Gospel." --Ravi Zacharias, "Evangelistic Preaching in the 21st Century," Amsterdam 2000

... and "Reverse Incarnational"

"Effective evangelism on the Internet requires believers to do a bit of 'reverse incarnation.' We must enter the culture of cyberspace and dwell among its inhabitants, in essence becoming 'incarnational' in cyberspace (even though we are leaving our bodies -- our 'carnals' -- behind). We need to take John 1:14 -- 'the word became flesh and dwelled among us' -- and turn it inside out, so that we flesh-and-blood Christians become words in cyberspace and dwell among others in the cyber environment. For this to happen, the church on the Internet must be about more than just slapping up a static web page. The church -- and by this I mean believers of all stripes -- must actively engage in the cyberculture through the more interactive avenues of instant messaging, chat, blogs, online communities ... At the same time, the church must always be incarnational. Cyberspace does not replace physical space. Cyberpresence does not replace physical presence." --Andrew Careaga

"... by providing information and stirring interest it makes possible an initial encounter with the Christian message, especially among the young who increasingly turn to the world of cyberspace as a window on the world. It is important, therefore, that the Christian community think of very practical ways of helping those who first make contact through the Internet to move from the virtual world of cyberspace to the real world of Christian community." --Pope John Paul II, "Internet: A New Forum for Proclaiming the Gospel"

"The fact that through the Internet people multiply their contacts in ways hitherto unthinkable opens up wonderful possibilities for spreading the Gospel. But it is also true that electronically mediated relationships can never take the place of the direct human contact required for genuine evangelization. For evangelization always depends upon the personal witness of the one sent to evangelize (cf. Rom 10:14-15)." --Pope John Paul II, "Internet: A New Forum for Proclaiming the Gospel"

Counting Conversations Not Conversions

"The Internet is all about having conversations and engaging one another. Step into a chat room and see how people are truly connecting with one another. (Sure, it'll feel disorienting the first few times, but stick with it.) If we understand that the 'tech' of the Internet is really a medium for connecting with others in very real and intimate ways, then we will grasp the idea that we really can have something similar to 'f2f' [i.e. face to face] relationships fostered via cyberspace.

"I like what my friend Jim Hendersen says, we become 'Christian consultants' or 'spiritual consultants' to our friends. Not salesmen. Not preachers. Not manipulators or broadcasters. We're friends, and we make ourselves available as consultants or guides to people in their spiritual journey. I often say (actually I have a book about this coming out next spring, called 'More Ready Than You Realize') that the essential thing is 'to count conversations more than conversions.' If we are always trying to convert people, we'll shortchange conversations--with all their questions and twists and turns and ups and downs -- and as a result, conversions won't happen. But if we focus on asking good questions and keeping conversations going, conversions naturally occur." --Brian McLaren

Conclusion

  • The Internet -- also known as the Web, the Net, and cyberspace -- is the next frontier of evangelism. The Internet presents exciting, new opportunities and challenges.
  • Evangelism on the Internet is vitally important because of millions of people are online and thousands more are going online every day. Many of these people are already searching the Web for spiritual truth and direction.
  • We have a responsibility to harness the Internet as both a powerful tool for spreading the Gospel and a wide-open community in which to communicate the Gospel.
  • In order to harness the Internet for evangelism, we must be proclamatory as well as "reverse incarnational" -- counting conversations, not conversions.

"The Internet causes billions of images to appear on millions of computer monitors around the planet. From this galaxy of sight and sound will the face of Christ emerge and the voice of Christ be heard? For it is only when his face is seen and his voice heard that the world will know the glad tidings of our redemption.

This is the purpose of evangelization. And this is what will make the Internet a genuinely human space, for if there is no room for Christ, there is no room for man. Therefore, on this World Communications Day, I dare to summon the whole Church bravely to cross this new threshold, to put out into the deep of the Net, so that now as in the past the great engagement of the Gospel and culture may show to the world 'the glory of God on the face of Christ' (2 Cor 4:6). May the Lord bless all those who work for this aim." --Pope John Paul II, "Internet: A New Forum for Proclaiming the Gospel," for the 36th World Communications Day, Sunday, May 12, 2002

by Steve Knight (Internet Senior Editor, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association)
©2002 Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

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