Internet Evangelism Day: A different view.

Tomorrow is Internet Evangelism Day. Started by the Internet Evangelism Coalition (IEC) – an umbrella group of evangelical Christian organizations who share a vision for online outreach – is backing the IE Day and facilitating its promotion. Some of the members include:

American Tract Society
Billy Graham Center
Brown Governance
Campus Crusade for Christ
Christian Broadcasting Network
Christianity Today
Evangelism Explosion
Mission America

Locally, there are a number of church fellowships that use the internet, First Baptist in Jacksonville has a webcast, New Life on the eastside does streaming, and Celebrations has several campuses and has a pronounced web presence. Many more have sermons available in audio and/or video formats, but can it become useful? Has it changed what we mean by “Evangelism”? Is Internet Evangelism profitable?

Can it become useful?

Without a doubt, technology and infrastructure have always been the conduits for evangelism. The Roman highway system, unified language, and educational system served to assist evangelism for the first millennia, then came the printing press. Electronic communication; radio, TV, and audio formats in the forms of records, tapes, and discs ushered us into the modern age.

For nearly 2000 years, evangelism was done the old fashioned way, face to face, person to person, or has a T-shirt had it, “Won by one.”. Then with the arrival of Marconi and others, the electronic media allowed for greater exposure, but it removed the personal contact between the Church and the World.

Redefining Evangelism

When Rex Humboldt and Oral Roberts began their television ministries, tent revivals were still pretty common; in revivals and camp meetings you got to rub elbows with the ministers and the folk who brought you if they thought you might ‘need religion’. Then we bowed at the altar of convenience; no need to get up early and dress or even bathe, we can watch Benny on the TV while we eat our corn flakes or leftover pizza. Time a problem? You can just tape it, or watch it at anyone of the 32 other different times and channels it will be shown. Mega churches with 10’s of thousands of members at half dozen different services or buildings at least have some personal contact. Evangelism is no longer an invitation to a relationship; it has become about the transmission of information, like the 11 o’clock news. “This just in. . . God wants you to be blessed, let’s look at this clip. . . “
Is it Profitable?
If by profitable, you mean the largest outreach possible for the least amount of money, then the model looks promising; sites are practically giving away bandwidth, and estimates of people with web access number in the billions. A relatively small ministry can have a big footprint. City Church, a ministry in South Carolina is preparing to launch a multi site ministry in 100 cities this fall.

“There are some outstanding ministries out there doing multi-site ministry and internet campus ministry very well,” said the Rev. Jamie Osborne, senior pastor of City Church. “But I am not sure any single church has ever tried to launch in 100 cities at once.”

The model, Osborne said, involves a combination of web and face-to-face interaction. “We’ve tried to create the best of both worlds,” he said.

The effort was born almost three years ago after Osborne’s ministry had spent several years and hundreds of thousands of dollars sponsoring major Christian music festival outreach events.

“What we found was that we were doing a great job at engaging the culture,” Osborne said. “But we were having a terribly difficult time connecting these people to church.”

“Aye, there’s the rub” as Hamlet would have said, one of the challenges with connecting someone to a church is realizing and staying focused on the fact that a church is not the building or campus or website. Church is 2 or more gathered in His name; how one defines ‘gathered’ is paramount. If crowds gathered for festivals are not connecting with each other and with God, then it is because they are gathered in the wrong name.

So is this examiner against using the web for evangelism or technology for the edification of the saints and the search for the lost? As Paul said,”Let it not be!”* We can’t hide behind it, we can’t think that now that we have our web page up or our teaching tape distributed, we can just sit back and wait for the fruit. One church on Old St. Augustine Road doesn’t respond to emails. An Anglican fellowship on the south side let their website go without an update for 3 months! Churches must be missional, that is, going on the mission. The technology is a tool but the workers must still be in the fields. Allow me to relay this example; I contacted a number of the local ministries through and about their internet work. How many called back? Zero. How many emailed me? Nada.

Evangelism is about people and no amount of technology can change that.

*Romans 6:2 Young’s Literal Translation

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