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Monday, October 04, 2010 

Five Ways the Internet Is Changing Evangelism and Missions

There are currently 1.7 billion active Internet users; another three billion are expected to be added in the next five years. The developing world will soon go online as cell phones become smartphones and as cheap digital devices such as netbooks and e-readers proliferate. The rollout of fiber-optic cable in Africa and massive satellite communication projects will also mean that bandwidth availability and reach will increase.

Within five years, at least half the globe should be online; within fifteen years, Internet reach should be almost universal. Global proclamation will soon be within the reach of any Christian with a computer.

The changes are not only quantitative, they are also qualitative. The very nature and dynamic of Christian ministry are being fundamentally altered due to the new possibilities for relationship, connectivity, and information delivery that the Internet has brought about. The very heart of how we minister is being changed forever in at least ten significant areas.

  1. Information. The Internet is bringing an enormous amount of timely strategic information into the hands of even the smallest church or mission agency. These include religious and cultural statistics, demographics, compilations such as Operation World, and research websites such as Joshua Project, Caleb Project, and StrategicNetwork. This is allowing us to see the big picture better than ever and to drill down to the small details that affect how we implement our evangelism strategies.

  2. Ratiocination. People “think aloud” in cyberspace. The theology and practice (including ecclesiology and missiology) of most Christians is now primarily formed as a peer-to-peer online process with occasional expert input. There is less and less reference to decisions promulgated by the central governing ecclesiastical bodies of the major world religions. People do their own thinking, and they do so increasingly online through sources such as Wikipedia; out-of-copyright commentaries; and through browsing various websites, e-groups, and postings on social networks. Those ministries who wish to influence opinion need to start doing so in cyberspace, because that is where Christian opinion is now largely being formed.

  3. Exploration. People do their private, personal, and controversial thinking online. If a person wants to find out about a suspected medical matter or investigate a forbidden political opinion, they first check it out online. A Muslim wishing to find out about Christianity is not likely to ask his or her family or imam; rather, he or she will look at Christian websites. About one-quarter of all Internet users make regular queries about religious matters. They are exploring their own and other faiths. The Church needs to have an evangelistic, apologetic, and missionary presence in this new global marketplace of ideas.

  4. Collaboration. The Internet is facilitating collaboration across denominational boundaries and across national borders. Experts are now able to link up with other experts in fields such as church planting and theological education. This collaboration is making the denomination almost obsolete. Most Christian workers now operate in networks rather than in denominational silos. People are partnering with like-minded specialists in their area of interest rather than with people who totally agree with their formal belief system.

  5. Validation. People use the Internet to check things out. This applies to everything from a “too-good-to-be-true” investment scam to the local church they plan to attend when they move to a new city. One oft-quoted statistic is that eighty-five percent of young people check out a church's website before deciding whether or not to even visit that church in the first place. Churches and organizations that are easy to validate online have a huge competitive advantage. This includes having a clear statement of faith and making your ethos, programs, meeting times, address, contact information, operating principles, and finances clear and above board to the honest online enquirer.

- John Edmiston, Cybermissions.org (5 More Ways Coming Tomorrow)

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