Sunday, November 02, 2008

An Open Letter from Internet Evangelism Day about Web Ministry Training

To: Bible College and Seminary Principals, Deans of Study, Training Administrators, Evangelism Tutors, Missiology Departments, Magazine Editors

From: Tony Whittaker, Internet Evangelism Day Coordinator, Jul 2008

At Internet Evangelism Day, we recognize the vital role that colleges play in equipping our generation for ministry and evangelism in a rapidly-changing world. You are probably already using the Internet in many ways – to reach your supporting public, network with your students and perhaps offer online distance-learning modules too. May we write to you about the potential of the Web for direct evangelism, and the possibilities for training in this area?

A new baby
In 1996, a birth took place which has already dramatically affected many of that year’s other 80 million babies. For it was then that the Internet emerged as a mainstream communication medium after its gestation period as a minority hobby. By the end of the century, it was becoming clear that the Web would be as significant as Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press – which transformed society, communication, the church and the entire way that the Gospel was proclaimed. M Rex Miller, in his book The Millennium Matrix [1], proposes that we now live in a ‘digital communication culture’, and that this is rapidly superseding the previous ‘broadcast communication culture’ (the radio and TV era from about 1950 onwards), which itself had to a considerable extent replaced the ‘print communication culture’ that Gutenberg started.
Those who grew up with computers as children can be truly said to have been born in this new ‘digital country’. Those of us who were adults before the computer revolution are at best ‘immigrants’, and perhaps still only occasional tourists in a strange new land.

A God-given tool
With well over one billion current users, and ‘the second billion’ expected to come online in the next few years (who will be almost entirely in the non-western world), the Web has enormous potential for cutting-edge evangelism (not least in the difficult 10/40 Window countries), as well as in nurturing believers. Unlike previous communication systems, it is not primarily a one-way linear medium (‘print on a screen’), but a powerful two-way relationship builder that can target any affinity group.

We thank God that some ministries and missions are already ‘seizing the day’ and using the Web effectively for outreach. But unfortunately, these are the exception. Although there are vast numbers of Christian websites and blogs, the overwhelming majority are only for Christians. Church websites can be very off-putting to outsiders. The situation is even worse in non-English languages. Most cross-cultural mission agencies are not using the Web for evangelism. The opportunities to use this God-given tool are immense, but not yet being grasped.

We wonder if this is a gap that colleges like yours could be poised to fill. With your vision, experience and resources, you could help to shape and establish a web evangelism movement that will impact the world for years to come. This new medium also offers many opportunities for student placements, assignments and research projects. A college could also initiate [2] a web evangelism project of its own.

Internet Evangelism Day’s role
Internet Evangelism Day is an initiative of the Internet Evangelism Coalition [3], a grouping of major ministries with a vision for online outreach. Its purpose is to encourage the worldwide church to understand and use this powerful new tool. We do this with an annual focus day on the last Sunday of April, and through a year-round resource website [4].

This site explains the nature of the Web as a medium, and explores principles and strategies to reach non-seekers, in both the West and the non-western world, including:

  • church websites that reach outsiders in their community
  • social networking and chat rooms
  • video clips
  • mobile phone outreach
  • outreach websites
  • blogging
  • gaming and the Second Life virtual world
We do believe that these are insights which any Christian in full-time ministry needs to understand, whether as pastor, evangelist or missionary. May we respectfully suggest that you might consider the possibility of a web ministry module within your curriculum, if you do not already do so. Our resources can be starting place for such a module. You can build an introductory seminar(s) of 1-3 hours using our free downloads [5]: PowerPoint, video clips, drama scripts, music, discussion questions and handouts. We can also offer seminar lecturers [6], in person or via video-conferencing. Our free articles [7] are available for reproduction in college magazines and alumni newsletters.

Many of our other resource pages and external links can provide a basis for additional seminars and lectures, and are frequently used for this purpose. We offer them to you free of charge – we have no other agenda than equipping Christians and catalyzing new web evangelism initiatives. Unlike mediums such as video production, much web ministry requires surprisingly little technical knowledge, and training courses do not need technical expertise or expensive equipment. If you are considering a more extensive course, here is a possible curriculum [8] and book-list [9].

The Web also offers students the opportunity to participate [2] in direct web ministry as part of their course, either through the creation of their own evangelistic projects, or by volunteering to do email mentoring or other ministry as a placement within an existing web outreach ministry. There are also many areas of need [2] for research-based dissertations in the area of web evangelism.

Can we interact on this?
Would you share your experience and thoughts with us? Do you already cover any of these subjects within your curriculum? (We will create a listing on this site of colleges offering training in these areas.) Do you have online publicly-available research or resources about digital media outreach and strategy? Are there other materials that we could provide for you? Would you like to network with others on these questions? Please email [10].

This letter can be freely reprinted, republished or otherwise copied. You can also download it as a PDF file [11]. Please discuss it, blog about it, pass it to others [12] in the academic Christian community, or suggest they read it online at