ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–The North American Mission Board is helping lead an average of 200 people each month to faith in Christ not by knocking on doors, inviting them to church or even talking with them on the telephone. They’re doing it through the Internet, using interactive websites to share Christ.
Just as the Internet has revolutionized almost every other form of communication, it is opening up new ways for Christians to share their faith. And the North American Mission Board hopes to help churches and individuals be more effective in sharing their faith online through both informational websites and personal interaction.
“Whether we are online because we are looking at something else or intentionally to share the gospel, we need to be there as followers of Jesus Christ,” said Thomas Wright, an associate in NAMB’s prayer evangelism unit who coordinates NAMB’s Internet evangelism efforts.
The strategy is a natural application of Christ’s methodology of going wherever there are lost people in need of the gospel, Wright said. Also, he said, believers are commanded to share Christ “as we go,” and the Internet has become a destination for more than 200 million people worldwide.
A resource is currently under development by NAMB to help churches use the Internet more effectively, and appointment of a national missionary for Internet evangelism is anticipated later this year.
One of the most basic aspects of an Internet evangelism strategy — particularly for a church — is to include direct links to some of the dynamic, interactive presentations of the gospel available on the Internet.
One online respondent, Wright said, wrote that while visiting many church websites she had learned a lot about churches and staff — but not how to meet Jesus. As an unbeliever she wrote, “It seems to me that churches would tell lost people how to be found.”
NAMB has taken the lead in this area with a number of interactive presentations accessible through www.thegoodnews.org, www.studentz.com and www.kidzplace.org. Recent additions include www.thekristo.com, an interactive presentation for students viewed by 55,508 visitors during its first month in January.
An estimated 500,000 individuals viewed the combined NAMB sites during 1999, up from about 100,000 visitors the year before. An average of 700 each month responded. Each of those responses receives personal follow-up within 24 hours from volunteers working with NAMB, Wright said, including referrals to churches and other resources.
Beyond the role of websites in presenting the gospel, another key opportunity awaits individuals who go online with the specific intent of sharing Christ with those they meet. While e-mail and online message forums can be effective, live Internet chat rooms can show immediate results.
One Internet evangelist, Wright said, reported going into a chat room dedicated to homosexuality and simply offered the opener, “Does anyone have any questions for a Baptist pastor?'”
The response was overwhelmingly positive as people used the anonymity of the Internet to ask questions, admit their struggles and seek the truth.
“Many of the folks who are living in this lifestyle recognize that it is a perversion and they are seeking help,” Wright said. “And believers have the truth of the gospel to help them. The most effective online evangelists share the truth in love.”
David Russell, pastor of Restoration Baptist Church in Burlington, Vt., said he was able to lead the 19-year-old operator of a sexually oriented discussion site to Christ. The “bulletin board” site subsequently was turned over for operation as a Christian site.
“It was really funny, because the [former users of the board] came and they got really angry,” Russell said. Their responses were met graciously, however, and “all of a sudden they started asking questions about the validity of Christianity. We’ve had some good discussions.”
With the anonymity of the Internet, all of the distractions, fears and concerns of face-to-face interaction are off the table — and individuals are free to be open and honest about their beliefs and fears.
Wright told of one medical doctor who had out of desperation typed in the word “prayer” into an Internet search engine.
“From that search he was led to a relationship with Christ. He now says he’s the best doctor he can be because he deals with spiritual illness and not just physical illness,” he said. “When this doctor got online alone, and he was really seeking answers, he could acknowledge to someone online that, ‘I don’t know.'”
One of the techniques that has been used in chat rooms is for two believers to simply start a conversation about Christ, with one asking questions and the other responding, Wright said. Other people get involved in the conversation, he said, “and many people learn that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.”
“The Lord sets up these divine encounters online just like he does in every area of our life,” Wright said.
One online evangelist shared that one night she could not sleep, Wright said. She got online and met a woman in deep despair. The conversation was guided to spiritual matters, and the woman made a profession of faith.
“In spite of what the media wants us to believe, there are millions of people who are seeking God,” Wright said. “Every believer with a computer can be guided by the Lord to the online divine encounters that are awaiting a faithful witness.”