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NOBTS’ interactive cyber-tract furthers gospel use of Internet

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–With the arrival of Internet technology and its speedy presentation of a seemingly eternal storehouse of information, evangelistic experts have been looking for ways to effectively share the gospel over the World Wide Web. At New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Leavell Center for Evangelism and Church Growth, a cutting-edge, interactive evangelism tool has already led two Internet surfers to Christ and has garnered spiritual inquiries from all over the world.
Chuck Register, director of the Leavell Center and associate professor of evangelism at NOBTS, said he was looking for a new and exciting way to penetrate the world of the Internet with the gospel. Today’s generation, he said, is the most technologically advanced in human history, and Christians should be willing to break into that technology with innovative presentations of the gospel.
“The men and women of this generation grew up spending significant amounts of time watching MTV, playing Super Nintendo and surfing the Internet. They are used to visual presentations of information that include colorful graphics, animated illustrations and interactive dialogue,” Register said. “This was a response to the growing world of cyberspace. We were seeing a new market in which the gospel could be sent out instantly all over the world. We didn’t just want to put a written tract on the Web, we wanted to gain the attention of these techsters.”
As a result, the Leavell Center asked Don Elbourne, a Ph.D. student at NOBTS, to come up with a design for an interactive tract, using the North American Mission Board’s Eternal Life booklet as a foundation for its wording and adding multi-colored graphics and illustrations, as well as a 45-second animated presentation of the gospel.
“The result,” Register said, “was a presentation of the gospel that communicates with color, animation and interactive responses the message of the cross.”
The site also represents the first animated presentation of the gospel on the Internet by a Southern Baptist agency.
Before the Leavell Center got the idea for the tract rolling in August 1998, Elbourne had already been pursuing the idea of interaction in gospel presentations over the Web. In his research for a paper three years before he was approached to create the site, Elbourne said he found that none of the Baptists with sites on the Internet — most of which were churches at the time — had an interactive presentation of the gospel. Some, he said, had put together a simple page which outlined the gospel in writing, while others had nothing.
Interaction, however, was the key.
The gospel is presented in four steps on New Orleans Seminary’s site:
— God’s Purpose.
— Our Need.
— God’s Provision.
— Our Response.
Each site gives readers the chance to click to the next site and then to the next, until they reach the “Our Response” site. At that site, visitors are asked to click to a site with “Three Important Questions” leading them through a response to the presentation. Each question is a yes-or-no question and will lead visitors to a specific site for each answer. At the end of the questioning time, they are asked to read and pray the classic sinner’s prayer.
The interaction, however, does not stop there.
If they are led to Christ, or if they want more information, visitors are asked to leave their names and addresses on the site, so the Leavell Center can send them either discipleship materials or more information about becoming a Christian, as well as a listing of Southern Baptist churches in their area.
“I think this is a very important natural progression of presenting the gospel,” Elbourne said. “We’re right there at the beginning of it, and that’s good.” At the same time, he said, “There are still a vast majority of people who don’t have the Internet, so this won’t replace any form of gospel presentation we have now, but it is going to augment them all.”
With almost no publicity and a still-new place in cyberspace, the tract already has recorded two professions of faith in Christ, with both respondents being actively discipled by the Leavell Center. Also, the site has yielded four serious inquiries about Christianity, one of which came from as far away as Africa. Through the site, the gospel travels across oceans and continents in seconds and shows the church again how it must be prepared for ministry in the next millennium.
“This site provides Southern Baptists with an excellent methodology for presenting the gospel in today’s high-tech world to today’s high-tech generation,” Register said. “With a simple Web link to www.leavellcenter.com, any church or individual can take advantage of this exciting method of communicating the gospel.”

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