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Youth group taps Internet as Billy Graham outreach tool

FRANKLIN, Tenn.(BP)–A tech-savvy youth group put a new twist on the traditional method of door-to-door evangelism by using the Internet to invite friends to the Middle Tennessee Billy Graham Crusade.

Darren Whitehead, a youth associate at the 5,000-member First Baptist Church, Franklin, Tenn., said the idea to turn the youth group’s new website into a tool for evangelism came a few weeks prior to the crusade at Nashville’s Adelphia Coliseum.

“Because of all the preparation for the crusade, we had canceled our Wednesday evening services. But instead of just sitting at home, we thought it would be a great idea for our students to use Wednesday night as an opportunity to call friends, invite them to the crusade and then get online and talk about their experiences,” Whitehead said.

In other words, the youth group’s Wednesday night service, called “Fusion,” was held live in cyberspace. Students were able to log onto the website, www.fusionyouth.com, and share praise reports, prayer requests and outreach in a specially designed chat room on the site.

“It was awesome,” said Whitehead, a native of Australia. “We had more than 100 kids in and out of the chat rooms during the event.”

Whitehead called the event interactive evangelism. “One student used the chat room to invite a friend who was involved in Satanism to the Billy Graham crusade,” Whitehead said.

And another student organized a group of teens who went to a local shopping center and invited people to the four-day crusade.

Brandon Norman, an eighth grade student, encouraged those in the chat room to pray that God would provide good weather for the crusade after rain appeared in the forecast.

“I don’t think that God will let it rain and cancel something so grand and major,” Norman wrote online. “So many people are going to come to Christ … and that is like so many more people going to heaven.”

A student identifying himself as “David” wrote, “The coolest thing to happen at [the Billy Graham crusade] was all the people that came to the Lord.”

Another student, identified as “Gailsmiles,” shared about her experiences at the crusade. “I had like four or five kids that just sat around me wanting to accept Christ after Billy Graham spoke. It was … awesome.”

Rick White, pastor of First Baptist, praised the innovation of the youth ministry team. “What they did Wednesday night just shows that this generation communicates differently,” White said. “It gives us some insight in what we can expect down the road.”

White said the advances in technology show that churches “are probably not going to be able to do it like we’ve done it in the past.”

“It’s exciting and frightening,” White said. “You do miss the personal touch when you get into the Internet. But by and large, it’s an exciting generation.”

Whitehead said the youth group’s Internet site is a ministry run by students and coordinated by an adult leader. In addition to a prayer and praise message board, the site includes sermons archived from the Wednesday night youth service, downloadable videos and worship music.

“The Billy Graham crusade,” Whitehead recapped, “gave us a great chance to see how the Internet can be used to tell people about Christ.”

    About the Author

  • Todd Starnes