"Internet will be an authentically human place when Christ's face can be seen and His voice heard, for if there's no place for Christ, there won't be a place for man. God bless all those who work with this purpose in mind (John Paul II).
The Web – a Unique Medium
The Internet has become a 21st century Roman road, marketplace, theater, backyard fence, and office drinks machine. Web evangelism gives believers opportunities to reach people with the Gospel right where they are, just as Jesus and Paul did.
The Web’s explosive growth has been remarkable. In ten short years, it has jumped from being a minority hobby for computer enthusiasts to a communication medium used by nearly 1000 million people worldwide.
The world impact of the Internet and the digital revolution will be as far-reaching as the invention of the printing press.
To use the Web effectively, we must understand its nature as a medium. Each time a new means of communication is developed, people initially think of it in terms of a previous known medium. Thus, TV began as radio with pictures, but was soon viewed as a different medium in its own right, as people learned its potential.
Linear versus non-linear
Many mediums are linear – they communicate a message along a single line. Radio and TV are essentially linear (although these days, interactive TV can give the user some control). Fiction books, videos and tracts are also linear. However, a newspaper is non-linear – it contains multiple messages, not linked together sequentially. Users can move around as they choose.
The Web is also non-linear. A website is not (usually) a single page of text, but offers choice between a range of pages and maybe other interactive options too.
Pull versus push
Outreach literature is a ‘push’ medium. For instance, people offer tracts into others’ hands. Radio is largely a push medium – within a limited range of available stations, the user listens (or turns off).
The Internet however is a ‘pull’ medium. It draws people in – but only within the channels on which they wish to be drawn. It is therefore like a reference library rather than a literature distribution program. There is no automatic audience for a website.
Interactive and two-way
One of the greatest attractions of the Web is its interactivity. The user controls completely what webpages appears on his or her monitor. Each person will have a unique route of personal choice though any website, and across 4 billion webpages around the world.
The two-way nature of the web means that the user is no longer a passive recipient. When you listen to radio, the experience is one-way – unless you can phone in or write a letter. But the Web makes it easy for users to express opinions and interact with webmasters by email or instant messager, and discuss a site with other users by bulletin board, blog response form or chat room. At last, “my opinion counts”.
Just as a newspaper aims to build loyalty among its readers, a website can generate a ‘sense of community’ - the feeling that users can identify with the site. Successful sites understand how to create this intangible mood.
Implications of the Web’s properties as a medium
It is a mistake to regard the evangelistic potential of the Web as merely ‘tracts on a screen’. Such a perception will greatly limit its potential for outreach. Instead, we must understand the Web’s nature as a medium and learn how to work with its inherent strengths. Only then can we begin to use the staggering opportunities it offers us.
Organizations using web for evangelism:
Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Campus Crusade for Christ, International Chinese Evangelism Resources The Coaching Center Probe Ministries Campus Crusade for Christ Australia Christian Leadership Ministry Rusty Wright Worldwide Challenge SOON Gospel Literature Ben Haden Ministry
Does it work?
There is no magic bullet in evangelism, discipleship, or anything else. At most times and places, people only move upwards in their spiritual journeys if they have relationships with Christians and see the life of Jesus modeled in others. You may have read the book The Gospel Blimp [widely available new and secondhand] which develops this principle within a fictional story. The Gray Matrix [www.web-evangelism.com/gray-matrix.php] is a useful tool to help us understand spiritual journeys.
The Internet is unique in its ability to reach people. It is a ‘pull medium’ just like a reference library, it draws people in, but only on the basis of their interests. Rarely do people accidentally find pages they are not looking for. If you have zero interest in, say, hockey, when did you last accidentally find yourself on a webpage about hockey? Probably never! A website does not have an automatic audience. It is unlike radio or literature, which can be defined as ‘push mediums’.
It is the only medium which can target any affinity group of people, on the basis of ethnicity, geographic location, culture, hobby, felt need or interest, anywhere in the world. The Web can reach out to people such as ‘Jay’ - an imaginary but typical non-Christian.
God can use the Web alone to bring someone to Him. More often, it will be just one element in a chain, as this story [htechnology.ccci.org/stories/athiestgirl.html] of an atheist girl demonstrates. However, the testimonies below show how effective the Web can be.
Very early on, the Church became a strong Internet player under John Paul II. It understood the intrinsic value of its vast collections of art and texts, and gradually made much of it available online - thereby drawing in Catholics and non-Catholics. Almost immediately, the Holy See created versions of its Website in many languages and was among the first major worldwide institutions to use database-and-object technology online to publish, moving quickly away from the flat html pages of the mid-90s.
Moreover, the Pope understood the power of networked communication, especially for the young. He pushed the Church to adopt technology, to open communications. Here's a quote from one official statement on World Communications Day (2002):
For the Church the new world of cyberspace is a summons to the great adventure of using its potential to proclaim the gospel message...I dare to summon the whole Church bravely to cross this new threshold, to put out deeply into the Net....
Note the humor in the pun. The Blogging Friar Jack calls John Paul "the most media-savvy pope ever." As late as last year, in failing health, he continued to urge the Church to invest in - and embrace - the Internet. Speaking to a group of French bishops, he commented:
Your conference and numerous dioceses have well understood the positive character of this change, proposing Internet sites directed especially to young people, where it is possible to be informed, to be formed, and to discover the different proposals of the Church. I cannot but encourage the development of these instruments to serve the Gospel and to promote dialogue and communication. (From CCC site).