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Articles on Cybermissions
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Table of Contents
Section 1: Getting the Idea
Overview of Cybermissions Journal Article
How Internet Evangelism and Cybermissions will affect the Way We
Do Missions in the 21st Century
How to Have A Big Ministry On A Small Budget
The Missionary Society of 2020
Section 2: Doing Some Research
Strategies in Cybermissions
The Edges of Cyberspace
Cybermissions – Where to Start?
Section 3: Local Churches
How Can a Local Church Can Have a Global Presence Through Cybermissions
Online-Offline Synergies That Dramatically Increase Evangelistic Effectiveness
Section 4: Online Security
Paul vs. John – Information Security Then and Now
Section 5: Theology and Future
Proposal for A Postgraduate Course in Cyber-Missions and internet evangelism
Socio-Technical Humanity: Technology as Part of the Image Of God and task of the Church
Can You Really Have an Internet Church?
The Need for Cybermissions Partnership
Cybermissions Reading Lists
Overview of Cybermissions Journal Article
Missions in Cyberspace: The Strategic Front-Line Use of the Internet in Missions
445.9 million (eMarketer)
533 million (Computer Industry Almanac)
709.1 million (eMarketer)
945 million (Computer Industry Almanac)
English 36.5%; Chinese
10.9%, Japanese 9.7%, Spanish 7.2%, German 6.7%, Korean 4.5%,
My personal involvement with computers and mission began in 1988 with an ancient Microbee personal computer that did not even have a hard drive! By 1991 I had helped start Australian BibleNet, which was part of the old FidoNet bulletin board groups. In early 1994 as the web was just starting, I set up one of the first Christian websites “The Prayer Page”, the first site to allow people to put their prayer points online and give lessons on how to pray. This eventually developed (in mid 1994) into Eternity Online Magazine, which ran until the end of 1998 when funding ceased. At its peak in 1997 Eternity Online Magazine had over one million readers and around five hundred people per year wrote in reporting they had found Christ through its pages. In late 2001 I took up the challenge of the Asian Internet Bible Institute (www.aibi.ph), which runs twelve free online courses including the 21 module Harvestime church-planting course, in an effort to equip (via icafes and church computers) the 70% of Asian pastors who have no formal ministry training. In combination with key missionaries I am currently also working on a strategy of planting internet cafes, staffed by Filipino missionaries, in unreached people groups in Asia.
Understanding the WWW
Ok so you want to be a cyber-missionary? This requires a deep and intimate knowledge of the nature of cyberspace and particularly these four foundational concepts:
Firstly - the WWW is not a broadcast medium. When content is placed on the WWW it is not “sent out”. The content stays where it is, on the computer it was put on and visitors arrive at that content via a vast web of interconnections. In fact the WWW can be private, semi-public or public. It is not like a radio station, that anyone can listen in on. Content can be restricted to people with passwords or put on obscure and unlisted pages that ‘robots’ and search engines are prevented from finding and web pages can even be encrypted. Thus the WWW is not designed to send out general information to a random audience, but to draw selected people to specific information. The difference is critical. There is no automatic audience. Unless you understand how to draw people through the network of links to your website you can end up with zero visitors.
Secondly, in drawing people to the gospel on the Internet it is essential to understand how people navigate their way to a web site. The WWW is actually most like a vast library and generally surfers do not visit web pages by accident any more than they take out a library book by accident. They mainly arrive at a web page on the basis of a relevant, particular and specific interest, via a search engine or a link from a related web page or an email. The Internet is not passive like listening to radio, rather the surfer is always active, clicking, searching, reading, browsing and intentionally navigating through cyber-space. Thus the web surfer is a self-directed seeker driven by curiosity traveling through a community of hyper-links. So you have somehow to be connected to where that person is now if they are ever to reach you. The idea is to position your website within one or two clicks of millions of people. You need to be part of the network, woven into cyberspace so people “bump into” links to your site in all sorts of places. You also must be able to offer them a reason to go to your page. Surfers are mainly in search of two things: human contact and relevant information. Curiosity and community are the driving forces of the WWW and cyber-ministries need to harness the power of these forces if they are to succeed.
Thirdly, the WWW was designed for scientists and military personnel to share data and is designed to share highly specific information with a widely dispersed audience. Thus, in a counter-intuitive way, the more specific your information, the more visitors your mission website will get! If your site is on a broad topic like “Christianity’ or “the gospel” you will find that it is one among millions – and yours is number 34,218 in the search engine. So your site will get very few visitors. My most specific and unusual articles, such as articles on human cloning, Theophostic counseling, or blessings and curses attract more visitors than articles on general discipleship topics. You can also see this principle operating in the commercial websites. General shopping sites on the Internet have failed by the thousands - while rare booksellers; antique shops, vintage wine and art sales have flourished. The trick is to have up-to-date topics that are highly specific. So when Dolly the sheep was cloned – I immediately wrote a Christian view of human cloning. It was about the only Christian article on the topic (in cyberspace) that week and was a huge success. Thus, to draw people to a cyber-ministry it is important to build on your special knowledge and specific strengths. Forget about appealing to all, instead be relevant, be unique and be specific.
Fourthly, the WWW is more about relevance to needs than it is about image. Content is King. So have good content that meets real needs. People will come even to a really ugly website if it offers free software that they want. The key “click factor” that causes people to decide to follow a link is the visitor’s perception of the site’s relevance to their immediate needs. Mainly these are relational and informational needs. Clicks are made “site unseen”. Visitors have not seen your site when they click on a link to it. So your graphics don’t matter a hoot. The decision (to click) is made, and can only be made, on the basis of information about the site’s content – not its appearance. Thus “cool” is not as important as connection, content, and clarity. Yahoo is one of the largest Internet portals yet it is quite ordinary in its layout. Some of the most visited sites on the web are just plain text. However all successful web sites have great content, are fast, useful, clear and easy to use and navigate. Great websites “connect” with and meet the needs of their target audience. So an effective ministry web page is relevant, unique, clear, fast loading, useful, easily searched, interactive and full of highly specific information and resources that draw people in to use, re-use and explore the website.
The Internet in Creative Access Countries
A recent Chinese government decision to block access to Google shows that governments can and do censor the Internet and they generally block websites for political reasons. Governments generally seem to be less concerned about religious websites that are politically neutral. The AIBI has students in many creative access countries and there is no sign of interference so far. Though an Internet ministry will only reach a small percentage of people in creative access countries, these tend to be businessmen or leaders. These leaders can download training material that they can then share with others. This is what I call the “tunnel and blast” strategy in that you “tunnel into” a creative access country and find a person who is widely networked who then organizes others and the ministry spreads. While caution needs to be exercised it is quite possible to minister effectively even in countries like Myanmar which has severe restrictions on the Internet. It is important for websites hoping to minister in creative access countries to be politically neutral, culturally sensitive, free of damaging information and cautious about the image that is presented and the terms used. Also bandwidth needs to be conserved (as connections are frequently slow and sometimes people pay per MB for downloads and surfing) and the use of large graphics, sound or video needs to be carefully thought through. With these caveats the Internet is a great means of praying for, encouraging and training isolated Christian believers in creative access countries. The “how to” of this will unfold later in this paper.
Internet Evangelism in
the Missions Context
Evangelism can effectively take place in chat rooms, by email, through friendship evangelism in email discussion groups, and through the gospel presented on web pages and in dozens of other online avenues. Tony Whittaker of web-evangelism.com has extensive resources and his web-evangelism guide can be found athttp://www.aibi.ph/articles/webguide.htm. The use of anonymous or pseudonymous email addresses makes web evangelism possible even in creative access countries. Follow-up can be done by sending lessons through email and enabling converts to download a bible and discipleship resources. (see http://www.aibi.ph/articles/gospel1.htm). As with all evangelism, integrity is a must. “Spamming”, aggressive pop-ups, and other approaches are unappreciated by most visitors and should not be part of web-evangelism. The unique thing about web-evangelism is how specific and focused it can be. Years ago I heard a statistic that, at any one moment in time, generally two-percent of any audience is at the point of conversion and ready to receive Jesus. I have found this true in my own evangelistic preaching and recently found that same two percent holds for Billy Graham crusades as well. Now two-percent of the Internet is a LOT of people. That means that on any given day ten million people online are at the point of conversion. By the strategic use of the self-selecting nature of Internet audiences you can reach just this “two-percent”. By titling your page so that it only appeals to people who want to make a decision and making sure it comes up well in the search engines you can communicate solely to those about to make a decision for Jesus. My evangelism page is simply called “How to Become a Christian” and targets those who want to become a Christian but don’t know how. It is read by thousands of people each year who have typed “how to become a Christian” in a search engine and dozens give their life to Jesus (in 1997-98, 500 people a year made decisions for Christ on this simple web page). You can even target very specific groups e.g. with a web page in Hindi with a testimony and a specific title that will show up in the search engines and attract those on the point of conversion. The Internet has also begun to be much more supportive of non-English scripts such as Tamil, Japanese and Chinese. It is quite possible to be a full-time and very productive Internet-based personal evangelist working solely with “ready to convert” enquirers after the gospel!
The Internet as Missions Exposure
Do you want to safely expose some bible college students to dialogue with Muslim clerics? Give them an anonymous email address and let them loose on the sites run by Muslim apologists. Do you want to teach tact in witnessing? Put your students in chat rooms. Do you want a youth group to dig into the Scriptures? Set them the task of answering questions online and they will be forced into doing the research for the answers. On the Internet missions candidates and bible college students can be involved with people from all cultures and belief systems and get exposure to both the friendly and the hostile with little risk of actual physical harm and in an environment where the mistakes won’t ruin the ministry. Like all forms of mission exposure it needs to be supervised by an experienced missionary and planned in advance. It can also be integrated into traditional mission exposure trips as part of the preparation before arriving in the foreign country.
Study Cells, Email Groups and Online Communities of Interest
One of the great challenges of cyber-ministry is to bring people out of individual isolation into online groups and eventually into face-to-face communities of faith. Students at the Asian Internet Bible Institute are encouraged to find other students in their area and to form study cells discussing the material together and praying for each other. Generally one individual will be the facilitator and motivator in gathering the others together. Communities can be intentionally formed through online discussion such as YahooGroups. Such discussion groups can be used for a wide variety of purposes such as theological discussion, personal sharing and prayer points, a discipleship group, online classrooms, coordinating a geographically dispersed project or team, sharing information among churches in a local area, community organizing around a cause, policy formation, etc. Most successful online communities have between 40 members and 600 members. Below 40 members discussion tends to be occasional. Beyond 600 members the traffic is so large that people start unsubscribing. Good communities are managed by “moderators” who are tactful and wise and know how to start, guide and terminate discussions. There are many testimonies to how such online discussion groups have proved an enormous source of support and encouragement to isolated missionaries, lonely clergy and busy believers. [Technical notes: By using CGI and Perl scripts it is quite easy to set up guestbooks, chat rooms, discussion boards. Reliable secure scripts can be found at: http://nms-cgi.sourceforge.net. The latest community trend is the weblog commonly known as “Blogs” see www.blogger.com. If you really get into blogs you can Use Movable Type for a dynamic weblog experience. For larger communitiesXoops (xoops.org) is a free, easy to install PHP/MySQL web portal system that has proved very useful for the AIBI Student Center). ]
Online TEE and Pastor Training
Theological education by extension has been around for many years in the missions context, in correspondence schools like ICI and through missionary radio follow-up from FEBC and HJCB. The logical next step is to create online bible colleges. This is what I am doing with the Asian Internet Bible Institute (www.aibi.ph). The proliferation of Internet cafes in the developing nations means that web-based training is now accessible by pastors in practically every small town in Asia, without them having to own a computer. Compressing study material into zip files and ebooks can minimize the cost of using icafes. This enables a 300-page training module to be downloaded in five minutes or less. Study materials can be printed out in the icafe or just read offline on the computer screen. The AIBI produces a CD of the materials as well as distributing them online. AIBI students seem to fall into a number of categories: pastors in remote areas who cannot access conventional forms of training, small denominations needing a low-cost training option they can easily implement, busy Christians who want to study at their own pace and time and who are comfortable with the Internet and bible students using AIBI material to supplement their studies. Another category is also emerging, Christians who simply don’t want to fight the traffic in Manila for two hours to get to a conventional classroom! This is an increasing reality in Asia’s mega-cities. Cyber-learning is still relatively new and many are cautious or fearful of the technology but it has the potential to provide a low-cost and very practical educational alternative for Christians, particularly in developing nations. The challenges of web-based TEE are student management, databases, and making effective use of online classrooms. Good database programmers, and a web-savvy Christian educator are the essential parts of the team.
Networking Missions Specialists
Missions specialists and project teams can be coordinated using email lists, discussion groups, groupware and web-portal software. For example a linguist in Pakistan can co-ordinate with a printer in Hong Kong and a funding church in the USA to produce a gospel tract in a tribal language. Discussions can be held among dispersed members of a team with each member receiving a copy of the emails that fly back and forth, so that highly specialized personnel can consult on numerous projects without leaving home. These technologies can be made secure through strict membership criteria and in some cases, by encryption of emails. I have used these technologies to coordinate prayer cover and to facilitate partnerships such as in the evangelization of a certain UPG. Task groups can be coordinated by using an online calendar with project events and deadlines. [Technical note: If you don’t like CGI calendar scripts try using www.calendars.net. TUTOS at www.sourceforge.net is a good free groupware package.] Email groups are particularly useful when they are focused on a specific topic e.g. “missionary member care” or a specific project, “reaching the XYZ tribe”. Successful lists have a very clear purpose, are factual and concise and have a positive tone, which is set by a committed team coordinator. In addition to email groups there are numerous networking and resource sites for missions that can be of enormous help in finding partners, information, and even funding for initiatives. Brigada is perhaps the best known of these (http://www.brigada.org) and a helpful list of mission links can be found here.
Online Mentoring, Counseling And Discipleship
The power of IT to connect people with common interests assists in mentoring missionaries and pastors and in online counseling and discipleship. A young missionary in a remote area can develop an email mentoring friendship with a more senior missionary, which can be a significant boost to the pastoral care of that missionary. Online leadership development has been attempted by organizations such as mentorlink.org amongst others. My observation is that in cyber-space more informal mentoring takes place, than formal structured mentoring, and mentoring tends to emerge out of a rapport that develops between two people online and then this extends into a deeper and more structured relationship.
Online counseling and discipleship has been a controversial issue with some saying it should not even be attempted. Proponents of brief therapy, solution-focused therapy and cognitive therapy seem to be open to the possibilities; while more talk-intensive psychotherapies remain generally opposed to online counseling. Various New Age therapies, personal coaching and motivational seminar speakers have adopted the Internet, even offering individual spiritual mentoring online. One coaching and training email list has over 1700 members. Career counseling has made extensive use of computers and online testing and counseling and is probably the most computerized segment of the counseling profession. Myers-Briggs and other personality tests can be administered online and thus staff selection procedures can be streamlined.
In the missions context a missionary can raise a personal issue with the mission counselor and get some online advice, and then, if needed, arrange for a visit to or from the counselor. Thus email access to competent counselors can help a missionary to deal with issues and irritations without accumulating the stress until a face-to-face meeting at the next staff conference. This is very valuable in and of itself. The mentoring functions can be used in leadership development programs, pastoral training and in discipling new converts in creative access countries. Cyber-counseling is not a full replacement for face-to-face counseling but in many situations it will be a much welcome relief and better than no counseling or support at all.
The community Internet café is gaining acceptance as a mission strategy and a form of holistic development ministry in bridging the digital divide. Andrew Sears of AC4 and Dr. Josias Conradie of WIN International are known as innovators in this area. The Association of Christian Community Computer Centers (http://www.ac4.org) is an organization founded to assist in the use of icafes by churches and missions, among others. In missions, icafes have been used as outreaches and teaching centers with considerable success in creative access countries where they provide community Internet access and teach English and various computer courses. This strategy seems to work best in small to mid-sized urban communities in remote areas where there are enough people to keep the icafe busy and yet where the icafe is still novel enough to be a welcome addition to their infrastructure.
I am attempting to take this one step further and use icafes as a self-funding sending strategy for teams of Asian missionaries going into Asian UPG’s. An Internet café of twenty computers can support between 4-6 Asian missionaries at an acceptable living standard for their area of ministry ($200 a month). Donated second-hand computers will be used to set up three such icafes initially with a further 27 icafes envisaged over a five year period, Lord willing and providing. The icafe provides a point of community contact, a venue for web-based distance education and income for the team (as in Asia support levels from traditional sources are often inconsistent). All members of the team are expected to be computer-literate but only one will be an actual IT specialist looking after the computers. The others will be church planters, community workers and educators. This requires team based, on-field decision-making structures which will be outlined later in this paper. Further information can be obtained by emailing email@example.com .
There are numerous other applications being explored. These include distributing Palm PC’s, loaded with development and educational material to remote communities (p3internet.org), justice and community organizing via email, mercy ministries and relief efforts coordinated through a web-site, computer distribution to bridge the digital divide, online church consulting and so forth. The fertile imaginations of mission-minded Great Commission Christians are finding innumerable ways to minister to the nations using computers.
Part Two - Moving Into Cyber-Missions
What then should a missionary society do to take advantage of the strategic opportunities and low-cost advantages of cyber-ministry? This next section is how I think cyber-missions can best be implemented within the operating procedures of a contemporary missionary society.
Integrating Cyber-Missions With Conventional Missions
Cyber-mission works best when it is in active synergy with more conventional forms of mission. For instance, a convert via web evangelism can be referred to a church in his or her area, or a student at the AIBI may want to articulate into a local bible college. Taking care of these transition points is a critical part of the task of the cyber-missionary.
The best way this synergy can happen is if cyber-ministries are a department of a larger mission and are headed by a Field Director-Cyberspace. Since the Internet has its own unique working conditions, sub-culture and approach to ministry it should be considered as a separate field for front-line ministry. It is granted that it is possible that cyber-missionaries could simply be incorporated into existing teams. A team reaching Thailand could contain a cyber-missionary doing web-evangelism in Thai. But this would probably lead to much unnecessary duplication with each field area setting up its own computers and cyber-outreach. Thus cyber-mission is probably best organized as a separate department within the mission, but with extensive links to all the more traditional fields.
Cyber-ministry also defies traditional boundaries and definitions of whose field is whose. An evangelistic website may deal with people from Kenya, Myanmar and Brazil all on the same day. Except for websites in a particular local language, it is almost impossible to geographically confine such a ministry. Hyperlinks create partners, and alliances are formed on the Internet that would seldom exist on the field. Thus the Cyber-Missions Department will be the “fuzzy boundary” of the organization and the place where many of its possible linkages to other churches and missions may well first develop.
A Cyber-Missions department does not just need computer technicians. It also needs passionate evangelists, careful bible teachers and sensitive prayer warriors. The Internet is simply a medium for the expression of all the gifts of the Spirit not a “gift” itself. That said, the WWW is a unique ministry space with a unique sub-culture and conditions of service. Cyber-missionaries need a definite calling and the ability to sit in front of a computer eight hours a day, three hundred days a year. Cyber-ministry looks easy at first but few people last more than three months in “full-time service” online. The requirements on human concentration and patience are immense and discouragements and weariness abound. Results rarely come as quickly as initially expected and people occasionally disparage cyber-ministry saying, “you aren’t a real missionary, you just play with computers”. The online environment can be emotionally hostile, and there are technical breakdowns. In fact it is just like any other form of missionary service! I advise cyber-missionaries to have some face-to-face ministry as well, as the lack of warm human contact can also be a very draining part of the challenge, especially for extroverts.
A Cyber-Missions team should contain, or have access to, a computer technician and a database programmer. Most of the other staff should be computer literate ministry personnel whose primary calling is non-technical (evangelism, teaching, mercy). The Cyber-Missions Team should have its own goals, budget, vision statement, and planning and be semi-autonomous. Where possible it should have its own physical space and be sufficiently separate so it is not invaded by other staff wanting their computers repaired. I spend a lot of time saying to people “No, I don’t fix computers” and this needs almost to be a sign outside the door! Cyber-mission should not be set up as part of the administration department handling donor databases etc. While administration and cyber-mission both use computers they have little else in common and are very different in ethos and vision. Ministry in cyberspace needs its own space and recognition as a pioneer frontline ministry. Staff should be selected carefully and should be biblically trained pioneer missionaries and have at least two years of extensive experience with the Internet.
A note of caution: There is some danger in the Cyber-Missions department being portrayed as the “glamour team”. Firstly, glamour tends to attract people who are there for the image, and who leave after a few months when reality sets in. Secondly, it will tend to develop jealousies among other mission staff, who may believe that money spent on technology is wasted. This tension can be minimized by getting donated equipment (and letting people know it's donated) and also by giving cyber-missions the flavor of a vigorous pioneer ministry with a spiritual and evangelistic emphasis that serves the real needs of the field.
What about the alternative of making the entire mission a cyber-mission? At the moment there are certain disadvantages to this especially in applying for funding and in recognition among peers as cyber-mission has not yet been validated and accepted. I think cyber-missions are best nurtured inside conventional missionary societies for another five years or so before cyber-missionary societies are formed on a wider scale. Specialist cyber-missions can be set up just like there are specialist radio ministries and specialist tract distribution societies. It is a valid way forward. However anyone setting up such a mission should be passionate about networking the ministry into other efforts in the Kingdom or much of its effectiveness will be lost.
Implication For Mission
The connected, egalitarian, self-navigating world of the WWW creates a culture that is highly independent, so most cyber-missionaries will not fit easily into a traditional missions bureaucracy. On the other hand, cyber-missions is technical, somewhat fixed in a physical place where the computers are, and demands continuous steady daily application to the task. You can spend a day looking for a missing comma in a script that runs the website. Cyber-mission is a free wheeling pizza and coffee world that keeps strange hours, but it is also a technical and precise world. It is too unconventional for the administrative types and too nerdy for the gung-ho radicals and thus falls somewhere between the two main types of mission structures today.
Good cyber-missionaries tend to be highly independent, focused, disciplined, intelligent, technically minded and sometimes quite nerdy. They tend to be the NT type category of the Myers-Briggs test – particularly the INTJs. They have their own wavelength and when this is respected, by giving them freedom and acknowledging their unique gifts and needs, they can be built into exciting and highly productive teams.
Because of the current popularity of the Internet there is the possibility for a structure involving hundreds of volunteers coordinated by a central team of permanent staff. The central staff team would strategize and direct the cyber-ministry as a core group, other missionaries in the same mission who were interested could do “some Internet ministry” and perhaps lead a bible class online, and a large team of volunteers could do web graphics, man chat rooms, help with translation and answer enquiry emails, forwarding more complex matters to mission staff. I envisage a Cyber-Missions Department looking a bit like the following flow-chart:
The Field Director – Cyberspace
The Field Director – Cyberspace should be a mature missionary with high-level leadership and networking skills and a good technical and theological background. He or she should be able to keep the team together and focused on the task, not lost in making minor technological improvements or absorbed in online theological disputes. He or she would also be a champion for cyber-ministry in the organization. The Field Director-Cyberspace has to have a detailed on-the-ground awareness of conditions in the area of ministry and the needs of the local churches. This enables the most relevant and useful online materials to be developed ensuring that the Cyber-Missions department is a servant of the national church.
This requirement for local knowledge means that an ideal location for a cyber-mission would be in Singapore or a similarly well-wired city in Asia. In such a location field conditions and local culture are more immediately obvious. If the team were located in the USA, with easy broadband access, first-world assumptions and a culture of having to acquire the latest technology, there would tend to be pressure to be a high-end, high-band-width ministry that would gradually become alienated from the reality of conditions on the field and the technological challenges of the recipients.
It is not absolutely necessary for the Field Director-Cyberspace to have a computing degree, as that is more the province of the technical staff. First and foremost, the Field Director-Cyberspace must be a visionary with a huge missionary heart and the ability to manage, delegate to, and receive advice from field missionaries and IT experts.
Finally, the Field Director needs to be focused on the church, and on the unreached, not on the Internet. The people visiting the website have a face and a culture and are Tibetans or Sikhs or Malay Muslims and it is these people who are the object of the ministry – not the technology. The Field Director needs to see the role as not just running a computer department – but being a pioneer missionary to unreached people groups.
Cyber-mission is going to happen. In fact it has begun to happen in the far-flung corners and on the innovative edges of mission. The mustard-seed has been planted. How then can it grow best? I would like to see a consultation held among missions on how to best structure, fund, plan and implement cyber-missions as a form of front-line pioneer ministry. Out of that conference I would like the major missions to set up cyber-missions departments, linked and networked to each other with high-levels of external and internal cooperation. Also specialist cyber-missions should be set up and take their place along with the other specialist missionary societies and hopefully in cooperation with other church and mission agencies. Cyber-missions is an adventure, and like all real adventure it has an uncertain outcome, and lots of risks, challenges and question marks. But the Internet is a great way to share the gospel, is incredibly effective and astonishingly inexpensive. Cyber-mission is complex, but it can be done and is being done successfully. Cyber-mission delivers results, and it can deliver those results in places where we cannot get any by conventional means. To use a saying from solution-focused brief therapy: “If it works – do more of it! “.
John Edmiston is Field Director-Philippines of Frontier Servants and the President of the Asian Internet Bible Institute. He has been in Internet ministry since 1989 and was formerly editor of Eternity Online Magazine. He is an Australian and lives in Manila with his wife Minda who is a botanist.
This is due to Moore's Law, named after computer scientist Gordon Moore who said that computing power / processing power will double about every eighteen months. Moore's Law has held true for over fifty years as technologies have changed from valves, to transistors to printed circuit boards and now to dual core and multiple core processors. There is no sign that Moore's Law is coming to an end and in fact processing power per $1000 is doubling every year or so (which is even faster than Moore's Law predicted).
Missionary work is going to be profoundly changed by this (and is being changed even as I write). The Internet has become one of the main places that people ask their spiritual questions and is the natural place people go to seek private and personal information (such as medical, financial, sexual and spiritual information). With the use of hand-held devices such as PDA's, cellphones and Ipods the possibility for distribution of the gospel has become immense. The 3 billion mark for cellphone subscribers was passed on July 1, 2007, by the year's end it is expected to be 3.4 billion plus. The 1.1 billion regular Internet users of today is expected to reach 3.3 billion by 2010 (just three years) as cellphone use spreads and people access the web, email and music online using their cellphones and not just their personal computers. In 2010 a single Christian website, optimized for cellphone use, will potentially be able to reach over half the world's population. The missionary on a bicycle could become the missionary on the computer.
The rise in the use of English and of the top ten trade languages means that 81% of Internet communication is in just ten main languages: English, Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, German, French, Portuguese, Korean, Italian and Arabic (http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats7.htm). Other major world languages include Hindi/Urdu, Bengali, Russian, Punjabi, Javanese, Vietnamese, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil, Turkish, Persian, Gujarati, Polish, Ukranian, Malayalam, Kannada, Oriya, Burmese, Thai, Tagalog, and Swahili. The improvement in handling non-English scripts and in translation software will make it relatively easy for a single missions agency to communicate the gospel on a one-to-one basis with the vast majority of the world's population. This is also being driven by the demands of trade and the human need to inter-connect. The rush to learn English means that China will be the world's largest English-speaking country in the fairly near future (2010 – 2015) though many may not speak it that well! India has a long history of the use of the English language and will also be accessible to English based attempts to communicate the gospel in cyberspace.
The vast increase in available bandwidth has made audio podcasts and video clips (as in
www.youtube.com) part of the gospel armory. By 2010 (or before) we will be streaming full length movies to millions of the unreached. By 2015, at the latest, a camel driver in the remotest part of Uzbekistan will be able to open up a personal hand-held device, view the Jesus film, send in a response, and get an answer to his spiritual questions, in the Uzbek language, in seconds. In fact I am part of a Silicon Valley based group of Christians working on such a system at the moment. And this response can be to a text message, phone call, email, letter or fax – multiple methods of input and output will be available. The Bible, the plan of salvation, the basics of the Christian life, and standard theological works will be universally available in digital form. With improvements in printing technology and e-paper they will also be universally available in print.
Many people will seek their religious information online, make their decisions for Christ online and be followed up online. Some will baptize themselves (as happened with Muslim background believers), others will join cyber-churches, some will join online and offline bible studies, or worship in small groups with their families. For billions of folk the cellphone or PDA will be their main means of finding out about God.
In this emerging information age the power of databases has become immense. A friend of mine who lives in England went to shop online for the first time at Tesco (a major supermarket chain where he normally bought his groceries). After logging in on this first occasion “Peter” was presented with a tab called My Favorites. When he clicked on it he did not find it empty - instead found a complete list of all the things he normally bought at the store. Tesco had tracked his every purchase for years and so they knew what he wanted and when he would want it and had arranged his “favorites” for him as soon as he generated an online account. The power of databases means that missions agencies will be able to track millions of individual Christian enquirers and precisely meet their needs for spiritual information.
The job of the missionary will necessarily move from proclaimer / communicator mentor/discipler as the purely informational needs are being increasingly met by the Internet. Information is only part of the equation of spiritual growth. Prayer, encouragement, and the impartation of anointing and power in ministry come through loving, interested relationships. The missionary of the future will be both high tech and high touch. I am not saying that there is no validity in the “missionary on a bicycle” approach, just that new means of communicating the gospel have become available and that this new means are powerful even beyond our wildest imaginations. According to my sources in Muslim ministry more Muslims are coming to Christ online than by any other method, and Campus Crusade predicts that by 2010 Internet evangelism will be responsible for the majority of its indicated decisions for Christ. The use of video and audio will mean that even non-literate or semi-literate people may now be able to hear the gospel in cyberspace, via their cellphones.
Why 21st Century Mission Agencies Need To Adopt Technology
The primary reason that 21st century mission agencies need to adopt technology is because the people they are trying to reach will have adopted technology and it will be their (the target group's) primary form of communication. As Prensky says (Prensky: 2001) people born after 1985 or so are 'digital natives' who naturally communicate with other via technology. When they talk to someone it is on a cellphone. When they watch someone it is on YouTube. When they write someone it is a text message or instant message (even email is now “old hat”). A large portion of their communication is technology-mediated communication, and with the inclusion of powerful processors on cellphones this communication is becoming computer-mediated communication or CMC. For digital natives a video game is part of the real world and having a presence in a multi-player role-playing community such as Second Life is perfectly natural. This is particularly true in some parts of Asia.
As John Naughton from the Observer wrote:
Just to put that in perspective, today's 21-year-olds were born in 1985. The internet was two years old in January that year, the same year as Nintendo launched 'Super Mario Brothers', the first blockbuster game. When these young people were going to primary school in 1990, Tim Berners-Lee was busy inventing the World Wide Web. The Palm Pilot was launched in 1996, when they were heading for secondary school. Around that time, pay-as-you-go mobile phone tariffs arrived, enabling teenagers to have phones. Napster and Blogger.com launched in 1999, just when they were doing GCSEs. The iPod and the early social networking services appeared in 2002, when they were doing A-levels. Skype launched in 2003, just as they were heading for university, and YouTube launched in 2005, as they were heading towards graduation.
Sure there are still 49% of people who 'only occasionally' use communications technology and prefer watching TV instead. For them technology is 'just too complicated' and they just want to push a button and see a movie. Yet in soon foreseeable future their wide-screen TV is going to be connected to the Internet and made interactive. They may not become content producers, but they will become content consumers and so the Internet will eventually reach everyone. The people who we want to share the gospel with, will be connected to the Internet and be using it either actively or passively, as a communications device. So if you want to reach “Fred Smith” - he is going to be online in some way or form (computer, phone, personal communication device, Internet enabled TV etc). In 2001 in the Philippines I tried to strike up a conversation with some college-aged nieces and nephews. But they were 'just too busy' – they were texting each other and they were all in the same room! One young lady was even texting her sister who was standing right next to her! The room was silent except for the clicking of keypads. 'Texting' was mediating speech even under normal circumstances! They were 'technology natives' and for them the most natural form of communication involves the use of technology. For many people actual 'face-to-face' conversation is seen as socially difficult. Now one cannot extrapolate too far from this one personal incident but it is illustrative of what many observers of socio-technological trends are saying.
The corollary is also that if you get on a bicycle and go down Main Street with a bunch of tracts hardly anyone will talk to you. Indeed in most developed countries it is no longer socially acceptable to knock on doors with a tract, or to take a bullhorn and preach outside the local cinema. The lost generally do not want to be personally approached by a zealous evangelist. Even inviting folk to a high quality Christian rock concert has its limitations, and very few will ever walk into a church! (And if they do no one talks to them). The lost are now increasingly immune to traditional forms of evangelism. The old means of missionary communication are effectively reaching less and less people, while the new media are becoming the sole means by which people receive communication that they deem to be credible. To get the message of the gospel into the world of the unsaved you will have to get into their computer, their cellphone, or their iPod – in other words you will have to engage in Internet Evangelism and Cybermissions!
So the main reason why missions agencies MUST develop an understanding of cyberspace is that the Internet and the devices connected to it will soon become the dominant means of personal communication on planet Earth. It is imperative that we grasp this.
1. Lower cost – cost per online decision for Christ is generally less than $5 per decision for Christ and often less than $1 per decision for Christ (this is based in my own experience and that of campus Crusade and other members of the Internet Evangelism Coalition). There is also a far lower barrier to entry and cost of entry and many of the main software tools are free or inexpensive and web hosting itself (at sites such as Dreamhost and 1and1.com) is now almost ridiculously cheap.
2. Lower Risk – this is especially true when it comes to reaching Muslims and other groups that are hostile to the gospel. While online ministry is not perfectly secure it is still more secure than almost any other kind of ministry.
3. Wide geographical reach – the Internet is not restricted to a local area (such as a church), broadcast radius (such as radio, TV), or a satellite footprint. In fact for a few dollars a month a missionary can minister in dozens, if not hundreds of countries.
4. Both one-to-many and one-to-one – Cyberspace enable both one-to-many communication such as a web page, video clip or podcast, and one-to-one communication such as chat, email, and instant messaging, and can also freely move between these. For instance a one-to-many web page can have an one-to-one email response form. Thus the gospel can be proclaimed in a one-to-many format and get individual one-to-one responses which can be properly followed up.
5. Multiple formats – other media are limited to one format, radio to audio, TV to video, print publication to text and graphics and so on. The Internet allows the missionary to use all media types – audio, video, text, graphics, animation, games , interactive forums, role playing games, imaginary worlds and so forth. The Internet can also connect with other communication devices such as telephone (via VOIP), SMS (online free SMS services), and fax (online fax sending and receiving services). So an Internet ministry has a much wider spectrum of means available to it with which to communicate Christ.
6. Can reach entire language groups – the Internet is post-geographical - where you are does not matter – only the language you are communicating in matters. A Spanish speaking evangelist can thus touch lives in Spain, the USA, Peru, Ecuador and so forth simultaneously. In fact our courses in Spanish are in a dozen countries and are co-ordinated by an Argentinian living in Townsville, Australia!
7. Asynchronous communication - the Internet is always 'on' - a YouTube video can be viewed at any time of day – not just on a certain TV channel at a certain time. Email can be read at the person's convenience. A conversation can take place on a bulletin board among different people in different time zones posting at hours that suit them. Communication does not have to be synchronous – radio programs, TV programs , face to face communication, and telephone calls require us to be 'in-sync' with each other. The Internet removes this requirement. A missionary can post an article on a website one day and go to sleep – while it is then read elsewhere by people at the time of their choice.
8. Archived communication – the Internet archives and preserves communication. Articles I wrote in 1995 are still being read and replied to today. This is unlike radio and TV programs which are generally not accessible after transmission. It is even better than most magazines and newspapers as few of these have their articles read ten years later. Thus a sermon that is preached in 2007 and is then uploaded to the Internet could still be touching lives in 2027.
9. The power of collaborative networks of volunteers – Major websites such as Wikipedia are run by large collaborative networks of volunteer contributors. This model can unleash the gifts of Christians who can go online and share Christ, teach Scriptures and so forth. In a large church only a very small percentage may get to 'do anything spiritual' but online nearly everyone can use their spiritual gift to some extent. Intercessors can pray for prayer points sent in, teachers can upload bible studies and teach online classes, evangelists can go into chat rooms and share Christ, and they can do this from home, in their spare time and be a blessing as part of a network of volunteers on a Christian website. Missions agencies can use their retired missionaries who know the language and culture (and are perhaps back home for medical reasons) as coordinators so one missionary has a team of say 20 volunteers who work on sharing Christ with a particular UPG.
10. The power of peer to peer ministry - the Internet allows peer to peer ministry with enquirers or believers grouped into online discussion groups, bulletin boards, egroups and chat rooms. This takes a lot of the pressure off the missionary who can act as a facilitator for believers who may be scattered over a wide geographical area. The believers share their questions, answers and prayer points with each other. This is particularly effective with young people.
11. The power of building knowledge in community for strategic purposes – the Internet allows geographically dispersed experts to share knowledge and contribute to a strategic missions project. This gains leverage and allows good projects to be done more efficiently.
12. Seeker driven - the Internet is an ideal medium for people with questions as search engines such as Google make it easy for users to find highly specific information in answer to a query. A religion seeker cannot expect to get a timely answer to his or her specific personal question from a print publication, or radio or TV station but they can find an answer, in a few seconds or so, online. When people want information about sensitive issues such as health, sexuality, religion and politics they turn to the Internet. Religion seekers tend to go online as part of their searching process and we should be there to interact with them. Therefore the Internet is the medium of choice for seekers with questions and we should be online to help them.
13. Ability to target particular niches – as the Internet becomes far more sophisticated it has become possible to target people in specific areas (by zip code) with Google advertisements (for your church, your outreach or your website) or to design websites that target a particular demographic (e.g. Portuguese speaking 14-18 year olds, or German speaking seniors) and then to promote it with great accuracy to that group. This means that highly relevant gospel messages can be sent to those most likely to be interested in them.
14. Tunnel and blast – in countries with little Internet infrastructure the Internet can reach a handful of believers, who can then print out the material and share it with their friends locally. This tactic is being used to set up bible colleges in churches and prisons, with the curriculum being downloaded from the Internet and then shared locally. Several tract ministries are also putting their tracts online in numerous languages so they can be downloaded by pastors and shared in that church's community. This ability to get quality print materials to people, for almost zero cost cannot be matched by radio, TV or other methods. It can also be used to distribute audio and video.
15. The ability to explain complex concepts – The Internet was originally designed for the impartation of scientific and defense information and this is still what it does best. The web can present complex text, graphics, charts and videos to explain a medical procedure, a science experiment, and data from outer space. It can also help explain complex theological problems and illustrate optimal techniques in church planting, holistic ministry, and aid and development. It is an ideal training medium and online theological training is now blossoming. Because the Internet has inexpensive feedback and collaborative possibilities it can enhance a purely informational presentation (such as a sermon, book, tape or DVD) with live online discussion. It has become commonplace for TV programs to say 'for further information see our website'. The website allows a much more in-depth look at the idea presented on the TV program. So churches, missionaries and pastors can refer during the sermon, to information presented online and thus develop concepts such as the Trinity, eschatology or ontology that may not be able to explained easily from the pulpit or even face to face.
16. Non-profit giving is increasingly online – even US presidential hopefuls are finding out that online donations and Paypal are now a major part of their funding strategy. In fact many nonprofits such as World Vision receive a large portion of their funding from massive online responses to crisis situations such as the Asian tsunami. Missions agencies, which are finding it more and more difficult to get into churches, may find online giving by individual Christians to be a major source of funding.
17. Less licensing needed - the Internet does not need government licensing in the same way that a radio or TV station does or, as a newspaper may need. It is the most restriction-free form of mass communication and thus is one that missions agencies can with relative ease.
18. Does not require the missionary to be in a certain fixed location – a missionary who cannot be on the field because of health problems or visa difficulties can still reach his or her people group via the Internet. Also missionaries who travel extensively can still maintain a website.
19. Very useful for pre-field preparation - a missionary can chat with connected members of his or her people group online prior to going to that country. This can build useful relationships prior to arrival. Also a missionary can engage anonymously (online) with Muslims, Buddhists or Hindus to gain real experience of their viewpoint, and do so in relative safety, so that the missionary learns to handle many of the common arguments, objections and sensitive cultural issues prior to arrival on the field. This helped me a great deal prior to arriving in Mindanao in the southern Philippines. It could also be useful for helping short-term missionaries become more culturally aware prior to deployment.
20. Enhanced credibility - digital competence is a sign of personal and organizational credibility and is essential if 'digital natives' are going to respect the missionary or missions organization.
21. Bypasses traditional denominational restrictions – Many online practitioners started a website because they could not use their gift (teaching, preaching, cult ministry, evangelism) in a local church or denominational setting where the good positions are often tied up in an 'old boys’ network' or in complex ordination requirements. Missions is often on the periphery of denominational concerns and certain issues such as training for Two-Thirds World pastors is often woefully neglected. Internet ministry has given people a chance to use their gifts and to solve problems that were not being (and perhaps would never have been) addressed by more traditional forms of ministry.
Effective 21st century missions agencies will develop vigorous and well-funded departments of Internet Evangelism and Cybermissions that will their main avenue for sharing Christ with the unreached and for following up enquirers and new believers. These departments will synergize with the other departments involved in worship, prayer, pastoral ministry and holistic ministry. Agencies that fail to do this will find themselves less and less able to communicate Christ to the non-Christian world as the global population shifts to digital devices as the primary means of credible personal communication.
The Implications For Missions In The 21st Century
The traditional missionary will always have a place but will have to work alongside colleagues who are engaged in Internet Evangelism and Cybermissions. Increasingly the impartation of information will occur online and on personal communication devices connected to the Internet. Offline ministry will involve dynamic worship, the administration of the sacraments, healing ministry, spiritual warfare, discipleship pastoral problem solving, and community engagement. The missional church will be able to engage its members between services by sending material to their personal communication devices and encouraging discussion on forums located on the church website. Giving can be via digital means as well as 'in the plate'.
One approach to blending online and offline aspects of ministry is 'multiple location' or 'multiple
presence' churches such as www.lifechurch.tv which has 20,000 members meeting in 11 different locations around the USA. Each church receives the same message, broadcast from the senior pastor, while having local worship team and pastoral care Here is how it explains itself:
All experiences at LifeChurch.tv are comprised of the two primary elements: powerful worship and a life-changing message. Worship at LifeChurch.tv is led by a worship pastor along with a talented live band and the style is consistent with today’s culture. All LifeChurch.tv campuses receive the same dynamic and relevant teaching messages each week via satellite broadcast from Senior Pastor Craig Groeschel or a LifeChurch.tv teaching pastor. A weekend experience lasts for one hour – you can always expect them to start and end on time. In addition, the local campus team will spend time engaging, connecting and doing ministry with the church body throughout the week.
The Rev. Yonggi Cho of Yoido Full Gospel Church in Korea uses a similar approach utilizing Korea's very fast broadband to the home, to broadcast services into home groups and house churches with donations being made online by credit card/ Paypal. And Menlo Park Presbyterian Church is aiming to invest some $20 million in multiple location technology to solve their space problem and bring their minister's preaching (Rev. John Ortberg) to more folk in the Silicon Valley area. These approaches all blend sophisticated digital input with personal care and small group ministry. This allows the church to have both the small church feel - and the big church pastor.
This combination of high tech and high touch will also apply to missions. Internet enabled house churches, simple churches, cell churches and small groups is one such option. Church growth advocates are often enthusiastic about simple church models as allowing rapid multiplication by removing the barriers to growth associated with a physical structure (such as obtaining government licenses and raising building program expenses). However simple churches have a long track record of doctrinal variance and leadership problems and they often lack resources in areas such as women's ministry and children's ministry. A centralized website for a house church network can provide pastoral networking and encouragement, leadership development, doctrinal consistency, teaching outlines, videos, and ministry resources and allow people with gifts throughout the network to contribute ideas, information and resources to the network as a whole. Thus many of the advantages of a formal denominational structure can be provided, yet without the onerous administrative overhead. The website provides the sophisticated informational tools while the small group / house church structure enables deeper relationships, better discipleship and the development and practice of the spiritual gifts in a relatively safe environment. I am beginning to develop such an approach at www.eternitychristian.com
A similar approach can also be applied to holistic ministry and to small scale aid and development in the Two-Thirds World. There is often a considerable amount of duplication and 're-inventing of the wheel' in such efforts which could be prevented by online sharing of global best practices in each area. The information and wisdom of many different organizations would allow each organization to operate optimally while preserving the efficiencies, cultural adaptability and close to the community feel of smaller grass-roots efforts.
Information alone seldom accomplishes much in the way of community transformation. However information connected to vibrant small group structures does have the potential to be transformative. This principle of informed networks of small groups bringing transformation is seen in the dynamics of the early church, in Wesley and the development of Methodist cell groups, and in the blossoming of the student missions movement through campus bible studies and prayer groups. Thus Internet enabled simple churches and mutually informed grass-roots NGOs may become a vital part of the cutting edges of 21st century missions efforts.
Disintermediation is defined as: The removal of an intermediary, or middleman, from a transaction or communication. An example is the option for a business to sell its product directly to consumers as opposed to retailers.
The Internet is a powerful force that will disintermediate much of what is seen as standard in modern missions, for instance the traditional missions agency is removed as the middleman when:
1. Sending churches in the West communicate directly with churches and missionaries in the developing world rather than solely via the missions agency.
2. Donors give directly to national churches and aid projects that they have learned about online.
3. National pastors get their theological education online (without leaving their church and often for free) rather than at the approved seminary run by the missions agency.
4. A Christian wanting to reach the lost in 'country X' simply switches on their computer, finds people in that country, and shares Christ with them online rather than going through a long and arduous missionary selection process.
5. Prayer needs from the field are sent directly to intercessors without being vetted by the missions agency and prayer letters are sent directly to supporters by email without being typed up and mailed by the missions agency.
6. Visa applications and other government paperwork are done by the independent missionary online rather than through an approved in-country missionary agency representative usually assigned to do such things. Travel arrangements, health insurance and other administrative tasks (even finding housing) is also increasingly done online reducing the requirement of belonging to a missions agency in order to do such things in the target country.
7. Missionaries receive funds instantly directly from supporters via Paypal rather receiving funds than months later once they have passed through mission agency accounting and had an (often sizable) percentage extracted.
8. Projects tend more and more to be inter-agency efforts networked through an egroup than intra-agency efforts managed solely by standard in-house communication.
9. Missionaries independently select the group they work with based on information obtained online at websites such as the Joshua Project rather than being assigned their field of service by the missions agency.
10. Pastoral care and support of missionaries is done by the home church using VOIP (Skype), email and annual personal visits and often exceeds the pastoral care given by most missions agencies to their staff.
11. Bible translation is done by a person from that language group located in the USA or other Western country and is field tested directly on a website with comments from missionaries and national leaders in the target country - thus simplifying the need for expensive in-country bible translation programs managed by a traditional missions agency.
12. A large part of missionary orientation can be done online, including language learning and chatting with members of the ethnic group under consideration (see page 11 above). Thus the Internet is empowering independent missionaries and small missions agencies and disempowering and dis-intermediating the larger agencies with their huge administrative overheads. It is also allowing the rapid rise of smaller indigenous missions agencies in the developing world.
This is slowly but surely going to change the entire face of missions during the next ten years as Great Commission Christians realize they simply do not need to join a traditional missions agency in order to share the gospel cross-culturally in an effective manner. Fewer and fewer missionary candidates will line up to go out full-time with the major missions agencies. Instead fully committed Great Commission Christians will go as independent missionaries, or as missionaries sent by their local church or with 'mustard-seed' style small mission agencies consisting of a few friends with a common vision. A considerable number will catch the vision of Internet evangelism and share Christ from home, just using their broadband connection, combined with trips of just a few weeks long to make face to face connections on the field. Fundraising will be a major challenge for these smaller agencies and various tentmaking and business-as-mission approaches will be developed to assist with this need. Numerous indigenous missions agencies are arising and will arise and be empowered by the new technology.
Internet Cafes In Unreached People Groups
One example of how technology is impacting models of mission in the 21st century is the use of Internet cafes as self-supporting missions bases in unreached people groups (UPGs). An Internet café consisting of some 20 client computers is established in a suitable and secure location (such as the second floor of a building near a school, college or business district) and run by 2 or 3 indigenous missionaries who receive income from the operation of the Internet cafe as a legitimate small business. Relationships with non-Christians are established as clients come in regularly to check their email or surf the web. Additional services are also offered such as VOIP, webcams, CD duplication, computer classes and photocopying. The witness is low-key and aims to bring customers to faith in Christ and incorporate them in a local church, bible study or house church. These icafes can economically set-up using a good server, donated recycled computers and thin-client technology which makes the older computers able to run applications from the server very quickly. The indigenous missionaries are thus able to establish themselves as a legitimate part of the business community and have a platform that enables them to come in contact with 100 or more local non- Christians each day for thirty minutes or more each. When these Internet cafes are properly run they have considerably boosted the development of church-planting movements among certain unreached people groups. Numerous missions agencies are now looking at Internet cafes as viable missions platforms and developing both non-profit educational computer centers as well as for-profit self-sustaining ventures. A micro-franchise model for Internet cafes is being actively developed by a group out of Regent University to help ensure the financial sustainability of this model. This illustrates how technology can empower the development of indigenous missions and how business-as-mission plus technology can have a powerful role in the future of global missions in the 21st century. Part of the equation here is that many developing nations have numerous people (including local believers) with very good IT skills who unfortunately have no outlet for employment. Thus the IT sector has great potential for mission agencies wanting to set up businesses in the developing world.
Computers And Evangelistic Persuasion
The recent book by B.J. Fogg Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think And Do argues that computers have six advantages over humans when it comes to the art of persuasion, they can:
1. Be more persistent than human beings
2. Offer greater anonymity
3. Manage huge volumes of data
4. Use many modalities to influence
5. Scale easily
6. Go where humans cannot go or may not be welcome
Dr. Fogg works at the Persuasive Technology Laboratory at Stanford University and focuses on how computers can be used to change human behavior in areas as diverse as quitting smoking, avoiding teenage pregnancy and personal hygiene monitoring. This has a fairly obvious application to online evangelism! If computers are (or can be made to be) more persuasive than human beings could they be better evangelists? Could a computer scan a sophisticated database, decide exactly how an individual should be approached, then approach them to make a secure anonymous response to the gospel in the privacy of their own home, using text, video, and audio, and touching hundreds of lives simultaneously, in a nation that has strict laws forbidding conventional missionary activity? To really 'jump the shark' and be controversial – could a computer generated personality known as an 'avatar' be the ultimate personal evangelist? (I think we are at least a decade away from the computing power needed to do that at reasonable cost, but I could be wrong). If we think 50 years out, to say 2057, Lord tarrying, could computer-generated avatars have become a major asset to global evangelization? There is even an interesting hint in Scripture that artificially intelligent personalities may exist in the Tribulation and be used as part of the worship of the Beast:
Revelation 13:15 MKJV And there was given to it to give a spirit to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might both speak, and might cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.
It is impossible to predict the methods we will be using for evangelism at the end of the 21st century and it may even sound foolish to try. However the mere exercise of doing so gets us to realize that many of the current methods of evangelism will be irrelevant by the time the children born today graduate from seminary - and that even the seminarian of today may be in for a mid-life crisis!
Immediate Technical Challenges For 21st Century Missions Agencies
It is not envisaged that missions agencies will design or manufacture communications technology or that they will even be involved in major software projects (such as automated translation software). What is envisaged is that missionaries and their organizations will become very savvy users of technology. Missionaries and their organizations will strategically deploy communications technology and the Internet to achieve the Great Commission. The following immediate technical challenges include some areas where the problem has been solved but has simply not been implemented effectively and at scale in the Christian world:
1. Evangelistic presentations for mobile devices (cellphones, PDAs, etc)
2. Short (5 minute or less) video clips for YouTube that present Christ clearly
3. Evangelistic audio clips ( 5 minutes to twenty minutes) and online tracts
4. A mission-friendly CMS (content management system) perhaps based on Joomla or Drupal
5. High quality production facilities for evangelistic podcasting & video-casting
6. A high-bandwidth secure server cluster dedicated to serving missions media
7. Improving Linux Thin Server Protocol for Internet cafes & icafe management software
8. Secure evangelistic response and follow-up systems capable of coping with non-ASCII characters and with large numbers of respondents.
9. Good, open-source, text (SMS) to email gateway applications for crusade follow-up (an enquirer texts a question or response from their cell phone, this gets turned into an email that a pastor answers and the answer is then sent back to the enquirers phone.)
10. A website that lets ministries create their own Christian Internet radio station
11. Better online bible colleges and e-learning systems especially those that can handle Arabic and Asian languages and which allow much higher levels of user interaction and feedback.
12. Web-enabled house church and simple church networks and leadership training
13. Sophisticated websites devoted to facilitating holistic ministry and Christian aid and development.
14. The widespread adoption of effective online evangelism, particularly by local churches.
15. Far deeper and better contextualization of websites aimed at sharing Christ cross-culturally (not just translating a tract but putting it in the worldview and culture of the target group).
The adoption of technology which transforms and disintermediates global missions is going to result in a new set of challenges for traditional mission agency structures. These will range from the incorporation of a department for Internet Evangelism and Cybermissions to the development of new criteria for measuring conversions, follow-up, discipleship, and the transformation of a people group.
How will supporters react to possible statements such as: ABC mission established 5 cyber-churches in Hindi, Bengali, Urdu, Pashtun and Bhojpuri language groups with 80,000 indicated decisions for Christ and 158,000 regularly attending online video worship services?
It is currently extremely difficult to raise funds for cyber-ministry and it may take twenty years or more for many missions supporters to be comfortable with the notion of online decisions and cyberchurches. While cyber-ministry will be having a huge strategic impact, nonetheless it will probably not be well-funded. This will slow down adoption as missions agencies, while wanting to get better results, will not want to commit financial suicide and so will focus their efforts on more traditional ministries which have greater appeal to supporters. Hints of this are seen in many missions websites today which can be little more than 'web brochures' extolling the agency, with a large “Donate Now By Paypal” button in a prominent location.
The development of serious, well-funded and missiologically informed cyber-outreaches is an urgent priority. Some ninety organizations are doing high-quality Internet evangelism in the Muslim world because face-to-face evangelism carries so many risks. The fruit is already evident, and by many accounts the majority of Muslims making decisions for Christ are doing so online. Similar efforts need to be done for the other major religious blocks and cultural groupings.
Internet Evangelism and Cybermissions has not yet entered the mainstream curriculum. Only four courses exist and I am involved with three of them – lecturing in an online MAGL course in Internet Evangelism and Cybermissions at Fuller, running my own online course at Cybermissions.Org, and revamping the free Internet Evangelism Coalition course at webevangelism.com. The Billy Graham Center at Wheaton runs the only other course in this topic. If this area is to be taught in bible colleges and seminaries a textbook will be required, possibly as a joint effort by leading experts in the field.
A handful of very large organizations (such as Campus Crusade and various radio ministries) have begun to adopt Internet evangelism strategies and there are a host of small operators and lone website builders. Still others have adopted a certain aspect of information technology such as Elearning or multiple location churches. The full realization of the impact of the Internet of 21st century missions is yet to be felt and very few denominations or major agencies are planning to have an Internet Evangelism department. Tony Whittaker and the Internet Evangelism Coalition sponsor an Internet Evangelism Day in may each year and this is a small but valuable effort towards creating awareness. The fact that Internet Evangelism and Cybermissions is not happening in major missions agencies does not mean that it will not happen at all. There is a low barrier to entry and Christians, moved by the Holy Spirit, will start going online and sharing Jesus - and thousands are already doing so. Christians are 'gossiping the gospel' all over the Internet! Thus the proclamation of the gospel in the 21st century may well move away from the corporate giants of the evangelical world and into the hands of inter-connected independent small bands of believers who create gospel presentations in their own languages and then share them on the web, in chat rooms, and by video and audio and also developing presentations for the world of increasingly sophisticated mobile devices. I am not proclaiming the end of the corporate giants of the evangelical world, but I am saying that with the technology, tools and information available today the task of the Great Commission will increasingly move into the hands of indigenous believers equipped with broadband Internet connections.
http://www.twitchspeed.com/site/Prensky%20 %20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20- %20Part1.htm - From On the Horizon (NCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5, October 2001) © 2001 Marc Prensky
It's the 'digital natives' versus the 'immigrants' as kids go to work John Naughton
Sunday October 1, 2006 http://observer.guardian.co.uk/business/story/0,,1884740,00.html
Morgan Kauffman, Boston
There are currently 1.7 billion active Internet users, another 3 billion active Internet users are expected to be added in the next five years or so. The developing world will soon go online as cellphones become smartphones and as cheap digital devices such as netbooks and e-readers proliferate. The roll-out of fiber-optic cable in Africa and massive satellite communications projects will also mean that bandwidth availability and reach will increase. Within five years at least half the globe should be online, and within fifteen years Internet reach should be almost universal. Global proclamation will soon be within the reach of any Christian with a computer.
The changes are not only quantitative, they are also qualitative. The very nature and dynamics of Christian ministry are being fundamentally altered due to the new possibilities for relationship, connectivity and information delivery that the Internet has brought about. The very heart of how we minister is being changed forever in at least ten significant areas:
1. Information: The Internet is bringing an enormous amount of timely strategic information into the hands of even the smallest church or mission agency. These include religious and cultural statistics, demographics, compilations such as Operation World, and research websites such as Joshua Project, Caleb Project, and StrategicNetwork. This is allowing us to see the big picture better than before and even to drill down to the small details that affect how we implement our evangelism strategies.
2. Ratiocination: People “think aloud” in cyberspace. The theology and practice (including ecclesiology and missiology) of most Christians is now mainly formed as a peer-to-peer online process with occasional expert input. There is less and less reference to decisions promulgated by the central governing ecclesiastical bodies of the major world religions. People do their own thinking, and they do so increasingly online - through sources such as Wikipedia, old out-of-copyright commentaries, and through browsing various websites, egroups and postings on social networks. Those ministries who wish to influence opinion need to start doing so in cyberspace because that is where Christian opinion is largely now being formed.
3. Exploration: People do their private, personal and controversial thinking online. If a person wants to find out about a suspected medical matter or investigate a forbidden political opinion they first check it out online. A Muslim wishing to find out about Christianity is not going to ask their family or their imam, rather he or she will look at Christian websites. About a quarter of all Internet users make regular queries about religious matters. They are exploring their own and other faiths. The Church needs to have an evangelistic, apologetic and missionary presence in this new global marketplace of ideas.
4. Collaboration: The Internet is facilitating collaboration across denominational boundaries, and across national borders. Experts and now able to link up with other experts in fields such as church-planting and theological education. This collaboration is making the denomination almost obsolete. Most Christian workers now operate in networks rather than in denominational silos. People are now partnering with like-minded specialists in their area of interest rather than with people who totally agree with their formal belief system.
5. Validation: People use the Internet to check things out. This applies to everything from a “too good to be true” investment scam to the local church they plan to attend when they move to a new city. One oft-quoted statistic is that 85% of young people check out a church's website before deciding whether or not to even visit that church in the first place. They won't even walk though your door until they have clicked through your website! Churches and organizations that are easy to validate online have a huge competitive advantage. This includes having a clear statement of faith and making your ethos, programs, times of meetings, address, contact information, operating principles and finances clear and above board to the honest online enquirer.
6. Allocation of Resources: The Internet is allowing donors, foundations and churches to efficiently assess projects and receive applications for funding across national boundaries. Groups such as JIMI (the Joint Information Management Initiative of the WEA-MC) and the Global Missions Fund are trying to refine this process of allocation so that the ministries who are most worthy are most funded. A big part of this is having trusted mission information facilitators who regularly supply quality information in a secure format so that it can be used for resource allocation purposes.
7. Proclamation: The gospel is being proclaimed on websites, in chat rooms, on YouTube, on cellphones and on numerous Internet-connected devices. Evangelistic crusades are using the internet both as a decision mechanism and as a follow-up mechanism. Organizations such as Global Media Outreach, Jesus Central, TopChretien and GodRev specialize in purely online outreach while many churches and organizations use the Internet as an augmentation of existing outreach strategies. The Internet is an economical means of proclamation and Internet missionaries do not need visas!
8. Education: Online education has been a huge success and has revitalized TEE and distance education. Groups such as MAF Learning technologies are working at developing highly effective Internet based pedagogy. Many masters and Ph.D. Programs are now partly or wholly via Internet-based distance education.
9. Mobilization: The Internet facilitates making the connections and the imparting of the information and motivation necessary for effective mobilization of pastors, evangelists and missionaries into the global harvest. ChristianVolunteering.org matches tens of thousands of volunteers with Christian agencies. A ministry without an online presence will soon find it very challenging to gain new recruits since for many people the ministry simply will “not exist”.
10. Multiplication: The Internet brings leverage to networks and enables contacts to be made for the multiplication of house and cell churches, church-planting movements and small TEE based bible colleges that are resourced via an Internet-based curriculum.
People start searching for a new church by going online, people first start their search for information about God online, and people start forming their theology online. Missionaries deciding which organization they will serve with, or students deciding on which bible college to attend - will use online information to narrow down their choices. The Internet is not the be all and end all of ministry. But it is quickly becoming the starting point for all ministry. And without the starting point there are not many other points! I used to think of the Internet as a tool for outreach, much like having your own radio program. Now I see the internet as an ocean in which we must sink or swim.
Pray – Get God’s Ideas
Pray - and ask the Lord what sort of Internet ministry He wants. Ask Him about:
· The Timing
· The Spiritual Tone
· The Target group
· The Technology
· The Name
· The Branding
Find Your Spiritual Passion
· What would Jesus do with your website?
· How would Jesus treat visitors to the website?
· Does the website convey a sense of the sacred?
· Does it reach out and welcome people?
· Does it extend God’s Kingdom in some way?
· Does it meet a need that Jesus would want to have met?
· Have you got a word from God about it?
Put Ministry First
· See your website as a ministry that changes lives and NOT just as a brochure that advertises a church or a corporation.
· Put the ministry aspects first and foremost.
· Give people a way to be transformed.
· What changes do you want to make? Salvation, education, sanctification etc.
· Tell stories.
· Touch hearts and touch minds.
· Think outreach - remember the seeking non-Christian, jargon free.
Be Specific As Possible
· The more specific the focus the more people will visit your website! (Look at the Alexa top 500 to see this)
· Very general websites get lost in Google (e.g. a website about “God”)
· Unique specific websites rise to the top of the search engines for their keywords
· Unsuccessful: Buying groceries online
· Successful: Buying vintage wines online
· The power of ‘the long tail’
Plan – Do a SWOT Analysis
· Strengths – internal assets and strengths
· Weaknesses – internal liabilities and weaknesses
· Opportunities – external openings and opportunities
· Threats – external competitors, physical, legal and technological threats.
Plan – 5 W’s and H
The Learning Curve
· Allow 3 – 6 months of trial and error to learn about the technology and the market.
· You will probably completely redesign the website at the end of this time.
· No sacred cows.
· If it works do more of it.
· If it does not work, then stop doing it.
· Learn WHO really wants what you are offering.
· Learn HOW they want it delivered to them.
· Learn WHAT things need to change in your website design and structure.
· Make no major investments during the learning phase.
Unrealistic: To be the next Christian MySpace (unless you have a few million dollars to spend on a server farm and bandwidth). Realistic: To have an online ministry to thousands of NFL fans.
Where Many Folks Fail
· Sites requiring lots of other people to do some work: Wikis, MySpace clones, large specialized forums.
· Sites requiring constant moderation and legal alertness e.g. youth discussion sites, chat rooms, video upload sites.
· Sites requiring video or audio streaming or any complex technology that can go AWOL at 2 am in the morning.
· Sites requiring their own dedicated server – a server is a lot of hard work.
Keep It Simple Stupid
· Simple for your users to use and for you to maintain.
· Simple and clear in its concept (not too big and fuzzy).
· Simple in the amount of work that needs to be done by users if it is to be a success.
· Simple in its structure so it can grow without becoming ‘messy’.
· Simple and clear in its ‘ethos’ so that you do not have conflicting groups at war with each other.
Outsourcing High-Cost Services
· Minimize technical load, bandwidth cost and legal responsibility by ‘outsourcing’ to free or low-cost services.
· Use a web-hosting service so you do not have to manage your own servers e.g 1and1.com.
· Use Yahoo groups for your egroups.
· Use Gmail and Google Apps For Your Domain rather than being responsible for people’s email.
· Put your video content on YouTube and let them pay the bandwidth fees and just link to it.
Don’t Re-invent the Wheel
· 9.9% of the time the service or application that you require has already been done and is out there somewhere - and is often available for free.
· It is better to spend 3 hrs searching on Google than 3 months writing code.
· Go to forums and ask other people what they use to do X (the task / function you want done).
· Sometimes you can add two products together to get the result that you want.
· Effectiveness is more important than uniqueness.
· Start with just a few services on your website and then add others as traffic grows.
· Focus people on to the main things.
· No one now comes to a website because it has so many bells and whistles, instead they are confused and distracted rather than impressed.
· People leave websites that they see have many unused forums, etc.
· Undisciplined areas full of spam posts look terrible.
· Do what you can easily maintain, moderate and keep active and professional looking.
Zero Cost Online Ministry
· Chat room ministry (in existing chat rooms).
· Newsgroup ministry.
· Blogging –Blogger.com or Wordpress.com.
· Writing articles for ezines.
· Running an egroup such as a Yahoo group.
· Volunteering as a moderator on someone else’s website.
· Uploading Christian videos to YouTube.
· Uploading ebooks to Christian ebook collections.
· You produce the content and let someone else host it!
Low Cost Online Ministry
· Get a low-cost web hosting provider such as www.1and1.com ($4.95 a month).
· Get a domain name from a reseller such as godaddy.com, enom.com, or 1and1.com.
· Get a LINUX website.
· Use LAMP (Linux, Apache, MYSQL, PHP) software which is often Open source, free, and powerful.
· Get images from everystockphoto.com.
Media on the Cheap
Stages for a Website
· Web hosting package
· Register Domain name
· Initial site design
· Upload content
· Search engine optimization
· Advertising & Free Publicity
· Visitors Arrive
· Get Feedback / Web Statistics
· Evaluation & Improvement
· Don’t try to appeal to everyone
· Decide on a ‘look’ that reflects your core mission and purpose
· Be instantly recognizable to your key demographic so they say ‘Yes that’s me.!’
· Decide of a color combination and a simple logo
· Avoid kitsch – flashing gifs, Amazing Grace, video clips of the Passion – unless you audience likes kitsch.
Initial Site Design
· Keep it simple, easy to navigate and use.
· Put only what is working well on the site when you start off
· Simple but credible.
· Always have a How To Become A Christian link somewhere.
· Go easy on commercialism.
· Use a FTP client such as FileZilla.
· Upload your files to the www/html/ directory on your server.
· The main page should be called index.html.
· The pages should be arranged in a hierarchy with the index page at the top of the tree.
· The hierarchy should only go three or four layers deep at most.
· The index page should have the key links to the most important material on the website.
· Plan the structure well at the start as it is very hard to change later on as other people, and search engines will link to your content.
· Short directory names, all lower case, and eight letters or less, are helpful.
· WebCEo – great FREE search engine optimization software – submits your URL to hundreds of search engines http://webceo.com/ .
· Put URL on email signature, business cards, etc.
· Advertise (tactfully) in appropriate egroups and newsgroups.
· Have a ‘recommend to others’ button on your website.
· Email campaigns to opt-in recipients.
Feedback and Interactivity
· Your web host will probably give you some statistics.
· Or you can use a package such as Awstats.
· Hits is not as important as unique visitors, length of time on the website and what pages they are mainly looking at.
· Country is important if you are trying to reach a particular region.
Saving on Software
· www.1computerbargains.com (for 501c3 organizations)
· www.openoffice.org – free substitute for Microsoft Office
· The GIMP – replacement for Photoshop - http://www.gimp.org/
· Open Source Software – www.sourceforge.net
· List of free HTML editors: http://www.thefreecountry.com/webmaster/htmleditors.shtml
· People with at least 2 hrs a week to spare
· Clearly defined task.
· Sense of the overall mission and its importance.
· Some autonomy / respect
· Fun – pizza, coffee
· Equipment that works for them.
· Paypal: www.paypal.com
· Ikobo: www.ikobo.com
· Have a good ministry plan and funding proposal
· Relationship based fundraising / Friend-Raising
· Do not expect a salary during the first year (keep your day job)
· Try www.gobignetwork.com for venture capital
· Try Generous Giving Marketplace for grants:http://www.generousgiving.org/marketplace/
· A small ministry can have a big impact for Christ if it is well-thought out and tightly targeted.
· It is possible to greatly reduce costs and start-up can be done on even as little as $100 a year.
· Use the power of other people: networks, free advice, volunteers, free online services, free press releases, etc.
· Cover everything in prayer – God is your greatest ally and can multiply your ministry!
The Internet began to affect our lives in 1994 with the creation of the World Wide Web and the Mosaic web browser. Shortly after that Christians began to share their faith with others in cyberspace and Internet evangelism and cybermissions was born. In this article I would like to jump another thirteen years down the track and look at what Internet evangelism and cybermissions might look like in the year 2020.
The Internet is rapidly moving from the personal computer to the cellphone and it is predicted that the number of Internet users will go from the current 1.14 billion to over 3 billion by 2010 (just three years away) mainly due to this growth of Internet-capable hand-held devices (e.g. cellphones, PDA’s and the Blackberry). Indeed Microsoft has just announced Phone+ - an initiative to bring TV (as well as everything else) to your cellphone. Hand-held devices will soon have really useful screen sizes. The latest Popular Science magazine (May 2007) showcases a five-inch Polymer Vision flexible screen that “rolls-up” inside the unit . By 2010 this flexible screen will be larger, in color and be capable of handling web browsing and video. Of course your hand-held device will also dock with your wide-screen digital TV, your laptop or any other viewing platform. The included video camera will be augmented by higher processing power and bandwidth to enable quality video conferencing from your lounge room.
So we see that highly sophisticated content will be downloadable to 3 billion personal handheld devices by 2010. The personal communication device will be how people interact with friends, family and colleagues and the first place they turn to find out information about the gospel. It will be the main way people accept information into their lives and therefore the main way that we will have to communicate the gospel. The hand-held device would allow streaming video (or text or audio) of gospel presentations. Enquirers would be able to contact the mission agency on the Internet, or by SMS (text), email, fax, VOIP (voice over internet protocol e.g. Vonage, Skype) or by normal mobile or landline voice call.
Progress in information technology is exponential. The famous formulation of this known as Moore’s Law is named after Gordon Moore of Intel who observed (in 1965) that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit for minimum component cost was doubling every two years. This has largely held true since then and processing power per thousand dollars is now doubling every twelve to eighteen months. If this continues all the way to 2020 (thirteen years from now) the first glimpses of artificial intelligence will be taking hold in our lives.
Tech guru Ray Kurzweil (inventor and author of books such as The Age Of Spiritual Machines and The Singularity Is Near) uses this exponential curve to predict that a super-computer will emulate human intelligence sometime around the year 2013 and that a $1000 computer will emulate human intelligence in 2029. Previously difficult problems such as image recognition, speech recognition, handwriting analysis and language translation are rapidly being solved. A prototype of a translating telephone that automatically translates between English, French and German was unveiled in San Francisco in April 2007 and a DARPA software project translated between English and Arabic at the level of professional translators. Some have predicted that before 2015 cellphones will contain automatic translation software (probably at first in a dozen or so major languages) and that soon after we will be able to use our personal communication device to talk to practically anyone in the world. This of course will revolutionize the task of missions!
artificial intelligence programs (called “narrow AI”) will be able to do
common customer service functions and sophisticated computer generated
personalities known as ‘avatars’ will interact with users and act as a
type of virtual salesperson. These avatars are capable of being
programmed with the hundred (or more) most common questions that
enquirers ask. They will be endowed with a patient and understanding
artificial personality and be able to lead enquirers through the plan of
salvation and even through some basic pre-baptismal follow-up lessons.
We are on the verge of it already in communities like Second Life where
believers are already witnessing to Christ - as their computer-generated
avatars. Sitepal.com already provides customizable avatars for websites,
and the Genesys IP Contact Center is already using avatars to handle
customer service queries for CartaSi - the Italian credit card company.
The rise in technology will also mean that average users can become sophisticated content creators who can make their own video, audio and text presentations of the gospel. Thus proclamation will become many-to-many as new believers excitedly share their testimonies and experiences of Christ. As video-conferencing becomes commonplace these believers will naturally bring each other together into small groups and virtual churches online. Distance education and TEE (Theological Education by Extension) will be revolutionized and technology will allow a missionary to inexpensively conduct large-scale training by video while being simultaneously translated into dozens of different languages. Pastors and community leaders will be able to be trained without being removed from their ministry context. Touch interfaces with symbols, voice recognition and improved interface usability will make it easy for non-literates to use technology and to benefit from it.
The power of technology to proclaim and inform needs to be matched with the power of the local church to disciple and mature individual believers. Hopefully technology will augment the process of discipleship and free many Christian workers to focus on being one-to-one mentors. The gospel will of course remain the same but how it is delivered, who is communicating it, and the means of responding to it will be profoundly changed.
Strategies in Cybermissions
The purpose of this article is use broad-brush statistics to help us to do some first-order prioritization for Internet evangelism and Cybermissions. The assumption is that Internet evangelism is best used when: the harvest is plentiful, the conventional laborers are ‘few’, and yet Internet penetration is adequate. For the initial part of this article I have drawn extensively on research by my friend Chris Maynard, a British information manager and missions supporter.
The first question we need
to ask is ‘where is the Harvest Field, that is where are all the
Diagram by Chris Maynard using data from Operation World 2000
The second question we need to ask is: ‘Where are all the Internet users and how do they overlap with the Harvest Field?’:
The following four diagrams are from Internet World Statistics website (www.internetworldstats.com ). They indicate significant and large numbers of Internet users in the key areas that we want to evangelize (such as China and India). They also indicate strong Internet penetration among areas where there are large numbers of evangelicals (such as the USA) who can become online workers in the harvest. For instance a Chinese-speaking American evangelical could go online to help evangelize China, or an Urdu-speaking Australian evangelical could go online to witness to Pakistan.
So we see a fairly high degree of overlap between where the non-Christians are and where the Internet is growing fastest. The next question must be – where are all the laborers for the Harvest Field? Where are all the Christians? And in particular do these laborers speak any of the Big Three languages of the Internet (English, Chinese and Spanish)?
Diagram by Christ Maynard using data from Operation World 2000
We see large numbers of
laborers in the USA, Brazil, Mexico, China, Russia, the Philippines and
India! So perhaps the Christians in China can use the Internet to reach
other Chinese Christians; and the Indian Christians can use the Internet
to reach India for Christ; and the Mexican evangelicals can use the
Internet to reach the Latin world; and the Brazilian Christians can
reach the Portuguese-speaking Internet; and the German Christians can
use cyberspace to reach the German-speaking Internet and so on. Thus the
strategy in many situations becomes: training
and enabling the national church in how to use the Internet to reach its
own people, and also in how to reach unreached people groups who speak
the same language (as that national church).
Diagram by Christ Maynard using data from Operation World 2000
Please note that the scales are logarithmic!
All 38 countries are in the 10/40 Window, although not all countries in the window are on the chart. More than 80% of the non-Christians in the world are found in these 38 countries – which are less than 20% of countries.
The chart excludes for example: Russia with 64 Million non-Christians because there are more Christians than non-Christians (the harvest is plentiful, but there should be plenty of workers available) Palestinian Authority with 51 non-Christians to every Christian, because there are less than 4 Million non-Christians in total (the workers are few, but the harvest is relatively small)
(Note: the definition of Christian in Operation World is fairly generic and may not necessarily mean evangelical Christian)
The table below takes the 38 countries above, re-includes Russia (my personal decision in light of the low percentage of evangelicals there) and then sorts them by Internet penetration and suitability for Internet evangelism. The result is that we find 20 countries where the harvest is plentiful, the laborers are few, but they are suitable for Internet evangelism. Internet figures are from March-April 2009 Internet World Statistics (broadband penetration) and from the ITU when up-to-date IWS statistics were not available
Conclusions So Far
So we see that there are 20 high-priority nations in the 10/40 Window, where Internet evangelism could be a very useful strategy: China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Egypt, Thailand, Syria, Taiwan, Jordan, Malaysia, Tunisia, Algeria, Mongolia, and Israel. Most of these nations place total or partial restriction on conventional missionary activity among their ethnic majority (for instance Malaysia and Indonesia forbid conversion of Malays and proselytizing of Jews is forbidden in Israel) or they have strict ‘anti-blasphemy laws’ such as Iran & Pakistan. Japan, while permitting missionary activity has been a ‘graveyard’ for conventional missions. However it is open to Cybermissions see: www.internetevangelismday.com/japan-web-evangelism.php
These 20 countries contain respectively well over two-thirds of the world’s non-Christians. Six major trade languages will be most useful in reaching these nations; English, Arabic, Russian, Chinese, Japanese and Bahasa Indonesia.
English language Internet evangelism will have some impact in Malaysia, Pakistan, India and Israel and to a lesser extent in Japan. Arabic language Internet evangelism will help reach Israeli Arabs, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Tunisia, Egypt , Syria and Algeria. Russian IE will reach Russia, Uzbekistan and Mongolia as well as Russian-speakers in the ex-Soviet Union. The Chinese language will reach China, Taiwan, and a significant percentage of Malaysia and Indonesia as well as the huge Chinese Diaspora. Bahasa Indonesia is spoken by 300 million Indonesians and is understood (in a slightly different dialect) across Malaysia. Japanese will reach the hundreds of millions of high-tech Japanese.
Finally French is a good candidate for a seventh language as it will reach French-speaking colonies in Africa (such as Mali) or in Asia (such as Vietnam) – most of these French speaking nations are in the ‘marginal’ IE list (marked in brown above)
Of course we will need a lot more than these seven major ‘trade languages’! We will also need Farsi, Urdu, Hindi, Thai, Hebrew and Turkish at least. Most of these languages will require special characters known as Unicode or UTF-8; happily this is becoming increasingly easy these days.
Teams using these languages can be located anywhere in the world, e.g. here in Los Angeles. In fact most large churches would have people in the congregation who are fluent native speakers of these major languages and who are looking for an opportunity to engage in meaningful ministry of some sort.
These statistics are ‘at the 36,000 foot level’ and do not go down to specific regional levels or to people group levels. And some significant realities are missed. For instance Afghanistan has a low average Internet penetration at 1.5%, possibly because of its geography. One would estimate that most of its 500,000 users would be in and around Kabul while very few users would be in Taliban-held areas. So Internet evangelism would not be a good strategy for reaching the Taliban! But it might be a great strategy for reaching residents of Kabul!
The Mobile Platform to the Rescue:
There are 16 highly strategic countries where the penetration of the ‘landline Internet’ is minimal (the ones highlighted in brown above: Bhutan, Libya, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Yemen, Morocco, Nepal, Iraq, Somali, Mauritania, Mali, Vietnam, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Niger, and Tajikistan
However digital media can still reach a large percentage of people in these nations via the cellphone, here are some statistics showing the growth of cellphone usage in Africa:
The Africa Mobile Fact Book 2008 says that 3G (mobile broadband) networks are becoming increasingly available, even in Africa and will constitute 18.6% of mobile phone subscribers by 2011. What is true in Africa is even more so in Asia – Hong Kong has a cellphone adoption rate of 163% and even Bangladesh is seeing a 67% year on year growth in cellphone adoption adding 34.3 million new subscribers in 2008!
Dave Hackett’s mobile evangelism wiki: http://mobilev.pbworks.com/ has a good list of all the various approaches to using mobile phones for digital evaneglism including SMS messaging, short video clips, MP3 files, ebooks, mobile-friendly websites and so on. Tony Whittaker’s Web Evangelism Day site also has a great section on mobile evangelism at: www.internetevangelismday.com/mobile-outreach.php
The cellphone is also a highly persuasive and personal delivery platform and Profesor B.J. Fogg of Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Laboratory has said that the mobile phone is the most persuasive of all current technologies and that we are more likely to read SMS messages than email or ‘snail mail’ (conventional mail via the letterbox). Given that the mobile phone is ubiquitous among those we are most trying to reach, and has a high potential for persuasion and influence of the culture, it should be among the first tools adopted by prospective digital evangelists.
Cellphones have some major hurdles though among them – small screen real estate, multiple incompatible operating systems, and the often painful task of converting pervious web content so that it works properly in the mobile world.
Then along came the netbook! In particular the tablet PC /netbook combination is starting to take off globally and prices are dropping fast - from around $250 - $400, the price of a good cellphone.
The netbook is a basic affordable personal computer capable of web browsing, word-processing and basic office functions.
The netbook can access 3G networks with a plug in module, and has standard wireless and LAN connectivity. They do not have the processing power to run Vista and so tend to run either Linux or Windows XP.
Netbooks use the ‘conventional Internet’ which makes content delivery much easier than writing specific code for the multitudes of different mobile phone operating systems (iPhone, Google Android, Symbian (Nokia), Palm Os, RIM (Blackberry), Windows Mobile, and Linux) .
The following quote based on data from research firm IDC shows netbooks are rapidly invading the space for conventional laptops and mobile platforms:
In Q4 2008, 3.6 million units were sold which represents 20 percent of total laptop sales and 30 percent of consumer laptops sold during that period. In other words, the netbook market is worth nearly two third of the business laptop market in terms of units sold. Netbooks (or as IDC calls them mini notebooks) have been one of the most sought-after items in Christmas season last year and represented more than four fifths of the sales volumes in Western Europe.
My personal observation is that the netbook has taken off among middle-class Asians and that the two device model (netbook and cellphone) will be with us for some time. Netbooks also often come equipped with Linux which is the operating system of choice in some African nations.
It is too early to tell whether the netbook will be adopted at a fast enough rate to be a major platform for reaching the nations via digital evangelism. My guess is that unless cellphones get much easier to use (and to develop for) that people will vastly prefer to browse the web and do their work on a netbook than on even the coolest 3G cellphone.
Netbooks also have the potential to be a major educational tool (such as the One Laptop Per Child project) with a vast penetration of the youth market which is often the easiest to evangelize via media. Low-priced netbooks also increase the economic viability of Internet cafes, which are major point of information delivery in the developing world.
Between netbooks and 3G cellphones in Africa and Asia we will see a rapid growth in the numbers of people coming online between now and 2012. The Internet may well grow from the current 1.6 billion users to double in size to 3.2.
To do this we need to overcome a limited and dated view of evangelism - that says that you just present the gospel online (the 4 Points, or whatever) - rather than using all sorts of culturally relevant ‘bridge strategies’ to drill down to where the non-seeking non-Christians are. There is a desperate need for highly contextualized online ministry.
Where We Go From Here?
We train the nations to reach the nations using digital evangelism, with an initial emphasis on the twenty countries and seven main trade languages mentioned earlier. We raise up the Chinese to reach China, the Indians to reach India, the Arab Christians to reach the Arab world and the Indonesian Christians to use computers and the Internet to facilitate the Great Commission among the islands of Indonesia.
We do so prayerfully and carefully, with proper regard to both the spiritual dimension and the need for proper cyber-security – because we are in an End Times battle zone in which our technology is only a tool and where the power is from God.
Finally we pay great attention to issues of contextualization so that the message is communicated with optimal relevance to each culture in cyberspace, without undue confusion. We move under the wise guidance of the Holy Spirit to reach the least reached with the gospel using computers, mobile phones, netbooks, radio and various forms of digital media – all for the glory of God!
And How To Share Christ There…
The Traditional Internet Has Peak
— The traditional Internet = desktop PC + landline (or cable) in a home or workplace
— The number of traditional Internet subscribers is now very close to the number of landlines
— Landline growth has stalled.
Growing the Edges
— Now the logistical task is to get Internet access to people who do not have landline or cable and who may be earning $500 a month or less
— The spiritual task is to share the gospel with these new users ‘on the edge of cyberspace’.
— Many of these are in developing nations such as China, India and the Middle East –where gospel proclamation is most needed
— The ‘next billion’ will come online in the next two to three years and the Internet will DOUBLE in size!!!
Things May Be Different
— The next billion Internet users will not be Westerners
— The next billion Internet users will not have computers connected to landlines
— They will not speak English as their first language
— Most of them will not come from Christian religious backgrounds
— The God they seek may be very different from what we expect…
— First let's look at the technology they will be using…..
Stages of the Internet
— Pre-1993 – Bulletin boards, email
— 1994-1997 Early HTML
— 1997-2002 HTML plus widgets
— 2002 - 2005 Web 2.0
— 2005 – 2007 Death of Web 2.0, emergence of the media driven web
— 2007 -2010 - The mobile Internet & the developing world Internet
The Mobile Internet
— In July 2007 global mobile phone subscribers surpassed the 3 billion mark…. 3.25 billion by year's end…
— Soon many of these phones will be Internet capable – but will offer a different ‘kind’ of Internet – how can we reach them?
— In Japan, Korea and China mobile users regularly access the Internet
— Google's CEO Eric Schmidt, says the future of the internet is mobile.
Larger and More Flexible Screen
— Mobile screen technology is rapidly advancing
— A 7” x 5” mobile screen that rolls out was recently announced
— Large flexible screens that roll out (like a bible scroll)
— Some are like ‘bricks’ that click together to form a larger screen (Brix phone illustration)
Starting in Mobile Flat-form Ev.
— www.gotzapp.com - make your own mobile presentation using free (and easy to use) downloadable Zirada software
— http://ied.gospelcom.net/mobile-outreach.php - the mobile evangelism page on the Internet Evangelism Day website
— In the Muslim world SMS messages are the PREFERRED method of responding to the gospel
— Text 2 Email gateways are now becoming a critical part of evangelism!
— Soon crusades will have a number you can text to indicate a decision to follow Jesus.
— A URL for follow-up can be sent by return SMS
Podcast and Audio Blogging
— http://ied.gospelcom.net/podcasting.php - outreach potential of podcasting
— www.itunes.com/podcasts/ - iTunes podcast directory
— http://www.podcastalley.com/ - Podcast Alley - thousands of podcasts...
— http://www.christiantuner.com/ - ChristianTuner.com - Christian Internet radio stations
— Short audio clips (under ten minutes, preferably under 3 minutes) can be a powerful witness
— Audio is personal and persuasive
— Audio better than video in low bandwidth areas.
— Can be streamed as Internet radio
— Testimonies, gospel presentations, music, prayers etc.
— Short videos
— YouTube popularized it
— GodTV – Christian version: http://us.god.tv/
— www.blogtv.com Blog TV
— www.videochurch.org Video Church
— Has great evangelistic potential if done really well.
— Bandwidth limitations
— RSS is Really Simple Syndication and is slowly changing the Internet from a ‘pull’ medium driven by search engines to a ‘push’ medium driven by RSS subscriptions
— RSS plus mobile devices
— RSS plus podcasts and video pods
— RSS plus news feeds, weather info etc
— Evangelistic content needs to be linked to an RSS feed
Second Life / Virtual Worlds
— Virtual worlds are rapidly growing
— Second Life has gone from 1 million subscribers to 10 million subscribers in just over 12 months.
— Internet is now participative and experiential not just informational
— Churches in Second Life
— Internet cafes can be found in most cities in the developing world
— They are and will continue to be a main source of the Internet for many
— They often have restricted bandwidth
— How can we reach their users for Jesus?
— VHF store and forward (single-side band COBAN radios)
— Stored Internet (on a local area network) plus email, as hard-drives approach 1TB storage capacity this becomes quite feasible
— Satellite and microwave links
— Technological advances are allowing detection of weaker signals and increased range
— WiMax is Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access
— Crudely put it is a long-range version of WiFi
— It can use both licensed and unlicensed spectrum
— WiMax towers are becoming popular in developing nations
— Meraki routers are powerful wireless routers that can ‘mesh’ together to cover a large area.
— One access point, plus a bunch of Meraki routers can blanket a whole village with WiFI
— The routers cover 100-250 meter radius each (compared to 10-30 meters for a normal router)
— They are weatherproof
Say Goodbye to Privacy
— The Internet is being watched
— Keystroke loggers
— Splitting of fibre-optic cables
— Download monitoring
— Rapid ‘reading’ and storing of website content by computers
— Any mention of politics or local organizing will get you instantly banned in over a dozen countries
— Wisdom is essential
The Next Billion Internet Users
— Average income will be $2000 - $5000 a year
— Many will live in urban slums and be using Internet cafes
— They will want HOPE
— They will want practical information as well as entertainment
— About 20 major languages will cover 95% of them….
The Next Billion – Logistics
— They have cell phones and TVs but not cars or computers or telephone lines
— The Internet will be on a cell phone or icafe
— They will probably want an SMS response
— They will be highly family centered and 80% will be under 30
— Many will NOT be very postmodern
— Many will be single
The Next Billion – Aspirational
— They will be highly aspirational & tech hungry
— Want employment and business opportunities (business as mission)
— Online business plans and online business mentoring as ministry?
— Online Christian franchises and micro-franchises and micro-finance?
The Next Billion – Holistic
— Holistic approach to life and ministry
— Want to know ‘how to’ do a wide range of community development tasks as part of ministry
— HIV / AIDS Education
— Water purification
— Simple church construction
— How to set up a Christian pre-school
The Next Billion – Independent
— Proud of their own culture and own way of doing things
— Will not appreciate our denominations, “Christian culture” or national politics
— Want equal partnership (not Western ownership)
— Want to make the on-the-ground decisions
— Have alternative church structures
The Next Billion – Ministry
— House church movements
— Will often be Pentecostal Christians
— Seekers from animistic backgrounds who need deliverance
— Extended families
— Shame based cultures
— Converts from Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism
— Pastors with little formal training needing mentoring
— Prosperity teaching very popular
— Questions about corruption, poverty, and injustice: ‘why are we so poor’
Coping – Technology
— Non-computer based (cellphones!!)
— Non-literate – verbal / audio
— Brief & Compressed
— Tagged / RSS
— Multiple languages & cultures
— Multiple bandwidth versions
Coping – Design
— Reduce idomatic expressions
— Be hopeful and aspirational
— Explain, explain, explain…
— We will have on billion ‘newbies’ online within the next three years!
— It will be the total re-birth of the Internet and of web page design
— Offer a helpful handshake to the new Netizens…
Coping – Attitude
— Scripture rather than culture
— Spirit rather than method
— Compassion rather than just content
— Trustful connection rather than just ‘customer service’
— ‘Come into our community’ rather than just ‘pray the prayer and go away please’
— Engaged with the whole of life rather than cerebral, engaged with a ‘bunch of concepts’
Coping – Love Newbies
— If the user is made to feel dumb they just go away
— If their problems are ignored they will resent you
— But if people feel they are helped quickly they will become loyal
— If the user feels empowered they build enthusiasm
— If a user feels ‘’hey I am cool I can do this’ they build pride and tell others
Coping – WWJD
— What would Jesus do?
— Sure these changes are hard but how many people will they help us reach?
— But I like the Internet the way it is!!
— Why can’t they just be like us?
— This is way too complicated?
— Get help
— Build teams
— Let God guide you
Coping – Local Networks
— Develop in-country networks
— Cultivate local leaders
— Pay for translation, use locals, use the translation process to build relationships
— Give people an aspirational career pathway within your ministry
— Volunteer – Senior Volunteer – Part-Time Paid – Full-Time Paid
— Delegate real authority and the right to contextualize your ministry
Coping – Be First to Market
— Be first to ‘market’ – be one of the first in a particular language group
— This gives you great prestige and influence
— It also introduces you to early adopters and to leaders in that culture
— Partner with missions agencies and churches overseas
Coping – Calling Home
— There are huge international connections between migrants working overseas and their home communities
— They ‘call home’ for news and in return can share the gospel
— The next billion Internet users will have friends and relatives in America
— We can recruit these people as volunteers
— Ethne To Ethne – those people with the gospel reaching those without the gospel - via the Internet
Coping – Partnering
— Sharing translation resources
— Sharing follow-up systems
— Sharing strategic information on people groups
— Sharing good podcasts and other content
— Partnering for on-the-ground church planting and holistic ministry efforts resulting from cyber-ministry
Coping – Prayer
— The next billion will be a spiritual warfare context
— Ministering to animists, Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists will require much prayer and intercession
— Your computer will break down if you don’t pray!
— You will break down if you don’t pray!
— The Internet will double in the next three years as cellphones become Internet capable
— The next billion users will be ‘newbies’ from the developing world
— These are people for whom Christ died and that missionaries long to reach
— If you get on board early you can be part of completing the Great Commission
The following forty-three
nations may represent good opportunities for cyber-missions as a main
mission strategy because:
are hard to reach by
conventional means because of remoteness, war, kidnapping, or because of
prohibitions on evangelism.
Internet access to
permit the development of a church-planting movement. Only
a few thousand users are needed if the tunnel and blast strategy is used
of "tunneling in" to find "man of peace" online then supplying that
person with information about Christ and working through training and
equipping that person to start a church-planting movement which becomes
the 'blast" of the gospel.
- A few easy to reach nations are included because they have a very high
ratio of internet users to general population and other efforts at
mission have not succeeded that well (e.g. Israel, Thailand, Japan)
has 45.8 million internet users and is a huge harvest-field just waiting
to happen. If you are a Chinese church in the West please consider
forming a cyber-mission team with half a dozen young people under the
general supervision of the pastor.
excellent starting points include: India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei,
Vietnam, Turkey, Russia, Japan, Oman, Cuba, Thailand and Bahrain, Egypt,
Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Saudi Arabia.
for God's guidance as to where to start.
make a start! Get going, try anything! Start sharing the gospel and be
open to the Holy Spirit's leading as you go along. Learn by doing!
you need web space try YourChristianWebHost which
hosts the AIBI and has given us reliable affordable service for years.
Table Of The Most
Strategic Nations For Cybermissions
Summary: How your church can have a volunteer team of cyber-missionaries that can minister cross-culturally to unreached peoples at a total cost of between $1000 to $5000 a year and see between 100 and 1100 decisions for Christ in that people group.
Cybermissions - is the front-line use of the Internet for cross-cultural evangelism, discipleship, church-planting and training.
Worldwide Internet Population:
445.9 million (eMarketer)
533 million (Computer Industry Almanac)
Projection for 2004:
709.1 million (eMarketer)
945 million (Computer Industry Almanac)
Online Language Populations (September 2002)
English 36.5%; Chinese
10.9%, Japanese 9.7%, Spanish 7.2%, German 6.7%, Korean 4.5%,
From the above statistics it is clear that the Internet is no longer predominantly an English speaking medium and that Asian languages such as Chinese, Japanese and Korean now occupy a significant portion of cyber-space along with major European languages such as Spanish., Portuguese and French.
There are over 275 million Internet searches each day and 80% of all Internet sessions begin at a search engine (Internetstatistics.com). Religion is one of the main topics people search for. Pew Internet surveys found that 28 million Americans get religion information online, that three million do so daily, and that 25 % of net users search for religion-related topics. Barna Research estimates that up to 50 million Americans may worship solely over the Internet by 2010. There is every indication that the Internet is a major source of religious information where people of many cultures and languages collect their spiritual facts and opinions in private. Thus it’s a place where missionaries must be.
This is because the website is a “perpetual evangelist” that works away 24/7 witnessing to seekers about Christ. The Internet is seeker-driven. People using the Internet are seeking information via search engines and links on other sites. When people arrive at your website it's not an accident. They have typed a query into a search engine and arrived there. People not interested in God simply don’t arrive at your church website – they end up somewhere else, reading the weather or the news. So virtually 100% of the people you minister to will already have some level of interest. This makes evangelism so much easier! You can witness, via the Internet 24/7 to people who are already interested in finding out about God!
OK... how do I start?
2. Read the articles on cybermissions at http://www.aibi.ph/missions/ for some ideas to get you started.
3. Get some web space. You need a domain name “yourchurch.com” and some space on a server. We useChristianWebHost.com and have found them to be both affordable and reliable.
4. Pray about what people group you should be ministering to. For a list of the 43 nations most suitable for a cybermissions strategy click here. Then go to our mission links site and do some research on your chosen nation at any of the mission portal sites listed there e.g strategicnetwork.org.
5. Decide on an initial strategy (you can tweak it later) and start designing the website. Use the articles in point 2 above for some ideas.
6. Spend at least four hours a week working on the website and improving it.