From the Toledo Blade via TitusOneNine:
Article published April 24, 2010
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
For 2,000 years, Christian missionaries have traveled to foreign lands to spread the Gospel.
Today, there are thousands of missionaries preaching around the world without leaving home. Sometimes even while wearing pajamas.
Global Media Outreach, a branch of Campus Crusade for Christ, held a Webinar, or online seminar, this week to raise awareness and to motivate people to participate in online missions.
With tomorrow being designated Internet Evangelism Day (by the Internet Evangelism Coalition), Michelle Diedrich of GMO said she wants "to change the way we think" about the Internet.
"We are the first generation - ever - to hold in our hands the technology to give every person on earth multiple chances to accept Jesus Christ," Ms. Diedrich, GMO's communications director, said in the Wednesday seminar.
The latest estimates report that 1.8 billion people are on the Internet, and every day, she said, they make "2 million searches for spiritual needs."
"There is a lot of evil on the Internet, things that should not be there. When they seek, what are they going to find?" Ms. Diedrich asked. "If Christians aren't there to help people find Jesus, what will they find? If that scares you a little bit, it probably should."
Many churches are catching the vision that GMO has advocated since its founding in 2004, she said. At first, she said, churches and pastors considered the Internet to be "a piece of technology," but in recent years they've been seeing it as a ministry.
Online missions, she said, are "when you use the Internet, throughout whatever device - laptop, Internet cafe, mobile phone - to share the Gospel. These are new opportunities to share Jesus. Churches can reach millions more."
In the first year after its founding in 2004, GMO reported 21,066 people "indicated a decision for Christ" through its online missions. Last year, "10 million Christ decisions were realized," Ms. Diedrich said. "So it's huge and it's growing."
In a followup survey, GMO reported that 87 percent of 8,500 respondents said they are "certain" of their salvation; 63 percent said they attend church regularly; 58 percent pray daily, and 44 percent read the Bible daily.
The Rev. Tom Schaeffer, pastor of Threshold Church in Toledo, said he has reservations about Internet evangelism when it does not lead to real-world interaction and community.
"I agree to some point, but I am skeptical of any use of the Internet that didn't ultimately somehow try to get people connected to a community of believers," he said. "Our God is a relational God. People might find information on the Web, but they're going to need to find a place to plug in and develop relationships."
Among the GMO's 4,400 online missionaries is Amy Gross, a mother and a blogger who particicpated in the Webinar.
When GMO receives e-mails from seekers on its more than 100 Web sites, it forwards the messages to participating missionaries.
Ms. Gross said she receives e-mails from English-speaking people and then responds to their questions. GMO matches the seekers to missionaries who speak their language, and also provides extensive resources to help the missionaries find answers to some of the tougher queries.
Ms. Gross said she has shared the Gospel with people all over the world, and was somewhat amazed at how many speak English. She added that she keeps track of her online ministry by using a world map, using push pins to mark the cities and countries where she has traded e-mails with people.
"As a mom, I have my blog and I can disciple people that way," Ms. Gross said. "But with Global
Media Outreach, I can go on a mission trip every day. I don't have to leave home. I don't have to pack my suitcase. It's a great way to serve. I can go to India in my pajamas, and I love that."
Ms. Diedrich added that online evangelism is intended to complement, not replace, traditional church programs and services. But "more people use the Internet than go to church. New thinking is required for outreach in the post-Christian age."
One big advantage of Internet evangelism is that it can bring the Gospel to countries where real-world missionaries are forbidden, Ms. Diedrich said.
She cited a 2009 study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life that said 64 countries, or about one-third of all nations, "have high or very high restrictions on religion."
Online evangelism also can be practiced by people who are disabled or who lack the time or money to travel. "The other piece is building community with believers online," Ms. Diedrich said. A lot of people who would not visit a traditional church may go to a Web site for information or view an online church service, she said.
"This is only the beginning," she said. "We are just starting to touch the things that can be done. I think you're going to see a huge explosion" in Internet evangelism.
Information on Internet Evangelism Day is available at GMOAlwaysReady.com.
- David Yonke