How will the Internet change how we do evangelism?

As a lot of you know, I just took my D.Min. class at Fuller on Ministry in the Postmodern Matrix. For my paper for this class, I'm going to be writing about how the internet will change how we do ministry and outreach, particularly through social networking sites.
In just the last two years, how people use the internet has dramatically changed with the rise of sites like Facebook. Today, people have a very public persona on these sites, giving public updates and commenting on each other's walls very personal things. In the blogosphere, we have finally found a way to be transparent. A bit ironic.

The internet also allows people who are introverted to have a very powerful presence, much greater than they would feel comfortable doing in public.

People today are meeting first on the internet through sites like eHarmony, Facebook, etc. Two years ago even this would have sounded strange, but today, it is becoming normal. Teens prefer to text one another than call. They will even text each other in the same room.

All of this means that outreach will take place on sites like Facebook and the Missional Outreach Network first. These will be the places where people--both Christians and seekers--will meet one another for the first time. They will openly discuss their faith journeys in very public ways, and will be able to check out the Christian community through these sites. It is already happening here, as we have several who are in Bible studies and part of recovery groups who are interacting on this site.

For instance, I recently posted an article on how our church was helping a man who was homeless by taking him in. Christie, who is on this site and studying with a couple of other people on this site, shared with us her experience of being homeless. I find it amazing and awesome that we can find connections with people whom we have not yet met and share in such open ways. All of this can lead to powerful in person connections.

Those are the issues that I'm exploring. I will be talking with Ryan Bolger, Eddie Gibbs, Keith Matthews, Brian McLaren, Spencer Burke, David Fitch and other contacts that I have through Fuller about how they see these issues. So, how do you think the internet will change how we do outreach and ministry?

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Comment by James Nored on December 4, 2008 at 11:57pm
Michael, you make a good point about the value of archived conversations. This is, indeed, one of the goals of this network, to provide an avenue for sharing all of these stories (that are usually in someone's head) so that we can learn from them and be encouraged by them. The question that you ask about how to get the best and clearest message is a good question.
Comment by Greg Ziegler on December 4, 2008 at 11:40pm
People may become "transparent" (as James put it)...or at least semi-translucent, on the internet because there is less PERCEIVED RISK. Relationships are risky things.

When speaking of evangelism, the internet could be attractive because initially it may allow for Christ's/our story to be disemminated widely with less risk, or at least perception, of rejection.

Ultimately, however, the world isn't virtual, it is personal...and eventually discipleship, thankfully, must involve more than a virtual personna. It's risky business that we relish.
Comment by James Nored on December 4, 2008 at 4:06pm
Mike, thanks for spelling out how radio--a type of mass media--is being used to link people personally. This is key. Radio leads to cell calls which leads to personal contacts and relationships. I'm excited about the potential that the hispanic broadcast for World Radio in the DFW area has for connecting callers with our new hispanic church plants.
Comment by James Nored on December 4, 2008 at 4:03pm
Dwanye, it is great to hear your perspective as a church planter and as a leader of 20 somethings. As you say, things are constantly changing. How do we stay current and effective in this environment?

It would seem that church leaders must constantly be learning--not just Scripture, but culture as well. And yes, technology is now an essential part of this culture.

I'm glad to hear that personal relationships still "win the day" with 20 somethings. Technology helps establish and maintain these personal relationships.
Comment by Mike Eppinette on December 4, 2008 at 2:25pm
Oddly, radio as antique as it may sound, still remains a predominate medium in our cars and the workplace. What is interesting is how it is tying many of the new media together. Presently World Radio speakers number 151 around the world. Only 2 of them do not have internet access. In their reporting, what we find amazing is that they are giving out their cell phone number on the air. The majority of them have their version of the "Go Phone". It costs them nothing to receive calls. The caller is charged the minutes. Soon the speaker will give out a web address that will give them all sorts of links to contact whom they wish depending on their need. Be aware that you may see international "seekers" here because of a link they ran across. Then we can all share the cross and empty tomb and watch the power of that message work in the hearts of lost souls.
Comment by Dwayne Hilty on December 4, 2008 at 2:24pm
A few quick thoughts. First, I think the fact that the internet alters information exchange at such a rapid pace will itself make predicting it's future use a bit tricky. Perhaps a question that it raises is not so much "how it will change outreach" but "how will it change our posture towards evangelism itself." What is an effective means of networking and conversation today via the internet (e.g., Facebook, blogging, text messaging, etc.) will likely be out of date within months or years. How can we be ready to use the next medium without feeling like we're constantly trying to keep up?

Second, as a young church planter (32) who leads a church predominantly with 20-somethings, I can say that at the end of the day, personal relationships still win the day. What I've begun asking and moving towards, isn't so much replacing those interactions, but using the internet to facilitate/coordinate those relationships.

Great questions/thoughts James. Thanks for making us think and process some of this stuff.
Comment by Lynn S. Nored on December 4, 2008 at 8:39am

I believe an important aspect is how the Internet will also affect mentoring for discipleship, spiritual formation, and "conventional" bible classes. Having used email interchanges at the university at OC and now having used a mandantory discussion blog at South Pacific Bible College for the course there, I believe that the discussion group has tremendous potential for increasing interaction and learning in a "conventional" bible class. I meet with the potenial teachers for the class we are going to have on "Why Do We Do What We Do When We Do Church" last night and having this discussion group was well received. ( 5 of our elders were in the session). So, you may wish to explore how use of this medium affects the "traditional" bible class as well.

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