Christian Living

ChurchWatch 10/24/07

Casting the Net on 'The Net'

My article today on CBN.com is called "NetCasters: Sharing Jesus Online." I interview Dr. Sterling Huston, chair of the Internet Evangelism Coalition Executive Committee. In the article we talk about how churches and missionaries are using the Web to spread the Gospel.

I also offer several helpful links in the sidebar for more information and training on Internet evangelism.

Here's a portion of our conversation:

CVB: What I would like to see is what I’m calling a “NetCaster’s revolution.” Jesus said we’d be fishers of men. Let’s cast our net on “the Net.”

Huston: We could work with some of the mega-churches that are using the Web effectively. They get their mega-church reputation by the number of members that they have, and that what makes them a church to be admired. People say, “I want to go learn how they do it.” But if we could get the story behind those who are using the Web effectively, that also have this kind of credibility because they are visible. When people hear of a Willowcreek, or a Saddleback, or some churches like that, then they learn that they’re not just who they preach to on Sunday or Saturday night, but they are really doing a significant job on the Web, this will open eyes. People tend to follow those gatekeeper models.

CVB: Who are some of those that come to mind?

Huston: I do know that Saddleback has a significant Web presence and they’re doing a number of things with that. I know that Willowcreek was using NowTryGod on their Web site.

CVB: There is a church in Washington, D.C. called National Community Church (http://theaterchurch.com/) that has a very strong Web presence. They have three locations, but they coordinate through the Web. The sermon is podcast through the Web. There are various videos created and posted to the Web. Because so many people in the Metro D.C. area have to work on Sundays, or they involved in traveling with the government or the military, so wherever they are they can logon. If they can’t watch it live, they can watch it when they get there. Then they have message boards, chat rooms, interactivity wherever they are in the world. Their Web strategy meets the contextual needs of the people in their community.

Most of what they are doing is geared toward Christians, but what they are doing is so postmodern that it is attracting the attention of non-believers.

Two other local churches that are doing great work on the Web are Life Church in Edmond, Oklahoma, (http://www.lifechurch.tv/) and Flamingo Road Church near Fort Lauderdale, Florida (http://www.flamingoroad.org/).

Huston: We have to recognize that for most churches and pastors, and sincerely so, feel that their place of accountability is how many people show up on Sunday, and whether or not the budget is met, and whether or not there are activities for you, and those kinds of things. And so what sells, in the best sense of the word, is the fact that we’re doing all of this and also having an extended outreach through the net.

A parachurch ministry with a focus on evangelism can do more on the Web and have it supported, just because they have usually a larger vehicle for trumpeting the success they get on the Web. That’s what they’re expected to do, outreach in various forms, including various media forms.

The local church has a different challenge. It’s like, “Yes, we have 75% of our outreach occurs right here in this setting, where people physically show up, and we do things for them. And we have boosted that outreach by another 25% just because we’re doing an effective job on the Web. We’re giving our people a ministry that they love to do because they are in there responding and being a part of Web evangelism.

CVB: How can missionaries can better use Internet evangelism to expand their effectiveness?

Huston: In developing nations the Internet is more of a communication tool for them because the people they are dealing with may not have as much access to Web technology. Particularly when you say not second world, but third world nations that is likely to be true. However, in more developed and highly developed nations they’re obviously going to be a society that is more technologically strong. This is particularly true in Asia. The Korean church is way ahead of our North American church in terms of innovative utilization of the Internet and Web technology. That’s also growing in its impact on China and other parts of Asia.

I think it depends on where you’re serving and who you are serving as to whether or not they can receive information in this way. The same principle goes clear back to the place of whether people read or write. If they’re not education, you use story books and picture books for them. But if they’re educated then you can use printed words. If they have technological access, and they’re also educated, then you can make the Web another dimension of that.

Obviously the missionary can receive resources on the Web for themselves that can help them. In terms of communicating with their audience, it depends on who their audience is...

Read the full article here.

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