The Internet: The Gospel's Great Opportunity

by Dr. Dale A. Robbins

During the early 1990's, a relatively new media technology was finding acceptability among a rapidly growing number of users of the general public. This "Internet" as it was called, was a revolutionary form of communication, implemented by a world-wide network of computers, which provided both the "mass" public exposure of "web pages," as well as the "personal" two-way interaction of "e-mail."

According to a study by the Worldwide Evangelization for Christ (wec-int.org, 1999), it had taken 38 years for radio to reach 50 U.S. million users, and 13 years for TV to attract the same number of viewers... but the Internet's World Wide Web surpassed this number of users in only four years.

By the end of the century, the Web had grown to more than 300 million users worldwide, from only 300,000 users in 1990. And while still evolving and improving in its technology, it has become the most phenomenal tool of communication and information the world has ever seen. The Internet has become a global town square in which the growing populations of the world gather to converse and exchange ideas.

Just as the mass communication mediums of radio and television provided Christendom with a vast audience of people who needed to hear the saving Gospel message, and presented a remarkable opportunity to evangelize the world through broadcasting... the technology of the Internet far exceeds those limits and boundaries, providing not only the broad dispersion of oral and visual mediums to a vast unsaved audience, but allowing the "inter-cast" of two-way communications. The ongoing development of Internet technology will eventually make it the one inclusive source for all informational services, including telephone, television, and radio... making it the place to go to find the world's population.

Thus, as the Internet is revolutionizing mass communications for virtually every facet of society, and is becoming a world-wide gathering place for the global community... including vast numbers of Christians and clergyman, it behooves the church to bring its presence there.

The church must bring its message and influence to the Internet for the following reasons:

1. A Great Need - The masses of unsaved millions are gathering there. The peoples of all nations are converging, with open hearts seeking for the knowledge of truth. There are also millions of Christians traveling the cyber highway, seeking encouragement, friendship and discipleship. There is also evil there, which the church must counter with the light of God's truth and presence.

2. A Great Mandate - The Lord's great commission to the church, is to evangelize by proclaiming the Gospel to the World. As it was Christ's purpose in coming to seek to save those who were lost, so must the church seek every way possible to follow Christ's command and bring souls to Christ.

3. A Great Opportunity - Never has there been such availability and ease with such a form of mass communication. Web pages, which can contain any message of our choosing, cost almost nothing to create, and can be launched from anyone's bedroom. E-mail to any person on the Web is global, instant and free.

As we shall see, the Internet may very well be the greatest communication medium that has ever been made available to the world, as well as the church... and it is up to the church to make use of this remarkable invention, and take the spotlight away from Satan, who would like to dominate this fabulous technology with peddlers of rubbish.

Pioneering A Vision For Internet Ministry

My personal vision for using Internet technology as a means for Christian ministry and evangelism began in 1994. Although I was a pastor of a local church at the time, I've always had aspirations of touching the world with Christ's message of love and encouragement. Having been a writer, and a broadcaster of radio and television programs for many previous years past, I already understood the concept of reaching the masses through such communication mediums. Multiplication is what it's all about. Reaching the most people with the message of Christ, that they might hear and believe. Thus, the discovery of a global network of computers which could cybercast Web pages, with pictures, graphics and text... and even audio or video, was an exciting possibility.

The idea of Internet ministry and evangelism actually first occurred to me from hearing increasing news reports which described how this "information highway" thing was beginning to be misused for unethical purposes. I had heard of the Internet before, but really didn't know much about it. Not only was I disturbed to discover how pornography and immorality was being propagated through the Internet, but I was even more amazed by the communication potential of the World Wide Web. Not only could I see its better use for such things as commerce and education... but why couldn't this amazing technology be used for God's purposes?

Before I would make any attempt to engage in any Internet ministry, my initial objective was to simply to gain access to investigate and explore the World Wide Web, to find out what was out there, and what it was all about. Would the Web prove to truly be a medium of mass communication, or was it merely a curious novelty for the technically inclined? Was there a need for the presence of an online ministry? Would an Internet ministry be feasible or affordable? Would I have the skills or ability to work with cyber technology? Could we succeed in using this medium to evangelize or touch lives for Christ? These questions and others, would motivate my personal research toward the "possibility" of using the Internet as a basis of ministry and evangelism.

As I began to explore the Internet initially in 1995, I discovered, among other things, that the World Wide Web was growing at an exceptionally fast pace. The recent years of the desktop computer's saturation into homes and businesses, had provided a perfect base from which to draw an appetite for the Internet. Predictions were being made by the best authorities that the WWW was on its way toward becoming a huge success with worldwide potential... but it obviously had not quite arrived yet. A poll performed by the Harris researchers, showed that by the close of 1995, only around 7% (about 17 million) Americans were using the Web, and I knew of no one who had e-mail except a few persons in my church who were employed with high tech or computers.

My random search of the Internet itself showed that it was already populated with a massive amount of material, mostly html text documents of an informational nature... news, articles, educational materials, etc. Graphical browsers, such as Mosaic, had only been in existence for 24 months, and sites online were still only beginning to incorporate images along with their text. There was already a growing presence of business and commerce, and it was obvious that the Internet was blooming into the marketplace... a sure sign that its economic value would continue to provide thrust for its growth. Yes, I could easily envision the day when catalogs of toys, clothing and merchandise would drive armchair shoppers and information seekers in droves to the Internet. Today's statistics prove that my theory was correct, seeing how that more than half the population now surf the web. The audience is there, and is growing larger every day.

However, at the time, it was clear that relatively few in the church world could see yet the prospects of ministry on the web. Some churches did already have a Web site presence, but not many. In my own state of California, I only located two church Web sites within my denomination. Mine would become the third from this technologically savvy state, and would be among only a dozen or so in the entire nation at the time.

It did not seem reasonable to me that the growing presence of the Web should be without the sanctifying influence of the church and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But when I initially brought up the concept of a Web ministry to my church board, there were scowls on some faces. Increasing news media accounts of the rising use of the Internet as a vehicle of porn was to blame. "The Internet is a worldly device unfit for the church's involvement... it's just a porno peep show for the perverts," said one church leader. Despite my attempts to explain or educate, I was criticized by some for my experimentation and study of the Web. Later, I brought up the subject of possible Web ministry to denominational officials, who also seemed to respond with similar suspicion.

"How ironic," I thought to myself. This was precisely the initial attitude toward radio only 70 years earlier. Beyond their short-sightedness of today's technological revolution, it seems bizarre and almost amusing that some in the church world could be so pathetically void of a vision for the lost, so lacking in their understanding of God's compassion for a world for which He sent His son to suffer and die, so handicapped in their spiritual passions and appetites, that they could criticize ANY efforts, though innovative, to obey the great commission, to "go into all the world, and preach the Gospel." Could there be any place more descriptive of where Jesus said to go, than the "World Wide Web?" If we accept the statistical facts that we have documented in this paper, that 54% of all American now use the web, and that more than 300 million persons make up the Web's word-wide population (doubling every 100 days)... then going out to the Web to evangelize and minister to the MILLIONS of unsaved cyber travelers, as well as the millions of online Christians... very well could be the MOST biblically sound form of ministry the church could ever engage in. Just imagine... ANY church, ANY pastor, ANY Christian... even from a humble laptop computer from the privacy of one's bedroom, can comply with the Great Commission, to GO reach out to the literal masses of the world with the Gospel message of Jesus Christ!

Yes, of course this also mean that the freedom of speech to create web pages is "democratized" for everyone, and all kinds of weird teachings and ideas will end up on the net. However, Mark Kellner, computer columnist for the Washington Times, recently wrote that "Religious democracy is healthy. Even though every kook and crackpot who ever sat in front of a keyboard is able to share their interpretations of God with the rest of the world, this is a small price to pay for the unprecedented evangelistic opportunities and constructive challenges to status quo Christian thinking." (Washington Times, April 2000) 

It would later become some measure of consolation for me to know that all those who questioned my sanity or spirituality over such proposals, eventually became subscribers to the Internet themselves. As a matter of fact, "who isn't on the web these days?" George Gallup says that it's now a MINORITY of American's, 46% to be exact, that are NOT using the net... a percentage that is shrinking smaller every day.

According to a recent article written by Christian researcher, George Barna, there may actually come a time soon in our society that the Internet will become the PRIMARY method of Christian ministry... reaching the lost, ministering to saints and so forth. Barna, president of the Barna Research Group of Ventura, California writes, "Fifteen years from now you may tell your grandchildren that back in the old days, when people wanted a religious experience they attended a church for that purpose. Chances are good that your grandchildren will be shocked by such a revelation."

While more than half of the U.S. population were online by the year 2000, Barna says that 16% of adults currently use the Internet for religious purposes. The most common of those purposes is to interact with others via chat rooms or e-mail about religious ideas, beliefs or experiences. That represents more than 40 million persons who rely upon the Internet for religious expression. Barna says, "A substantial number of cyberchatters engage in dialogue related to faith, spirituality, religion, meaning and truth - the very types of conversations that are often initiated or fostered by churches. Many do not think of those conversations as religious expression, but the sense of community and the spiritual beliefs fostered by such dialogue on spiritual matters is identical to what the traditional church seeks to create within its congregation."

Not surprisingly, there appears to be a clear generational bias in cyberfaith. Younger adults and teens are more likely to turn to the Net for religion. Barna says their research shows that one out of six teens say that within the next five years they expect to use the Internet as a SUBSTITUTE for their current church-based religious experience. Significantly, this notion was most common among teenagers who currently attend church regularly. African-American teens were four times more likely than white teens to expect to rely on the Internet for their future religious experience.

Barna also says research shows that the trends toward a mega cyberchurch community are growing. "There will be people that will never set foot on a church campus because their religious and spiritual needs will be met through other means - including the Internet. Whether or not the cyberchurch is a `true' church may not be pressing an issue as what current church leaders will do about the inevitable gravitation of tens of millions of people away from the existing church and how they can help to shape this emerging church form." He added, "The discomfort of today's church leaders with the cyberchurch is not surprising. When Willow Creek Community Church popularized the "seeker church" format in the late 70s and early 80s, the mainstream of the church community rejected the approach as an invalid and non-viable form of church, an inauthentic expression of biblical faith. The cyberchurch will receive the same treatment from today's church leaders." (Barna Research, 2000)

Unfortunately, as I soon discovered from my preliminary research, the seamier side of society had, indeed, discovered foul uses for the net, and were already publishing Web pages of profanity and filth... and were in the early stages of infesting the Web with pornography, not just of a vulgar variety, but the most shocking, hard-core, perverted variety imaginable. While stunned to stumble across such things on occasion, I abstained from reviewing any such sites in any detail, but chose to reply on other research and reports to weigh the evidence of pornography's influence on the Internet.

According to Steve Watters, an Internet research analyst for Focus on the Family, more than 15% of Americans who use the Internet use it for pornography and 5% of all who use it are addicted. Quoting recent statistics. "Of all the calls we receive from Christian leaders, over 10% are about pornography. Also, we believe that the problem may be more widespread than these numbers indicate because many don't realize they have a problem or just don't want to make it known." Christian leaders have become "especially vulnerable" to pornography, Watters said. "Pastors as a group can be drained in their role as shepherd. After a long weekend of giving, there is no one around on Monday morning to talk to. Now something that has been off-limits is available privately. It seems like a safe area to explore. Some justify their exploring by wanting to know what the problem is all about, and then get sucked in themselves." Watters says he has been astonished by how little shame there is in society associated with Internet pornography. "I'm amazed to see so many articles in places like USA Today that seem to praise the small-business aspect of setting up a porno Web site. My concern is the need to stigmatize it rather than praise it." (Religion News, April 2000)

My discovery was the Internet was indeed becoming a consortium of everything that society offers, from good to bad. Yes, there was sure to be a vast audience on the World Wide Web that would need the sin-forgiving and delivering Gospel of Jesus Christ... including persons who would hear or "read" the Gospel for the first time. Even the growing Christian populace on the net needed more online ministries of encouragement, Biblical counsel, and prayer. And if only for the reason to "counter" the influence of perversion and pornography, the church needed a strong neutralizing presence on the Web to nullify such filth. After all isn't it true that where "sin abounds, grace even more abounds?" Isn't it the obligation of the church to be the SALT and LIGHT to the World (wide-web)? Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." (Mat 5:13-16)

Would we be able to afford the costs of an Internet ministry? As I discovered, the only real equipment needed was a desktop computer, which I already had... and the Internet, itself, is a free medium. But what about Internet access fees? Yes, there could be costs involved... yet in comparison to the cost of TV or even radio broadcasting, the price was unbelievably low. The average ISP service cost around $20 a month, which included dial up access to the Internet, along with up to 10 megabytes of server space for a web page. What other medium of communication or advertisement could you deliver your message to vast audiences around the world for this price? More remarkably, I discovered that there were free, advertiser based ISPs, and other free hosts for web sites. In my case, our local area had a nonprofit community ISP which gave me and our church free Internet access and Web space. Yes, free is good... and affordable.

Ok, all this sounded great... but what about the creation of web pages? My research showed that they were authored in a computer formatting language called HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language). Would I have to find an expert who knew how to compose web sites, or could anyone... even me, pull it off? Once I started accessing the Internet regularly, I found scores of articles and pages which explained the procedure of making Web pages. I began dissecting sites to see how they were constructed, and began learning the HTML formatting commands. I was delighted to discover that HTML had similarities to computer language BASIC, now known as VISUAL BASIC (VB), a programming vernacular I had learned from my past experience with broadcast television technology. This, along with my previous experience working with graphic design, enabled me to learn the art of Web design fairly quickly. After about a year, I had designed scores of Web pages, and had become proficient with HTML authoring and electronic graphic design... including relative programming languages... Cgi, Perl, PHP, Javascript and others. I became a member of the HTML Author's Guild (a professional trade association), and was becoming a frequent referral for web design/development consulting. Today, my acquired skills in Web development, combined with my pastoral/evangelistic calling, has brought me to the cutting edge of new media ministry and evangelism for the 21st century.

Finally, could we succeed in using this medium to evangelize or touch lives for Christ? During my early research, it was clear that the limited number of other ministries already on the Web were making an impact, and were growing. But in order to know if this was a ministry that "I" could flourish in, I would have to test the waters myself.

Implementing The Internet Based
International Prayer Network

How could I make a meaningful impact for the Gospel on the Internet? I thought about the direct approach, by creating straight-forward electronic tracts for Web... however, it appeared that there were already a few online who were trying to do that, and were getting only minimal results. Besides, along with creating my churches' first web site, I had already experimented a bit with that method. Static pages of attention-getting soul-winning messages will obviously always have "some" measure of impact, and was something sure to be included in a well-rounded strategy... but I was seeking a cutting-edge method, a real harvesting mechanism, to cast a net and draw in larger numbers, especially from the ranks of those who might otherwise remain unreached.

As I sought the Lord about a web evangelism strategy, I thought about my years as a Christian TV host, where we would broadcast all-night live, call-in programs. Throughout the early hours I would bring simple conversational-style teachings about salvation, share testimonies, interview guests, present music... along with the invitation for viewers to call our live phone bank of prayer counselors, who would not only pray for their needs... but would also be looking for the "seekers" whom they might be able to lead to Christ. I've always found "prayer evangelism" to be a very powerful, effective means to make a spiritual connection with people. By simply praying for their needs or problems, their hearts will often open to receive the salvation message of Christ.

Yes, the thought of PRAYER EVANGELISM seemed to ring some bells somewhere. There was nothing else like this being done on the Internet. Consequently, I set out with the intent to create an online prayer ministry which would focus on praying for needs, but also have a strategy of finding open hearts to receive the soul-saving Gospel message. In my view, this could only be accomplished by means of real-time personal contacts with soul-winning believers.

There were already a few prayer ministries on the Web, such as Lester Sumrall's World Harvest Prayer site (worldharvest.com). However, this and others were designed merely to post prayer requests on the Web in a bulletin board type format... to be randomly prayed for by persons who would view the publicly displayed list of requests. This was serving a good purpose, no doubt... however, not only was there no confidentiality for such a public list, but there was no immediate contact available with anyone who could personally pray, encourage or lead anyone to Christ. I personally sent e-mail inquiries to the reply e-addresses of several such sites, and either received no reply, or receive a delayed response after a few days. This caused me to wonder, Who for sure, was really praying for these needs? And what would happen if a cyber seeker was desperately trying to find someone who could pray with them to receive Christ?

In contrast to the methods I saw online, I felt that a better way would be to collect the prayer requests from the public by means of a form, and INSTANTLY send them as individual e-mails to waiting prayer partners. Such volunteers would not only be committed to pray for each request, but could also respond with IMMEDIATE, real-time replies of encouragement... and/or to lead such persons toward a commitment to Christ.

Feeling that this was a God-inspired idea, I founded the prayer ministry on the basis of this live web-bank of prayer volunteers. The International Prayer Network (IPN), as it would be called, would be a global, nondenominational Christian ministry, guided by a simple mission... "to encourage and pray for those who are hurting, and point their lives toward the hope of Jesus Christ."

Having already had the experience of creating the web site for our church, I also designed the one for the IPN... but not without some technical challenges. The concept of forwarding e-mailed batches of prayer requests out to possibly scores, or even thousands of recipients, would not be quite that easy. It required considerably more learning about the communication methods of the Internet, such as CGI (common gateway interface) programming. After some trial-and-error experiences with our local community based ISP server, I decided to move our site and domain to another host who had considerably more experience. This would mark the first time we had to actually pay for Internet Web hosting. The people at Net Ministries of Dallas, Texas were extremely kind, and elected to partner with me in this monumental venture. Though few projects of this kind had been developed before, their staff programmer begin working with me daily to design a software that would serve our purposes. The initial program was up and running in only a few weeks in late 1995, but the refinement of this system took the most part of another year.

There would be many other technical challenges I would face, such as how to attract visitors to our prayer ministry site. Fortunately, my ongoing studies of Internet technology was helping to overcome many of these hurdles. I soon discovered how to use technology to create "bait" to bring seekers and hurting souls to our site. Among other methods, I discovered that I could insert hidden imbedded "meta" keywords into the HTML page design, which would cause computerized search engines to help steer visitors our way.

Another unrelated online ministry, Focus on the Family, designed similar features into their site to route visitors to their Web pages. To explain, if persons use a popular search engine to look for such topics as "sex, nude, porn, pornography, or addiction," the search engine will display a variety of link options, but among the first to appear at the top of the list will be specially designed pages, created to minister to such issues as pornography and so forth (Religion News, April 2000).

In the case of the International Prayer Network, we used these methods quite successfully to acquire top results in search engine rankings. This eventually helped bring tens of thousands of visitors to our site. Here is our actual list of "keywords" that I used: "Prayers, Support, Links, Hot Links, Hot Topics, Churches, Prayer Ministry, IPN, Intercession, Recovery, Support, 12 Step, Crisis, Sin, Salvation, Born Again, God, Jesus, Christ, Holy Spirit, Suicide, Cancer, Grief, Depression, Spiritual Help, Encouragement, Counsel, Christianity, Religion, Bible, Inspiration, Pastor, Evangelist, Assemblies of God, Prayer Requests, Chat, Chatroom, International, Christian Living, Church, Faith, Healing, Counseling."

The months of design and programming paid off. The prayer requests began to trickle in, perhaps a dozen or so a week. Our prayer staff consisted only of a handful of volunteers from our church, including me. It was a thrill to know that we were making contact with the world, sharing Christ, praying for needs. But this was only the beginning of excitement, as the number of prayer requests continued to grow. By 1997, The International Prayer Network was receiving an average of 50,000 prayer requests a year. The site was mentioned in various reviews and Internet related news stories, and later the same year, I was interviewed for a feature story by the Philadelphia Inquirer, who from their own research among many similar sites, found the Internet Prayer Network to be what they described as "one of the world's largest prayer chains."

Our number of prayer volunteers also experienced great growth. In only two years of operation, our team had swelled to over 5,000 prayer partners (this number included many individual volunteers, prayer teams from churches, as well as other prayer fellowships that teamed up with us). I frequently recruited Christian prayer volunteers from the Web, who would be required to supply a personal information/application, agree with our doctrine and policies, and supply a recommendation from their pastor.

Needless to say, the effectiveness of this ministry would be based on the quality of people who served as the backbone of the prayer volunteers. These dedicated Christians would emerge from numerous states, nations and denominations around the world, and would become typical of the scores of other prayer volunteers, who would eventually serve with the IPN. We have been so blessed to have such prayer warriors as Ruth, a retired school teacher who resides in a small town in Pennsylvania. Although confined to a wheelchair, she sits faithfully in front of her computer monitor each day, interceding over e-mailed prayer requests, and writing encouraging replies. Elsewhere, on the other side of the globe, a Ukrainian lay-pastor named Vladimir, retrieves his e-mailed prayer requests several times a day, and takes them to prayer meetings in Kiev where others join with him in intercession. Several thousand miles to the south, in the Israeli desert, Ayelet, a housewife and Messianic Jew, comes indoors regularly to check her electronic mail and to pray for urgent incoming prayer requests. Meanwhile, far away in the southern Pacific nation of Malaysia, a seventeen year old student, Eileen, checks her e-mail for prayer requests, as she browses the `net for her research studies. These, along with the many other remarkable believers, have encouraged and prayed for multiplicities of needs and requests.

Today, the IPN still has no paid staff, no office buildings, no great financial resources, but our volunteers and I have a genuine love for our fellow man, and possess an earnest desire to touch the hearts of others with the love of our Heavenly Father. We hope to always be able to maintain our presence on the web, and to be there to help and encourage the many thousands of cyber-travelers who pass our way on the world's information highway.

The International Prayer Network was only the first of many of my other related online ministries that would link together toward bringing souls into the Kingdom of God... as well as minister to the needs of the online body of Christ. (See www.victorious.org/prayer)

Victorious Christian Living

To supplement the IPN prayer-outreach ministry, in 1996 I began uploading scores of Bible teachings and articles I had written, called the Victorious Christian Living Library. Our logs indicated that in the first eighteen months online,  over a quarter-million total copies were downloaded by various online visitors. One article alone, How to Avoid Hurts and Conflicts in the Church, was downloaded over 25,000 times in those first months. Numerous persons made decisions for Christ, and others were restored to Christian fellowship through the influence of these works. Most of the online articles have been republished by other conventional publishers and have been translated into at least six languages. They have been the topic of discussion on various broadcasts, such as on PBS television and Focus on the Family, and have been reproduced by magazines and newspapers world-wide. (See www.victorious.org)

What People Ask About The Church

I also did something else that few other Christian authors had done. I uploaded one of my entire books so that anyone could read or download it for free. This book, What People Ask About The Church, is a fascinating, well-researched writing, answering 75 of the more intriguing questions about the church and other ecclesiastical matters. While this is a book that will capture the attention of even the most staunch opponent of Christianity, it was designed with a Christ-centered message, to continually bring readers back to a basic understanding of the salvation message. This book, whole or in part, has been downloaded as many as 75,000 times, and has been used as a reference source in studies by colleges and universities, such as The Gordon-Conwell Seminary in Boston, one the nation's leading schools of divinity, who credited references from my book in a published study which appeared in the Boston Globe in 1997. (See www.victorious.org/churbook.htm)

Victorious Publications

As a ministry to online churches and missions, I also published online tracts and pamphlets, which could be freely downloaded and reproduced. These professionally typeset materials called, Victorious Publications, would become a popular source of evangelism and discipleship materials all over the world. They have been downloaded and distributed in mass quantities by such organizations as the National Christian Coalition in Washington D.C., the Royal Palace Cathedral in London, England, as well as many hundreds of churches all over the world. (See www.victorious.org/catalog)

Streaming Internet Audio

One of the newer, rapidly developing technologies on the Web has been the "streaming" technology, allowing audio and video from the web. While video still remains impractical for the moment, due to the huge demands of hard disk space, we have included audio preaching, singing, and copies of our weekly Gospel radio broadcast on the Web site. (See www.victorious.org/audio.htm)

The Pastoral Search Network

Finally, in 1997, I came up with another innovative idea of how to use the Internet to provide a ministry to the Christian community. Having always had a special passion to encourage the ministries of small churches, I was especially distressed to learn that many could not find ministers to fill their pulpits. Yes, while ordained clergyman and preachers in America outnumber churches by three to one, many congregations were either too small, or not pay enough (if anything) to attract a pastor. This was distressing and seemed to be symptomatic of our nation's alarming decline of the church.

Thus, the creation of a national pulpit placement ministry emerged, which I called The Pastoral Search Network. This was a nondenominational ministry/service which would display resumes or want ads by clergy and churches, in hopes of making a match. At the time, I knew of no other online service like it. It started as a meager, free service, but as the demand rose so sharply, I eventually had to start charging a modest fee to continue its survival. And not only did it continue, but flourished as one of the most popular ministry personnel services anywhere. Over 170,000 pastors and pulpit committees have visited our site during the last two years. We have received testimonials from scores of churches and pastors who have been linked up by this worthy ministry. The revenues from this service have paid all the expenses for our Internet ministries, making them completely self supported. (See www.pastorsearch.net)

12 Web Technologies For Ministry

A web page presence for a church or ministry is rapidly becoming as important as other forms of advertising, such as the Yellow Pages. While once relegated to broader world wide web audience, the web is now used as a church-search resource by a majority of local prospects. Some of the basic and advanced uses of the Internet technology for ministry purposes include:

1. Basic Web Page Presentation

A bare-bones web page, including the church address, location, photos and other information is fairly simple and inexpensive to create. This can be a basic, static page or pages, which distributes your message or data.

2. CyberChurch Capabilities

More ministries are now providing total ministry opportunities via web based technologies. Everything from preaching, counseling, opportunities for service, and donation processing. This has especially proven effective to nontradional domestic audiences, or to non Christianized nations.

3. Audio CyberCasting

Continued advancements to audio compression technology has made the web an ideal means for conveying digitized audio. While requiring considerable hard drive resources, recordings of sermons and songs can be reproduced with high quality. With advanced bandwidth access, live streaming capabilities of services or presentations are viable.

4. Video CyberCasting

Digitized video and video streaming is growing in popularity on the web, however due to requirements of wide bandwidth and huge storage capacities to cybercast high quality video, it is not yet practical or cost-effective for the average web site owner to produce. However, anticipated advancements in video compression and other related technologies will eventually make this the primary method of video delivery in the future.

5. E-mail Mailing Lists

Communicate with church members by means of an electronic bulletin or newsletter. Many churches are saving money is U.S. postage by using this method exclusively.

6. Chat Room Dialogs/Counseling

By utilizing interactive chat software, web users can conduct real-time dialogs with other individuals or groups. Many ministers and groups are now offering counseling via chat room.

7. OnLine Calendar/Scheduling

Place your church calendar online, updatable and viewable by all members instantly. Using calendar software to e-mail your members of important dates or reminders.

8. Bulletin Boards/Announcements

Place static or interactive announcements online for all to see. Can be edited or changed anytime, anywhere.

9. Online Member Data Base

Member's addresses or information can be securely placed online for access by each member or leader, from anywhere at anytime. Members can automatically add or delete updated information or sign up for services. Even donation information or other records can be made readily available.

10. Interactive Information/Contact Forms

Provide online data collection forms, and/or provide interactive processing and messages. Prayer request forms, and even simple gospel tracts can be designed to be interactive, so that responses are recorded and dispatched to human resources for appropriate follow-up.

11. E-commerce and Donations

Tithes and offerings, as well as sales of church related items, can be easily received online via credit card or debit card.

12. Long Distance Telephone Communications

Broadband Internet is becoming a widely used method of transmitting low-cost voice/telephone (VoIP) communications. Companies such as Vonage have helped pioneer this revolution. While a still evolving technology, VoIP provides remarkable, quality voice communications between anyone with high speed Internet access.

Update

Obviously, since I wrote this article in 2000, the web has continued to make further advancements, as well as suffer some unexpected setbacks. While we anticipated such technological improvements such as widespread broadband access, DSL and cable Internet... we did not fully appreciate the chaos that spam (unsolicited junk email) and viruses/worms would create, or the surprising dot com crash that brought down many Internet enterprises and cost thousands their jobs.

However, while the Internet continues to bend and flex during changing times, one thing remains clear: The web's presence and influence is permanent and  long-lasting... and it continues to be one of the most powerful communication vehicles for the Gospel that the church has ever had. With the overwhelming majority of the world's population now online, it is the mandate of the 21st Century Church to use this "world-wide pulpit" for the great life-changing message of Jesus Christ.


This article is copyrighted © by Dale A. Robbins, 2000, and is a publication of Victorious Publications, Grass Valley, CA 95949. Unless otherwise stated, all scripture references were taken from The New King James Bible, © Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982. You may download this article for personal use as long as you retain credit to the author. Obtain permission before reproducing copies for any reason, by filling out our simple permission form. This writing is also available as an attractive tri-fold pamphlet, which can be downloaded for reproduction from our Online Catalog. For media reproduction rights, or to obtain quantities of this title in other formats, email us.

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